When Orchid opened on Langstane Place in Aberdeen in 2008 the speakeasy-inspired venue was in a prime position to capitalise on the emerging trend for Prohibition era-style cocktails.
Success followed for the venue and the team, with staff from management to table servers picking up prizes and places in cocktail competitions up and down the UK, while the venue itself was named SLTN Cocktail Bar of the Year in 2013.
The accolades didn’t breed complacency, however, and in March of this year Orchid closed its doors for a month-long revamp.
Speaking to SLTN in Orchid last week, general manager Martin Farmer said the venue was “broken down to its shell”.
In that month, and with help from Eco Joinery and some elbow grease from the bar’s staff, Orchid owner Ben Iravani and Farmer were able to rebuild the outlet in time for its relaunch on April 3.
The result is an entirely new look for the venue which both Farmer and Iravani described as “warmer”. Farmer added that the revamp has brought some “maturity” to the venue.
The changes at Orchid are visible even before entering the venue; it’s now signposted by a branded curtain on the front window, a contrast to the speakeasy theme from 2008.
Inside, one of the biggest changes was to the colour scheme.
The cocktail bar’s previous look, which played on the pink and off-white tones of the venue’s eponymous flower, has been replaced by dark wood and copper, with walls painted ‘stiffkey blue’ – a colour which Farmer said the team had meticulously searched for.
Relaxed and welcoming was the aim of the game when refurbishing Orchid’s front bar area, where deep-seated brown leather Chesterfield chairs have been introduced.
“We were quick in deciding that we wanted to bring wood into the bar,” said Farmer
“We wanted the front bar to feel like a living room.”
Orchid may feel like a living room from the comfort of the Chesterfields, but there’s an element of theatre at the bar.
While the rest of Orchid remains dimly lit, Edison bulbs hanging above the bar area illuminate the mixologists without spilling over to the rest of the venue.
“I wanted it to feel like a show,” said Farmer.
A timber frame in the venue’s structure creates a threshold which sees customers step into the light once they’re close enough to the bar to order.
Beyond the lighting, the bar area itself has been significantly overhauled.
The Orchid-themed artwork that previously adorned the back wall has been removed, leaving staff with more gantry space to work with, while copper replaces slate on the bar front creating a warmer feel.
Whisky has also been removed from the gantry and brought to the fore in a new feature adjacent to the bar.
“Because the whisky was on the back-bar people couldn’t see it,” said Farmer
The Orchid solution, a newly constructed cabinet by the bar, lets customers see the whisky on offer up close but under lock and key.
When a customer does order a nip or one of Orchid’s whisky cocktails, a member of staff will come from behind the bar – another feature which Farmer said also serves to add some theatre.
A third newly-installed feature can be found on the wall opposite the bar where 250 cocktail shakers have been set.
It’s not the only wall to highlight Orchid’s cocktail connection either.
At the rear of the venue a vacant shelf has been re-purposed to display a range of cocktail equipment and books for sale.
Orchid’s new cocktail paraphernalia business is just one of a raft of changes to the back of the venue leaving the space less “party bar” and more lounge bar, according to Farmer.
New cornicing has been put in place on Orchid’s ceiling, and a fireplace salvaged from a renovation at an Aberdeen hairdressers has also been installed on the back wall.
Three large leather Chesterfield-style booths, which Farmer said can seat seven or eight comfortably, have also been fitted.
The booths were made to measure by Buildright Shopfitters which also supplied tabletops and created the feature walls.
Making the space more comfortable was key, according to Farmer, who believes nightlife in Aberdeen has evolved since Orchid opened.
“People aren’t going out partying as much,” he said.
“I think people want to come here, kick back and relax.”
Creating a more mature environment was central to the refurb, with Farmer suggesting that Orchid has “gone past the speakeasy”.
The bootlegging spirit of 1920s America hasn’t been fully extinguished from the cocktail bar, however.
In the basement of Orchid, Farmer, along with resident mixologists Alex Lawrence and Stephen Rutherford, have been creating their own bespoke spirits.
Making use of a rotary evaporator, a device that’s usually found in chemistry laboratories, Orchid mixologists are able to infuse gins and vodkas with a variety of flavours, with recent examples including peppercorn and mint.
As well as finding their way onto Orchid’s cocktail menu, Farmer said the spirits will be available to take home soon now that the venue has been granted an off-sales licence.
The new off-sales business is just one of many plates Farmer and the Orchid team have been spinning over the last few months.
Since the refurbishment, Orchid has already hosted a number of brands’ events including for Icelandic vodka Reyka and Dr Adam Elmegirab’s bitters.
It seems all of this activity – with normal serving duties to boot – is enough to keep the team fully engaged.
“I could never get bored of this place,” said Farmer.