The Wildcat is a classic cocktail bar and locals haunt in the heart of Tollcross that opened only a few months ago in the middle of lockdown. Run by two old school bartenders – Will Ford and Cam Howarth – with a passion for good drinks, it is very different to many of the other bars in the area. They serve up craft cocktails, beer, wine, whisky and all the rest in a welcoming venue on Tarvit street, and not only that, they do a classic Negroni for a competitive £5. The Fountain caught up with the bold owners to discuss their plans, response and cocktail list.
TF: So you made the bold move of opening The Wildcat during lockdown, what compelled you initially?
Will: I’ve always looked half-heartedly at pubs that are available and it’s been something I’ve wanted to do in the long run. It was just literally in lockdown, just killing an afternoon, I was looking at some pubs that were available and saw this place, which was one of the most accessibly-priced that I’d seen. I thought, ‘It looks like a good deal’ and text Cam who was just hanging out, and was like “let’s open this bar, it will be a great idea” in a sort of jokey way and then we had a chat that day. We walked over to see it, it looked alright, we met the guy and had a look round.
Cam: Basically, we saw the space, it was a mess when we got in, but you could see the value in it. It was accessibly priced, we did the numbers and worked out that as long as everything stayed open even with restrictions, we would get through it. That’s what happened basically right?
Will: Yes, the worst thing that could’ve happened was another lockdown, but we had kind of pencilled in a clause with Punch, the pubs company, that if that happened we’d go back to an easier price point. It wasn’t win win, but it was win and not go bankrupt, we were in a good position to do it.
TF: What has the response been like from the locals and tourists in Edinburgh thus far?
Cam: I think the fact that you’re hear proves that it’s pretty good right? Would you have come and interviewed an average bar? Neither of us spent much time in this area before we got it but a quick walk up and down Lothian Road and this area shows that there is not enough quality in this area. There are a lot of pubs and a lot of food oriented bars. You’ve got places like The Blackbird who are really good at what they do but you are never gonna get a really good cocktail there. For me, personally, I’ve always just worked in small bars that are comfortable that you can get a really good drink in.
Will: I think there are venues in this style in the city, and we are minutes from the city centre, but Toll Cross has its own little thing. I think Cam’s right, I don’t think there is anywhere as craft cocktail focussed as here. I think the fact that we’re the owners and we’re here every day, people like that.
The feedback has been amazing, I’ve not worked anywhere where I’ve had feedback like this, our Google reviews are crazy good. And some nights we will have an eighty-something year old couple on one table and three twenty-something girls on another, and they are both telling us this is our favourite bar in Edinburgh, we have never been anywhere like this. And to be able to do that, we can do groups or we can do a chap on his own at the bar, or a ladies’ night out or whatever, it feels like whatever people want we can tend to do that. It’s really nice to be able to appease everyone rather than being known as the old man pub or this is the this, or this is the that. We go all the way from Tennent’s at £4.20 to some delicious £15 whiskies. We’ve sold some of everything so it’s not exclusive.
TF: And you are widely known for your signature £5 Negronis, what prompted this idea?
Cam: They are very cheap to make and a cocktail staple, and a world-renowned delicious drink. So we figured we would take a bit of a hit on the profit we make from it, and that’s it really. We basically built a bar that we would want to come to. You can come here for a Negroni or two, a beer or a cocktail.
Will: It was gonna be £6 initially but we started working with some brands like Carpano, and they got behind it.
Cam: Gin is obviously the biggest cost with this cocktail and we were worried that were not going to be able to get distilleries on board to work with us, but it’s been the opposite really. People have been gagging to work with us.
Will: So, yeah, from the support we get from the cross-promotion (we have just changed onto Seven Crofts gin yesterday and that’s gonna be for two months, and they want to put us on their Instagram), and stuff like that. It works for everyone.
TF: And you not only have that but a few signature cocktails on your menu that you have put together, what are your own personal favourites?
Cam: We’ve been bar managers for ten years and we’re both cocktail-focused, and the worry was that because this building had been Burlington Bertie’s for twenty years that we would be fighting off old men right left and centre. I don’t mean fighting in a negative way but we have been trying to change it to craft beer but also cocktails. We’ve kept the cocktail list short purposefully but have one drink to cover every style.
Will: Favourites-wise I like what the Attrice does, it’s our riff on the Pornstar, which is a favourite drink to make. But it’s a popular drink, it encapsulates that crowd, but personally I think ours is a better drink. Gin rather than vodka, a little bit of Amaro in there, which makes it a little more interesting, a house made syrup; we are doing the drinks that people want but better. That’s been the feedback we’ve had, people do let us choose what they drink. There’s faith in us, which is really nice. Working in Australia and Canada, I found people trust the bartender and we’re developing that atmosphere here, people do trust us. We love the classics, so the menu is basically a bridge for us to take people from the drinks they know and love and turn them into the drinks we know and love and we can all just meet in the middle and have a nice time.
Cam: Classics are classics for a reason right?! They’ve been around for a hundred years and they’re still around. We’re not arrogant enough to assume we could make a better drink than a margarita.
TF: And what are your plans for the future, things are looking okay for The Wildcat?
Cam: We are pushing thirty and we are coming to the end of our service lives. We want to build this place and make it a permanent staple, as well known as Bramble and as big as Panda & Sons. And then pass it onto Max (who works at The Wildcat) or someone like him, and then go do something else. There’s a lot of gaps in Edinburgh hospitality so there is a lot of space to move. So that’s the plan, build this place, get the capital behind us and build something bigger.
Will: This was surprisingly easy. We showed up, wrote a cocktail list, bought some alcohol and people like it or have been buying it. We went from bartenders from business owners really quickly, basically.
TF: If you could give one reason why folks in Edinburgh should frequent The Wildcat what would it be? One only…
Will: £5 Negronis
Cam: It’s different to so much of the same that exists within the city.
The Wildcat is open 4 -12am, Monday – Sunday on 11 Tarvit St