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Slains Castle regulars horrified at plans to turn Aberdeen’s spooky pub into ‘posh’ cocktail bar

Slains Castle reaction
Plans to turn Slains Castle into a Slug and Lettuce have had a mixed reaction. Supplied by Mhorvan Park, design team

The news that Aberdeen’s spooky Slains Castle pub could soon be converted into an Instagram-friendly cocktail bar has been met with sheer horror by some.

Owners Stonegate say transforming the former church into a trendy Slug and Lettuce venue will make it a “place for everyone to enjoy”.

But loyal customers are crestfallen at losing the unique city centre destination.

Many social media commentators were incredulous at the change, though one or two seemed enthusiastic about sampling the “two for one” cocktail offering at Slug and Lettuce.

I visited to break the news to regulars left dismayed at the proposed overhaul – who vowed never to “sit in some posh place”.

Slains Castle is a dominant feature along Belmont Street. Ben Hendry/DCT Media

Slains Castle reaction

Walking into Slains Castle, you half expect to be greeted by a hunchbacked lackey and a burst of organ music.

The coffin-shaped signs outside and its legendary gothic decor are inspired by Count Dracula.

But intrepid holidaymakers seem happy to risk an encounter with the undead to have a nose about the Belmont Street institution.

The ornate interior, complete with these wooden balustrades, could soon be ripped out. Picture by Jim Irvine

Several of them stopped to take snaps of the towering spires before heading in for a bite to eat.

With its days possibly numbered, I decided to take in the sights on a rare daytime visit myself as well.

Slains Castle has been the place to be on Halloween. Picture by Jim Irvine

The walls are bedecked with ancient swords, sepia-tinted images of the Cruden Bay ruin it’s named after and even a detailed account of the burning of Aberdeen “witch” Helen Rogie.

Everywhere you turn there’s another curio to catch the eye – from images of Banffshire’s Green Lady to bone-chilling oak carvings and a witch’s broom.

The seating wouldn’t look out of place in Dracula’s Transylvanian abode. Picture by Jim Irvine

‘I love the vibe’

Sipping a cocktail based on the Heavenly Virtues (a spin-off of Slains’ famed Seven Deadly Sins offering), Catriona Bugden is visiting from North Bay in Ontario, Canada.

Her younger brother Callum is by her side and fiance Ryley Mothersill is opposite – also enjoying a cocktail (they are on holiday, after all).

And asked what drew them in, Catriona smiles: “I love the vibe.”

She adds: “It definitely caught my eye from the outside, I just think the general look of it is really cool.

“I probably wouldn’t have come in if it was somewhere more generic.”

It was this eerie ‘vibe’ that attracted a trio of Canadian tourists. Picture by Jim Irvine

Among the pub’s most famous features are the realistic false bookcases which camouflage the door to the loos.

The hidden entrance to the gents even opens with an ominous creak straight from the realms of Hollywood sound effects, though it’s hard to say if this is intended.

How the change was reported on the front page of Tuesday’s Evening Express. Supplied by Mhorvan Park, design team.

‘This has been my meeting place with friends for 20 years’

Someone unlikely to be duped by the hidden doorway is Kevin Craig, who has been visiting Slain’s Castle since it opened.

He said: “I have been coming here since 1999 and I don’t think I would enjoy coming somewhere like that [Slug and Lettuce].

“This is a friendly place, and the staff are great.

“I have been to a Slug and Lettuce in Edinburgh and they just offer highly-priced drink and no atmosphere or ambience.

“I’ll be sad to see it change, this has been my meeting place with all my friends for 20 years.”

New birdcage-style seating will be installed under the revamp plans. Supplied by Bidwells architects

‘We will have to find somewhere else’

Kevin is with pal Mark Duffus, awaiting the arrival of eight or nine other friends for one of their regular catch-ups after work.

Mark believes any reinvention might be doomed to failure as “there are too many places around here offering the same stuff”.

He sighs: “We have been coming for years, and we get on with all the staff.

“But it looks like we will have to find somewhere else to drink.

“We are not going to sit in a posh place.”

The current spooky serving area will be replaced with a gleaming golden bar. Supplied by Bidwells architects

‘They should keep it the way it is’

Aiden Ferguson, a Norwood Hotel worker, offers me a shocked look when I tell him about the revamp plans.

These test tube shots look like something from science fiction. Picture by Jim Irvine

Aiden, who is from Edinburgh but now lives in Aberdeen, composes himself and says: “My answer is definitely a no.

“They should keep it the way it is.

“If they want a Slug and Lettuce they should open it somewhere else, like in Marischal Square.

“If this place goes, a lot of people would miss it, this just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

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And scoffing at the revamp vision, another fan told me: “Every wall in Slains is a ‘selfie wall’, this place is way more Instagrammable than a Slug and Lettuce.”

Plans will ‘rip the heart and soul out of fine gothic place’

Corey Cook e-mailed the P&J to express his dismay.

He said: “As a frequent customer at Slains for my college years, I personally am very upset that they want to rip out the heart and soul of that fine gothic place.

“It is a shame that they want to get rid of the gothic vibe that many of my friends, family and myself love.

“Just the other month my fiance experienced her first night out in Aberdeen, and she loved Slains – it fitted her personality and her vibes perfectly.”

Corey Cook and fiance Camille Ambler Bennett on their recent visit. Supplied by Corey Cook

Slug and Lettuce ‘will provide the best experiences’

A spokesman for Slug and Lettuce told us that all feedback would be “valued”.

He said: “We understand and value all feedback regarding our plans to bring the Slug and Lettuce to Aberdeen.

“We want to provide the best possible experiences for our guests and we have some exciting plans to make this venue a place for everyone to enjoy.”

What is the social media Slains Castle reaction?

Opinion online was largely against the revamp – though some backed the idea.

Posting on the Evening Express page, Jackie Hickman said: “If it’s not broken, why try to fix it.”

Beth Bruce argued that, if not broken, Slains Castle was certainly far from on top form.

She said: “Thank God.

“It’s looking very tired now, and an overhaul may bring in a lot more business.”

Kenny Leslie replied: “Think the opposite might happen, will just be a sterile bar without the ‘look’.”

Shocked Slains Castle reaction on Facebook

Meanwhile, a disbelieving James Cobb typed: “Naaaaah this ain’t true.”

And Ashley Louise said: “Can’t decide if I’ll miss Slains or excited for Slug and Lettuce!”

Can you spot the secret entrance to the ladies toilet? Picture by Jim Irvine

What do you think of the Slains Castle changes? Let us know in our comments section

Ryan Duguid joked that now at least people won’t get lost when looking for the hidden toilets.

And Scott Kinghorn highlighted the “two for one” cocktail deals on offer at Slug and Lettuce by posting “2 for 1 babyyyyy”.

You can see the plans here and read our full report on the transformation here.