Inn with the new at Atholl

Latest stage of refurb takes in historic bar, as Gillian McKenzie reports

Old meets new: as part of the revamp, new flooring was paired with the original fireplace.

YEAR-round trade thanks to a raft of local events was one of the deciding factors in Neil and Christine Sinclair’s decision to buy the Atholl Arms Hotel in Dunkeld a little over two years ago.

And while the likes of the Niel Gow Fiddle Festival in March and Perthshire Amber – The Dougie MacLean Festival in October, not to mention the area’s wealth of sporting pursuits, bring a welcome boost to trade during ‘off season’ periods, the packed programme of events can make any sort of refurbishment a challenge.
It’s for this reason the Sinclairs have taken a phased approach to upgrading the 17-bedroom hotel, which overlooks the River Tay.
Last winter, they revamped the restaurant and lobby and, this January, turned their attention to the bar.
“We chose Dunkeld because of its location,” Neil told SLTN last week.
“There is a seasonal impact but there is literally something on every month.
“Our downtime is a couple of weeks after new year so we closed for a week in January to do the bar. The fishing season starts in mid January so we needed to get it finished for that.”
With a short window in which to complete the £20,000 revamp, the Sinclairs employed a team of local tradespeople, including contractor H&H Construction, Bannerman Decorators and MH Services, and work on The Inn at The Atholl got underway.
Neil said the aim was clear from the outset: to maximise floor space and give the 150 year old bar a traditional interior.
Bulky fixed seating was replaced with a drinks rail and stools to free up floor space and a durable wood-effect Karndean floor, sourced from Glenearn Flooring in Perth, was installed.
A new bar frontage, in muted grey tones, was added and mirrors were hung behind the bar in a bid to open up the space. Above the bar, traditional-style light fittings have been added, which tie in with the original stone fireplace.
Neil said the overall effect successfully blends the old with the new.
“It was previously quite art deco and we wanted more of a traditional look because the bar’s been here for 150 years,” he explained.
“We wanted it to look good but also to be functional.
“When the bar is packed it can become a bit of a bottleneck. We wanted to open it up and maximise the floor space.
“We added mirrors at the back of the bar to make the space look wider, we removed some of the bench seating and we brought back traditional light fittings.
“With the floor, we were going to go for wood but Glenearn put us onto the Karndean flooring. It gives the look of an old oak floor but it’s hardwearing and doesn’t shrink.
“The bar has also been redecorated in light colours and it looks a lot bigger.”
It’s not just the interior of the bar that’s been revamped.
A new menu of “sophisticated” bar food has been developed, to complement the cuisine in the hotel’s Riverview Restaurant.
And the range of craft beers supplied by Orkney and Inveralmond breweries has been extended. Ales are rotated across three taps, with the bar said to offer up to 20 different beers in any one week.
The relaunch of the bar comes after the Sinclairs spent £100,000 revamping the restaurant and lobby, including reinstating the original entrance. And they plan to have finished refurbishing all 17 bedrooms by the end of the year.
Neil said they are reaping the benefits of the ongoing investment.
“We get a lot of tourist traffic here,”
he added. “Our goal is to attract people in off the street in winter and summer and I think the new bar will help us do that.”

Image – Old meets new: as part of the revamp, new flooring was paired with the original fireplace.