Updated: Jul 1
Taste Magazine had the exclusive opportunity to catch up with the new owners of Three Mary’s Bar. Previously known as Sofi’s, Dale MacPhee has taken over the bar and transformed the space; bringing in his own stylistic ideas from his travels around the world. He has created a bar which reminisces in the history of Leith and it starts with the three Mary’s who the bar is named after: Mary Magdalene, Mary Guise and Mary, Queen of Scots.
Dale has teamed up with Calum Mackay, who owns several other bars in the Leith area, to bring this beautiful new cocktail bar to our doorstep, and on his team is Chris Smart, the General Manager. The teams’ love of the Leith area is evident from their staunch support of all things local, including supplies, trades, and ingredients, to the people of Leith. The bar is set open on the 30th of June.
What was the inspiration behind the name of the place?
Calum: Well, they're the three Mary’s that have a connection to Edinburgh. They show a bit of character in the area. You’ve got Mary Guise who held her parliament at the back of the pub, which is Parliament Street. And then you’ve got her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, who also landed in Leith and had quite an influence in the area. And finally, we’ve got Mary Magdalene who is purported to show up on the Persevere motto. And there’s a woman and child in that motto. It’s said to be Mary Magdalene and the son of Jesus, should that be true or not. This area used to be known as French Leith, because of the amount of vaults and the amount of trade with France. So there’d be a lot of claret, burgundy, shipped over to the various bonded warehouses in the area. And that was where the whole French element came in, so we wanted to tell a story about it.
Dale: Yeah, so it’s something that tied in really nicely to the history of the area; it’s quite rich and I think we’re both quite interested in that, but it’s also a bit of fun as well. Everybody in Leith loves a bit of legend and a tale as well, and I think that kinda ties in well with the story, with the theme of the place.
What was your inspiration for the theme of this design? I know you got Splintr to do the interior design but what was your briefing to them?
Calum: Well we wanted to be sympathetic to the space first and foremost, this is an established hostelry from way back. Whether that was the Bay horse, or in more recent times, Sofi’s, it was a well-loved space, a well-used space. But it just needed a little splash of confidence. Maybe a little bit more attention, so we tried to use the space as best we could and opened up the pieces that weren’t being used to their full potential. We found a lot of nooks and cranny’s that are great places to hang out. So the briefing was to combine the best of the existing fabric, with a more contemporary look. But still paying homage to the space that was there. We’ve tried to build on it with a view to the past. The past being we’ve looked back at the stained-glass windows that used to be up there. We’ve tried to bring out the details in the existing stained glass. And we’ve tried to make the most of the space that was there.
Dale: I think one of the compliments we get sometimes is when tradesmen come in to do a bit of work and they don’t realise the stained glass is a new commission. And made specially for this bar. What tends to happen is people go in and, and assume it’s always been there. Which I kinda like, because it really aged the place and made it more historic and gives that feel to it that we really wanted to try and capture. And that’s essentially what we’ve done. So from my point of view with the bar, with the design is [what] I’ve picked up from my travels around the world. The floating tables, the idea for that came from bars on the upper east side of New York which are all rectangular and they all have floating tables so they can make use of the space, cause they tend to be very long but very narrow. The actual design, the architecture and the look of the face of the bar is essentially like a French-Parisian style. One of the things I’ve noticed being in Paris is that these places tend to have a shelf which is also used as a table and you’re making use of all these spaces that wouldn’t necessarily have been done. It’s from travelling and seeing all these places around the world, and putting it all together in one image.
Who did you commission for the stain glass?
Calum: Andy Johnson. He’s local and he’s one of my regulars down at the Malt. It’s always good to keep it in the family.
What about the paintings?
Dale: The person who did the paintings is an artist from Brighton called AntFox and his speciality is taking old pictures - one of the ones we got through there is a Da Vinci - and adding satire to them. He’s got quite a bit of work down in London, but as from as I’m aware he hasn’t had any work done up here in Scotland before, so it’s kinda good to have something a bit fresh, that nobody else has. It’s new, it’s different, it’s irreverent.
Who decided what the satire element within the paintings would be?
Dale: That was our idea, that fun theme because we wanted to capture the feel of Leith, that’s very unique to this area. That tongue in cheek tone is something that’s relevant to the area and we wanted to keep that.
What can you tell me about the cocktail menu?
Chris: The idea is that you’re coming on from the French-Leith style, so [that is] incapsulated into the bar and into the cocktail menu. So, bringing brandy and wine into cocktails – they’re just going to be spread right across our signature styles as well. There’s gonna be quite a small menu, so it’s gonna be easy: easy readable, easy to understand for any guests coming in. Easy for us to portray what we’re gonna do as a bar and what cocktails we’re trying to serve. The one thing I like is using really approachable ingredients and really approachable flavours that your guests can really get behind. So that was the main theory behind this. That’s why we’ve got 5 classic cocktails, which we’re calling bartenders choice, where you’ve got classic cocktails that we all like as bartenders and we know that customers will like as well. And then we’ve got 5 of our own classics that everyone knows but reimagined with our own twist. You obviously have the three Hail Marys, which is three different types of Bloody Marys. There’s gonna be a classic, a twisted, and a sweet. The idea with the sweet Mary is that it’s supposed to look like a Bloody Mary but it isn’t. Obviously the Bloody Mary is not always that approachable for a lot of guests. So using lemon curd and fresh raspberry with pomegranate to give it that red, that consistency of a bloody Mary, but you know it’s really sweet, really vibrant. Really approachable kinda any of time of the day.
What’s your favourite drink so far from the new menu?
Chris: [About the Wyatt’s Rebellion which Calum liked] So that’s a private twist on a classic rob roy cocktail. Using monkey shoulder, whiskey, with dubonnet, which is a French kind of aperitive liqueur based on red wine, with a little bit of brown sugar.
Dale: Mine’s was the strawberry and balsamic bramble.
Chris: It’s just based on a classic bramble which is just gin, lemon, sugar. You do the gin, lemon, sugar, keep it all the same and then, you pour the strawberry liqueur into the drink, and then we’ve made our own strawberry/balsamic purée as well which is just drizzled over the top. Strawberry and balsamic; it’s just one of my favourite flavour combinations. It’s brilliant.
Are you using local breweries and distilleries for your stock?
Calum: Yes, we’re trying to use local wherever possible and with a strong emphasis on local breweries in particular. There’s a number of really good progressive breweries in Leith itself very close by and we’re hoping to involve all of those. So that’ll be the cut and first of the draft offerings. With the wines, there’ll be an emphasis on the French but essentially we’ll be looking to source as locally as possible supplier wise. There’s a quite a lot to choose from locally. It’s quite surprising. The craft and the cask offerings in the area has exploded in the last few years and it’s a really exciting time to be involved in Leith cause we’ve got an opportunity to promote the local guys and we’re gonna take it.
What are you guys most excited for about the opening?
Dale: I think it’s the reactions when people come in. I noticed it with tradesmen and friends and family, fellow business owners, so they just have that jaw drop moment when they come in and that’s a pretty nice feeling to see people’s enthusiasm for something that you’ve put together. I’m looking forward to hearing people’s feedback and also looking forward to actually seeing where people get drawn to sit, in what area and the flow of the bar.
Calum: There’s a real, without having had customers come in, a real buzz about the feel of the space; it’s got an energy to it that it didn’t have, and I’m just keen to see if people become a part of that energy. A bar never really comes to life until there’s customers there. I think it’ll be interesting just to see a very new start to this space, and I’m quite looking forward to seeing how that happens.
Chris: I think the whole excitement of bringing a dedicated cocktail bar to Leith. It’s something that’s not massive around the area, and you know a lot of places, it’s cocktails and food, and you know cocktails maybe aren’t the priority of the bar. There does seem to be a calling for people to come out for cocktails around the area [and] not wanting to go out to the city centre all the time. I mean my experience is just working in the city centre and managing city centre cocktail bars; it’s just a whole different kinda vibe bringing you that dedicated cocktail experience to Leith and to the Shore which is probably what I’m really quite excited about opening.
Are you thinking of doing live music and comedy as well?
Calum: We’ll have live music certainly, other styles we’ve not really gone into at the moment. Me and Dale run the Leith Jazz and Blues Festival and this was always a venue that was on the Leith Jazz and Blues Festival circuit: I think we’ll be keeping that going. We might develop that a bit more as we go into the winter months in particular. We certainly look to pay tribute to the local guys who’ve helped us out over the past, in particular with things like the Leith Jazz and Blues Festival. These guys are top notch and a lot of these guys are based locally.
Tell me about your personal connection to this place and your aspirations for it over the next few years.
Dale: I remember my parents, they’d be driving back through Edinburgh from the countryside and they’d stop off at the restaurant next door, Raj, which is now getting turned into the Heron, I remember one time my dad stopped out here and he ran inside to get a collection. And there was this party happening in here and I don’t know if it was Russian sailors or a stag do dressed as Russian sailors but they were having the most wild time coming in and out, beer everywhere, they were singing songs and as a child I think I was drawn to this place. It was the vibe, the energy, the style of it. And I think to be in a position now that, deep down it’s what I’ve always desired, what I’ve wanted, is in itself the start of it. So, moving forward, I just have to wait and see.
Calum: This’ll be the third pub that I’ll be involved in. I think seeing it stabilised, seeing it mature and develop its own rhythm is something that I’m looking forward to. Seeing how it finds its own feet and finds its place in the community and the area. Because when you put any stamp or character into a bar or a restaurant, if you don’t add to it, then nobody really knows you’ve been there. And I think it would be really nice if people could look back and think we’ve done something nice with the idea, and we’ve added to Leith in a positive way. And that’s something that I’ve always tried to do in my previous establishments.
So, apart from covid, what’s the biggest issues you’ve faced so far with this project?
Dale: It’s very hard to see past covid because it has a knock on effect on everything. Everything from trade works to supply to anything, I mean anything that goes wrong, it seems to have a trace in Covid.
Calum: Well, the toughest thing is not being open. I mean obviously we couldn’t open when we were getting the works done, but we really had planned to be open almost the end of last year, and realistically that was just never gonna happen and the ways things have panned out for us, you know costs start to mount up. And there’s a very limited amount of help available for a new business and that’s kinda been overlooked by government, we don’t get any breaks at all. We don’t get any start up grants, we don’t get any furlough. So we can’t hire new staff, we can’t take people on. The assumption is that somehow if you have the money to start up a business then you need to pay for everything even though you can’t trade properly. There’s very little entrepreneurial support there and one of the biggest challenges is to get staff in, paid and trained. So that I would say is probably the toughest part from a business point of view and most importantly from a personnel point of view.
How’s that experience going from employee to employer?
Dale: I’m loving it you know. This has been my dream for most of my life so far. My dad had a famous bar club called Scandals that I grew up in and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s something that I have an interest in. But again we’re not open, that’s the thing. We wanna get the place open first and foremost, also it’s a bar that I always liked, that I’ve been able to take over. But this is somewhere I’ve really cared about, and I drank in Sofi’s and I remember when it was the Bayhorse as a child, going past it and being fascinated by it. And I have always loved the architecture and the face of it, and I just wanna put all my love and care into it, and just make it the absolute best it can be.
Tell me how you guys met.
Dale: I was the bartender in the Malt and Hops. You were the customer and I was working there as the bartender.
Calum: Yeah, I think I was the customer at the time. I was just in the process of finalising the deal to take on the Malt and Hops, and Dale was working there. And he was just about to go on one of his many adventures, when I got the deal done, taken over the Malt and Hops, and then Dale kinda disappeared off into the wilderness. Meanwhile, I was running the pub and starting other businesses. About 10 years later, Dale walked in one day, and said ‘do you remember me?’ And I said no! He was new to the area again and I says ‘come on, I’ll take you round some of the local pubs and introduce you to a few people. I think, I can’t remember which pub it was, but we went into one and I popped in a couple days after, one of the girls says ‘so who was the guy you was with, we thought he was your son!’
Dale: That had a knock on effect as well. Cause when we were doing the jazz festival afterwards, people would phone and say ‘hi, your dad was in earlier?’ People just honestly assumed the whole time, so now I jokingly call him pops.
The cocktail bar opens the 14th of July and will continue to be a venue in the Leith Jazz and Blues Festival. Dale, Calum and Chris are excited to open and see everyone again after the long lockdown, so make sure to check out the new bar and try one of their three Mary’s signature cocktails.
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