It is the low-lit cocktail haven that was one of the best-kept secrets in Edinburgh.
But now an intimate Thistle Street eatery and spirit house has taken centre stage after being crowned Best International Restaurant Bar at the “Oscars of the drinks industry”.
The Bon Vivant beat off fierce competition from venues in London and Moscow to clinch the prestigious title at a glitzy ceremony in New Orleans to become the first ever Scottish winner of a coveted Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award.
An undercover panel of industry experts visited the city centre bar to run the rule over its unique approach to aperitif and digestif refreshments, cocktail making, food pairings and bartending.
Judges raved about The Bon Vivant’s selection and said it was “testament to the amazing vitality of the Edinburgh hospitality scene”.
The renowned awards bash is the pinnacle of the annual five-day Tales of the Cocktail festival which attracts around 20,000 of the top drinks experts in the world to a celebration of cocktail-making and mixology.
The Bon Vivant founder Stuart McCluskey is still reeling from the buzz of an unexpected triumph – a shock result illustrated by a hastily arranged acceptance speech, he said.
Moments after scooping the glass plate gong, Mr McCluskey was interviewed by a parade of American television stations.
He said: “It’s been brilliant. I would have been happy with just a nomination but when they read it out, I was like, ‘really?’. Before I knew it there were lots of people around me. I hadn’t prepared a speech – I had to make it up on the spot. I’m massively proud of what the team has achieved.”
City centre bar Bramble was also in the running in the Best International Cocktail Bar category but lost out to 28 Hong Kong Street in Singapore.
Mr McCluskey insists that shortlisting two Capital venues on the drinks industry’s biggest stage was a major coup for Edinburgh.
“It’s a global family, it’s great to be recognised by your peers,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time. It would be a huge award if it was just a UK thing, but it’s on an international scale.”
The accolade is testament to the expertise of The Bon Vivant staff, said the bar founder, who he urges to hand-carve ice, evolve the menu and even experiment by creating “healthy cocktails” boasting natural fruit juices.
But he said: “Now this is where the work really starts.
“People will be coming in to see what the bar is all about. We have got to prove to them why we are the best.”
Jacob Briars, chairman of the awards’ international judging committee and global trade advocacy director for Bacardi, said he had never visited Edinburgh without dropping into the Thistle Street bar.
Meanwhile, Jess Estes, brand ambassador at Ocho Tequila, said: “This venue consistently delivers welcoming hospitality and knowledgeable service, coupled with world class cocktails and food. The Bon Vivant is definitely in my list of top bars/restaurants in the world. I firmly believe that the Bon Vivant and Edinburgh deserve the recognition for their influence on the global bar industry.”