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Couple’s £400,000 dream to turn closed Aberdeen pub into Heston Blumenthal-style ‘molecular cocktail’ bar

Gilan and Hollie Kelly are behind plans for a new Windmill Brae cocktail bar
Gilan and Hollie Kelly want to open a Windmill Brae cocktail bar - with an intriguing twist.

A few years ago, Hollie and Gilan Kelly were preparing for a life-changing move from Aberdeenshire to New Zealand.

The entrepreneurial couple sold the Breakout Games escape room they started in Aberdeen and their Banchory-based Battle Grounds as they prepared for the fresh start.

But then the pandemic hit, and their carefully-laid plans were left in tatters.

Following a “dramatic pivot”, they are now committing themselves to the north-east.

And the pair have big plans for a new bar in the heart of the Granite City.

The pub seen here as Steinhaus in 2017.

Windmill Brae’s German-inspired Steinhaus, beneath the former Garage nightclub, has been gathering dust since 2018.

Now, Hollie and Gilan have submitted plans which could bring it back to life as a unique addition to the city’s social scene.

Windmill Brae cocktail bar with ‘Heston Blumenthal’ inspiration

Hollie, who has a background in science, explained he vision for a cocktail bar serving more than your average Mojitos or Espresso Martinis.

She said: “We have been looking at options and this space is well-known, most Aberdonians have a memory of it – for me, it’s as Moshulu.

“What we want to create is a molecular cocktail experience.

“These would be like ‘Heston Blumenthal cocktails’, that are reactive and taste different…

“We want to elevate the cocktail experience by bringing something new to the market in Aberdeen.”

This is the sort of exciting concoction that could be served up if the proposal gains planning permission. Image from Shutterstock.

Molecular cocktails can look like something from a mad professor’s lab – with vapours swirling from the glass as various ingredients mix with one another.

It’s said the process produces “greater intensities of flavour”, and drinks can be presented with foam and even atomised spray.

This drink might give you a bit of a glow… Image from Shutterstock.

Pardoning the pun, Hollie says the idea has been “bubbling away” for some time.

“Our first sample of it was in a bar in South Africa” she explained.

“This has been years in the making… We just thought we would be opening it in New Zealand.”

This layout showing the lower ground floor occupied by Steinhaus was published when the building went up for sale. Image from Shepherd Commercial.

Couple’s nerves over Windmill Brae cocktail bar plans

The Kincardine O’Neill duo have run several leisure businesses over the last decade, and own an escape room in York.

Gilan now runs a luxury hot tub hire company, while Hollie works for a business consultancy.

Despite their experience, Hollie admits the molecular cocktail venture – to be known as Shape Shifters – is a “pretty scary” one.

The logo proposed for the Windmill Brae bar would be illuminated. Supplied by Tinto architects

She added: “We were planning to leave the country pre-Covid, we had sold Breakout Games and booked our flights.

“Then we had to pivot quite dramatically, and re-focus on Aberdeen.

“Talk about picking a rotten time to start refurbishing a bar… Everything has doubled and tripled in price.

“The lower ground floor is a huge site, and it has been empty for some time.

“The revamp will cost about £400,000 – and that’s if we are lucky.

It’s never easy… But we will get there.”

Windmill Brae has fallen on hard times… But could it be due a resurgence?

One of their most significant aspirations for the site is that it will be “completely carbon neutral”.

And if the Aberdeen business is a hit, the pair hope to grow it with branches elsewhere in the UK “in rapid succession”.

Molecular mixology is the practice of mixing drinks using science to manipulate ingredients on the molecular level. It was inspired by molecular gastronomy. Image from Shutterstock

What about the rest of the building?

It comes after OGV Taproom was given permission to take over much of the attached former Garage nightclub, which shares the 17 Windmill Brae address.

The Windmill Brae cocktail bar would be across from the site of a proposed new axe-throwing venue.

What do you think of the plans? Let us know in our comments section

Will there be appetite for another escape room?

The cocktail bar is proposed to come with an escape room too, which could cater to a growing trend in Aberdeen city centre.

As well as Breakout Games on Palmerston Road, there’s Northern Frights on John Street and The Locked Door on the Hardgate.

And across Windmill Brae, plans are afoot to turn empty offices into a new axe-throwing venue.

Hollie believes these ventures could complement each other, and help bring much-needed footfall to Aberdeen city centre.

This image shows the downtrodden spot earmarked for the axe-throwing venue.

Last month it was confirmed that Union Street’s Espionage would be brought back to life as a pub games venue.

Visitors will be able to expect to play darts, shuffleboard, pool, skee ball and arcade games at the former club.

Aberdeen City Council will decide whether to approve Shape Shifters, and opening could still be some distance off.