Dundee is fast emerging as one of the UK’s most creative and coolest cities. This reinvention of a once-maligned city has come to the surprise of everyone except Dundonians themselves, who have always known that their hometown punches culturally well above its weight.
The city that brought us Grand Theft Auto, Shackleton’s RRS Discovery and the electric lightbulb — not to mention jute, jam and journalism — has a long and proud history. And where better to get a taste of it than in the city’s bars? From cocktails in a hidden speakeasy to ales in a Jacobite hideout here’s a guide to how to drink in Dundee history.
Dundee’s Janet Keillor takes the credit for inventing marmalade. Legend has it that she invented the preserve by accident while trying to make use of a cargo of Seville oranges brought to Dundee during a storm in 1700 after a Spanish ship took refuge in the harbour.Dundee soon became known as the “home of marmalade” and Keillor is honoured as “Mrs Marmalade” on a blue plaque on the High Street — part of the Dundee Women’s Trail, which recognises the contributions made to society by Dundee women. Several Dundee bars nod to the preserve’s role in the city’s history by serving marmalade cocktails. Try the marmalade mojito (served in a jar) at Avery & Co. or a breakfast martini (which swaps vermouth for marmalade and lemon juice) at Jam Jar.
Cocktails in the Speakeasy
Down Couttie’s Wynd, a gloomy alleyway off the Nethergate, a nondescript backdoor opens onto one of Dundee’s coolest bars. Draffens pays homage to Dundee days of old by taking its name from Draffens of Dundee department store, a shopping institution that stood around the corner and is still fondly remembered by those who visited before its demise in the early 1980s.
Once you’ve found your way in to the warmly lit basement bar, settle into a leather couch and get started on the craft cocktails. Perhaps begin with a toast to Dundee’s maritime legacy — the city has a long history of shipbuilding — with a OVD Dundee navy grog, made with a dark rum originally distilled in Dundee.
Botanicals at D’Arcy Thompson
The celebrated biologist and classicist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson wrote his book On Growth and Form (1917) in Dundee, an enduring contribution to the disciplines of zoology, botany, and ecology on how conditions shape the development of plants and animals.
Learn about his work with a visit to the D’Arcy Museum at the University of Dundee, then stop by the D’Arcy Thompson restaurant for a perfect serve of Arbikie’s AK Gin, made locally with a botanical blend of coriander, thistle, black cardamom and orris root.
Ales at the Fisherman’s Tavern
The tavern, which dates from 1826, is housed in three pastel-hued 16th-century cottages. As a plaque outside attests, these houses once sheltered Jacobite Chevalier de Johnstone as he fled the battle of Culloden, in which the Jacobite rebellion was crushed. This is the only Scottish pub to feature in every edition of the Camra Good Beer Guide since it launched in 1974, so settle in with a few pints and enjoy the cosy nooks — or, if it’s sunny, the beer garden — and try to catch a Thursday night fiddle session.