HOLDING a key spot in the heart of the New Town, the A-listed Assembly Rooms has long been the grand old dame of George Street, the scene for decades of dances, dinners and cultural occasions.
Built in the late 1780s at a cost of £6300 from a public subscription, it is the place where Sir Walter Scott unmasked himself in 1827 as the author of the Waverley novels, where Charles Dickens read from A Christmas Carol at a public banquet in 1841 and where the first Edinburgh International Festival took place in 1947.
While its history is great, its structure and polish had, in the words of one councillor, become “scuffed and lacklustre”.
This weekend, the building re-opens to the public after a £9.3 million refurbishment, the majority of it funded by Edinburgh City Council. Chandeliers have been restored, plasterwork refurbished and soundproofing added.
The majority of Edinburgh residents will have visited the Assembly Rooms throughout their life, but largely for Fringe shows or Hogmanay events.
It has not been a year-round venue, and given its location and its beauty, it surely must be.
The new Jamie Oliver restaurant will encourage more people through the front door, if only because diners must walk through the main foyer of the Assembly Rooms to reach the entrance. The New York skincare chain Kiehl’s has also opened a large store inside the building. Scottish jewellery brand Rox will open a boutique in the autumn.
Significantly, the council is telling people to come and look around the public areas. The Assembly Rooms has often had the air of somewhere you should only be if you were invited, or had a ticket.
This is our building, paid for with our money. Let’s enjoy. Let’s use it. And not just at Festival time.
No rain, all gain
The oft-repeated refrain from tourism leaders is that visitors don’t come to Edinburgh for the weather. That may be true, but the weather affects their enjoyment of the city and their chances of a repeat visit.
When visitors return from holiday they will be asked: how was your trip? Two weeks spent sheltering under umbrellas will be high up the report card.
Anyone visiting the city in the last few days must have felt they were in an episode of The Killing.
If our summers are to be rain-soaked (and they increasingly have been) then our tourism industry must plan for that instead of telling us all that it doesn’t really matter.