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Drumlithie Inn: A village pub full of character

Ian and David Johnston-Oates with their dog Zak, owners of Drumlithie Inn.
Ian and David Johnston-Oates with their dog Zak, owners of Drumlithie Inn.

We can all picture what a quintessential village pub feels like: cosy and friendly with familiar faces enjoying wholesome chats.

However, just off the A90 in Drumlithie, you’ll find a village pub with an extra sprinkling of pizzazz.

Drumlithie Inn is owned by married couple, Ian and David Johnston-Oates.

David and Ian’s dog Zak is clearly a natural poser.

They wedded within six months of meeting each other – truly love at first sight – and despite the limitations of Covid, they have loved welcoming people to their bar and guest rooms over the last 16 months.

A great spot for a wide variety of drinks and plenty of entertainment, Ian and David are always keen to ensure that everyone leaves with a smile on their face.

“Obviously, being a gay married couple that owns Drumlithie Inn, we’ve very LGBTQ+ friendly,” says Ian.

“Our doors are open to everyone. We want it to be a welcoming place where people can come and relax, chill and have a good night.”

Pink Martini cocktail.

Leading new lives

Marrying in 2015, the pair decided to move to Drumlithie to lead a more relaxed life.

Ian, originally from Mount Tabor near Halifax, has two sons and spent several years working as a pastor before moving onto social work for nearly three decades.

“Everything that we do is all local produce, homemade, freshly sourced and cooked fresh,” Ian Johnston-Oates.

Meeting David, originally from Aberdeen, changed Ian’s outlook on his career path and the pair only had to look across the road to find inspiration for their next move.

“We lived right across the road from Drumlithie Inn, which was called Drumlithie Hotel at the time,” says David.

“We’d been in a few times and always had a great night, then Ian really wanted to get out of social work after being in it for 28 years.

“So, we spoke about it and thought we could buy the pub, still have an income and be mortgage free, which seemed like a great opportunity.”

Drumlithie Inn has its fair share of stories from over the years.

Tales of Drumlithie Inn

Despite being in the middle of the pandemic and having no prior experience in hospitality, the pair were unfazed and took the reins of the business in August 2020.

Renovations were the immediate port of call when they first moved in. But they also picked up many tales from the building’s long history in Drumlithie.

“It was originally built as a house in 1855 and has been a pub since 1857,” says Ian.

Inside Drumlithie Inn.

“In 1985, the police got a tip off that the inn was going to broke into. So, when it eventually was, the police were actually inside waiting for the people when they came in.”

As well as renovating their own accommodation at the inn, Ian and David have guest rooms available for overnight stays.

Ian and David behind the bar.

The pub

Downstairs however is where the main action takes place. With little else to do in the village, the inn is a hub for people from all walks of life including families, walkers, cyclists and over 60s.

Since employing experienced chef Tracey Harrison-Lewis, Drumlithie Inn’s food has proven very popular with regular specials on from Thursdays to Sundays.

Tracey’s special tequila rose cheesecake.

“Everything that we do is all local produce, homemade, freshly sourced and cooked fresh,” says Ian.

“We also cater for various dietary needs as well. Whether it’s vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, we can work around that.”

Fish and chips.

Drinks-wise, Drumlithie Inn’s extensive drinks list leaves guests spoilt for choice.

“We introduced a lot of newer drinks options when we took over the inn,” says David.

“We have premium vodkas, a huge range of malt whiskies and both the Edinburgh and Whitley Neil gins.

Drumlithie Inn bar area.

“There’s Guinness, Tennent’s, Heverlee, Peroni, ciders and Strongbow Dark Fruits on draught along with alcohol-free beers as well.

“We like to try different things as well like Jaffa Cake rum, which was quite popular.”

One of the stars of Drumlithie Inn’s drinks options though has to be its fancy cocktail concoctions which are available on tap.

Cocktails: passionfruit, espresso Martini and pink Martini.

“There’s cocktails on draught through Diageo which are very popular. They’re very strong, but absolutely delicious!” David laughs.

“There’s espresso martinis, a passionfruit gin cocktail and a pink gin cocktail. They all taste great.”

Espresso Martini.

High calibre entertainment

Providing entertainment at the inn is something that Ian and David are both passionate about.

“We want people to know that the entertainment we put on is of a high calibre,” David explains, before adding that they have a wide selection of acts booked in to perform for the year ahead.

David and Ian alongside Tracey Harris-Lewis.

The pair also often host functions and make the most of its beer garden space in the warmer months.

Like all pubs, Covid has brought challenges for Drumlithie Inn to overcome. But looking ahead, Ian and David have lots of ideas to expand their offerings and attract new faces from the surrounding areas.

“Tracey has lots of ideas for the summer including afternoon teas and old-style high teas which we think will go down very well,” says David.

Passionfruit cocktail.

“We’re looking to utilise our beer garden a lot more. We also want to renovate our function room to make for a bigger stage to allow us to do more entertainment.

“We’ve had great feedback so far and we want to just keep building the business, getting people through the door and let them see what we have to offer.”

‘We’ve put everything we have into it’

Ian and David mention that it hasn’t been easy learning from scratch how to run and manage their pub since they took over in 2020.

But when you speak to them both, it’s clear to see that if there’s any two people who could make a visit to Drumlithie Inn an experience to remember, it would be them both.

“It’s so different to what we’d done before, but I’ve always enjoyed working with people,” says Ian.

We’ve put everything we have into it and it’s a lovely place.

“We’ve got a great team of staff as well who are all locally employed.

“It’s hard work, but we’re really enjoying being in control of our own business.

“There’s different crowds in every night and everyone always has a good laugh.”

“There’s different crowds in every night and everyone always has a good laugh,” Ian Johnston-Oates.

A round of questions with Ian and David Johnston-Oates of Drumlithie Inn.

Most underrated drink?

David: Jack Daniels. Definitely straight.

If you were a drink, what would you be and why?

David: Vodka, because it’s pure and clear.

Ian: I’d be a fine wine, it just goes with my character.

What’s in your drinks cabinet at home?

Ian: A duplicate of what’s in the bar downstairs!

Most unusual drink you’ve ever tried?

Ian: Probably the green venom drinks. One of the bar staff made it up for us one night, but it didn’t appeal. The young ones seem to love it though.

Any secret tips of the drinks trade?

David: Bite your tongue, chill and let things go over your head if need be.

Best food and drink pairing?

David: Tequila rose cheesecake. Tracey created it and it was absolutely delicious.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what three drinks would be there with you?

Ian: Vodka, sauvignon blanc, plum and vanilla gin.

You have to serve your favourite superhero or celebrity a drink. Who is it and what do you serve them?

David: Well, it would be Tina Turner and she can have absolutely anything she wants!

Ian: Kate Bush for me and she can have anything she wants as well.


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