Leith bar owners left speechless after mystery local donates photos charting pub's evolution over forty years

The owners of a popular Leith watering hole have been left scratching their heads after a mystery local donated a series of photographs charting the pub’s evolution over the past four decades.

Tuesday, 10th September 2019, 12:16 pm
Manager Marek Vrabec.

Staff at Sofi’s bar in Henderson Street were left somewhat speechless upon receiving the fascinating cache of 13 images.

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Bar manager, 33-year-old Marek Vrabec, says he and a colleague were working together one quiet Sunday around two months ago when the secret snapper sauntered in.

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Manager Marek Vrabec.

“We were busy making Sunday cocktails and this guy shows us these photos of the bar taken more than 20 years ago,” recalls Marek.

“He took them all. He lives somewhere in the area, but unfortunately we didn’t get his name or anything. He just mysteriously came in and dropped them off.”

Owner Anna Christopherson took over the bar with her husband in 2005, naming it after their daughter Sofia, who was born just two days after they opened.

Now in possession of several new photos showing every one of Sofi’s new paint jobs from the year she signed her first lease, Anna, 44, told the Evening News she was taken aback by the unknown gentleman’s kind gesture.


“I just thought it was so lovely. It really shows the strong pub culture in Scotland – people are so close to their pubs here,” explained Anna, who hails from Sweden.

Aside from illustrating the many modifications to the frontage at Sofi’s, the series also manages to capture the shifting social trends and changing economic fortunes around Leith’s Shore area.

Starting from the very early Thatcher years, when Leith was far from being thought of as gentrified, the photographs show the bar as it was in 1980 when it was named The Bay Horse and still operated by legendary Edinburgh brewers Drybrough.


The photos then skip a decade to 1997; Tony Blair’s New Labour has notched a landslide victory in the General Election, The Bay Horse has bolted and Russian-themed vodka haunt Bar Kalinka has appeared in its place.

The colourful frontage of Handren’s Bar toasts the start of the new Millennium, followed by a brief reprise of the traditional Bay Horse moniker. Then, by the mid-2000s, the present owners have moved in, repainting the frontage in a range of soft pastel colours and introducing a little continental comfort to Henderson Street.

Anna admits the new look and fresh ethos initially ruffled a few feathers.

“Everyone thought it was nuts,” laughs Anna, “’baby blue? You can’t paint your bar baby blue!’ they would tell me.


“Do I think we’re part of Leith’s gentrification? I think everyone else does. Looking at these photos, I suppose we are.”

Sofi’s say they now plan to find some nice frames and display the photographs prominently in the main lounge.

And Anna hopes they are successful in their quest to track down the photographer, so they can suitably reward him for his 39-year-long endeavour.

“We could have an exhibition opening and name him as photographer. It would be really nice to attach a name to these,” says Anna. “I would say thank you to him – let’s have a party and celebrate your resilience. I think he’d get a few free drinks, or see what he wants. Maybe we can give him a really nice whisky.”