There's a right way and a wrong way to do things, and at the Scottish Arms at the edge of the Central West End, they do it by the book. And the book says that when you're tasting single-malt Scotch, you gotta release its essence by activating it with a few drops of water.
To that end, bartender Jake MacGregor sets an itsy pitcher next to a dram of Bruichladdich. As he does so, his inner-forearm reveals the MacGregor family crest. Next to it is a tattoo of his father, who is wearing a kilt. (On his other arm is a tattoo of a woman. "That's my ex-wife," he says. "It's a scar.")
If somebody slipped us some acid and told us we had been magically transported to Edinburgh, we'd buy it, so great is the Scottish Arms at capturing the pub experience. It's one thing for a restaurant to hatch a concept and then strive to meet it, but another thing altogether to so successfully replicate the vibe that when you look onto Sarah Street through the plate-glass window, it seems like Great Britain out there.
The secret? Make the place a little on the dark side, throw in a fantastic, ornate bar and many, many British tap handles. A lot of people better be drunk, and from time to time they need to erupt in giddy laughter. And make sure that behind the idea is knowledge and passion.
MacGregor, the Arms' general manager, takes his ancestry seriously. He's an expert on single-malt Scotch and can unload a thesaurus' worth of descriptives to characterize it. The Bruichladdich he's recommended is the fifteen-year-old, and its nickname is "The Laddie." It's a soft, gentle Scotch, which opens up to reveal a touch of fruit and the essence of....uh.....honey? Or is that licorice with Splenda? A peaty bouquet, or is it log rot? It's something so magical that it seems like Mohammed-esque sacrilege to verbalize.
And the Laphroaig fifteen-year-old? Holy sheep's intestines, that's a good 'un, so ferociously smoky that you'd swear it had slept next to a campfire for a century. Like the Bruichladdich, Laphroaig is created on Islay, an island off the west coast of Scotland. Specifically, it's born in "the beautiful hollow by the broad bay," which is what its name means in Gaelic. Its flavor? Like someone upholstered the inside of your mouth with burnt red velvet, mopped your tongue with liquid smoke, and gave you a Cuban-cigar kiss with lips wet with honey.
Chelsea's playing Newcastle on the telly, and we wouldn't rather be anywhere else. We've got whisky, water, a seemingly bottomless cup of Bellhaven Twisted Thistle bitter (a toasty, spicy ale) and a goddamn expense account. Maybe we'll have a chicken pastie, or some fish and chips.
We're already thinking about coming back again tomorrow night. In fact, we're a little worried about how much we want to return, and we haven't even left yet.