Memories of Edinburgh's late 1970s cocktail bar boom rekindled as former staff reunite

Memories of Edinburgh’s cocktail bar boom of the late 1970s have been rekindled after two former colleagues met up for the first time in more than 40 years.

Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Thursday, 19th August 2021, 9:46 am

Back in 1979, Adrian Souter, then aged just 21, took on the role of cocktail bar manager at Bert D’Agostino’s newly-opened Gatsby’s, in South St Andrew Street in the centre of the city.

It was there he struck up a friendship with 20-year-old Denise Meldrum, who was already working as a bar maid at the swanky speakeasy-style establishment, which was bedecked in art deco-era finery reminiscent of the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby.

Following a short stint leading the cocktail bar, Mr Souter lost touch with Ms Meldrum, but they have now forged anew their friendship thanks to the wonders of social media.

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Former Gatsby's employees Denise Meldrum and Adrian Souter met up for the first in 42 years this week.

This week, over an obligatory highball cocktail, the two former Gatsby’s employees, both from Edinburgh, met up to wax lyrical about their time working for what was once one of the hottest joints in town.

Mr Souter, 63, said: "When I took over at Gatsby’s, Denise was already there and she showed me all the ropes when I first came in. We became good friends, but had lost touch completely.

"A while ago, I’d put a post up on Facebook about the bar. Denise left a comment, saying how she used to work there.

"On Monday we met at Teuchter’s Landing to have a few gin and tonics and exchange stories. It was lovely.”

Ms Meldrum, 62, says she worked part-time at Gatsby’s for around a year while studying to be a primary teacher and also working telesales at The Scotsman newspaper.

"It was great fun,” she says. “I was often left in charge of the bar, as the owner was seldom there.

"I worked with a lovely bunch of people, really sociable, and we’d often go out to night clubs after the pub closed.”

Ms Meldrum says cocktail bars were all the rage in Edinburgh in the late 1970s, with the city keen to smarten up its act and offer something different from the traditional working men’s pubs.

However, being young and inexperienced at the time, Ms Meldrum reveals she had little skill at making cocktails – and she hated her flapper girl-style outfit.

She says: “Gatsby’s was one of many new cocktail bars appearing back then.

"We had hideous outfits... short-sleeved, in satin, with a split from the knee to the hip – just tasteless, but at the time they were fun. It’s what people expected when they entered a cocktail bar.

“We didn't have a clue what we were doing – we’d just read the cocktail list and throw it in the blender. We put full measures of everything in every cocktail – people were flying out the door.”

Mr Souter says reminiscing with Ms Meldrum has conjured up many funny memories of life at the city centre cocktail bar.

He says: “We had a great laugh remembering things like the spotlights that were at the bar – you used to get all the posers coming in to find a spotlight to stand under.

“It wasn’t there a huge amount of time, but Gatsby’s had such a huge impact. You can see that from the comments left by people on social media.”

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