Hey Palu: Italian style in the Scottish capital

SLTN Award-winning cocktail bar has built a reputation as one of Scotland’s best

WHEN husband and wife Alex and Rachel Palumbo decided to open an amaro bar in Edinburgh’s Old Town in late 2019, they couldn’t have known how turbulent their first couple of years in business would be. 

The couple, who were both veterans of hospitality venues in London and across the UK before opening Hey Palu on the capital’s Bread Street, were drawing inspiration from Alex’s native Italy to create a modern, European-style aperitivo bar with a focus on amaro. 

Alex explained: ”Amaro is a very popular and a very well known spirit at home and all around the world. In the UK it is not especially well known, but it is something that is very versatile and nice to drink. 

“It is one of my passions as a bartender.”

Hey Palu – which was named SLTN Cocktail Bar of the Year at the 2022 SLTN Awards – was designed to be a bright, welcoming space for customers, with a long bar and comfortable bar stools to encourage visitors to engage with the bar staff. 


Winners of SLTN cocktail bar of the year 2023

On the drinks side amaro is the cornerstone, with what Alex reckons is the biggest range of amari anywhere in the UK. 

Amaro also features in some of the bar’s cocktails, including the popular Sgroppino, which combines sorbet (blood orange in the winter, passionfruit in the summer) with amaro, vanilla, prosecco and black lava salt.

“We think simplicity is the key,” said Alex. “We don’t list more than four ingredients for the drink, to make it simple for people to understand what the drink is and what the flavour profile is. 

“And because our menu is on a QR code so that people can read everything on their phone, you don’t want to be listing many ingredients that people have to read.

“People spend less time reading a menu now. They’re much quicker compared to before (the pandemic).

“So we’re doing it in a way that’s easier and quicker to understand.”

Customers are also brought into the process, with Alex and the team keen to get feedback on new cocktails before they become full-time additions to the list. 

The pandemic, obviously, had a massive impact on hospitality – the vast majority of which was negative. 

But in the case of Hey Palu, which opened its doors six months before the first lockdown, there was a silver lining. 

“A few weeks in to the first lockdown we decided we should do something,” said Alex. “We were one of the first places in Edinburgh to do cocktails to-go. And the way we did it was by vacuum-packing, which is easier to deliver by post. 

“The other thing we did in lockdown was we contacted some of the takeaway restaurants in Edinburgh – like an Italian pizzeria – because I thought if I could get just 3% of their market that’s great, compared to none of their market. 

“So we went to them with cocktails we had made and said ‘if you sell them we’ll send you an invoice, if you don’t sell them we’ll take them back’. 

“Two weeks in the guy called us and asked for 200 more. I’m like, ‘OK, this could actually work’.”

In addition to providing some badly-needed revenue during lockdown periods, the cocktails also helped establish Hey Palu’s name with its Edinburgh customer base. 

“It definitely gave people the idea that we were a cocktail bar more than anything else,” said Alex. 

“That certainly did help. Because we found when we reopened there were more people knowing about the bar thanks to that. 

“There were a few people that said they’d ordered our drinks but never been to the bar. It definitely helped us from that point of view.”

With summer just around the corner, the menu at Hey Palu will be changed to incorporate some fruitier, refreshing serves, as well as tweaking some established favourites – such as the Sgroppino – to incorporate seasonal flavours. 

“The guests definitely order different drinks if it’s warmer. It’s exactly the same as sales of a rosé wine skyrocketing on a summer day compared to a cold Saturday in February. People definitely like fruity, refreshing, cold drinks during the summer months compared to warm drinks in the winter, something more like whisky or rum, spirit-forward, during the winter.”