As we’ve been discovering, there’s a lot more to Aberdeen’s retail landscape than giant shopping centres and chain stores. Some of the most interesting shops are the small, independent retailers, who combine a passion for quality products with an unshakable customer service. This month, we’ve been braving the cold to explore Upperkirkgate, Schoolhill, Back Wynd, Belmont Street and Rosemount Viaduct for retail treasures. These are some of the oldest streets in the city and there are echoes of history all along the route; just take one step beyond…
Start at Marischal College, a magnificently gothic granite confection that always seems rather wasted on the council and head down Upperkirkgate. Here you’ll find Starbucks, Zone Spa, and Games Workshop, home to role-playing, paintbrush- wielding lovers of Warhammer.
You’ll pass Drum’s Lane, which used to house a home for poor widows and aged virgins, set up with a bequest from Marion Douglas, Lady Drum back in 1633. You’ll also notice a plaque for Kirkgate Court, which was also known as Painter’s Court, where John Farquhar and David Gill painted and set up a pigment and colour business that lasted till 1972.
Not quite as venerable, Andrew Begg have been in business since 1866, starting out as cobblers in New Pitsligo. Five generations later, the family-run business is still loved for its excellent staff and good selection of comfortable, but stylish footwear and a great range of dance shoes. Further down, Pattersons Shoes has a more trend-led selection, with brands like Fly London and Gabor, as well as handbags and jewellery, so it’s a great option if you’re looking to accessorise an outfit.
If you need a chain store fix, you can head right into the Bon Accord Centre or left into St. Nicholas Centre, or just stroll straight on to L’Occitaine en Provence, for a delightful array of lotions and potions. Head up Schoolhill, past St. Nicholas Kirkyard, which contains an intriguing gravestone dedicated to the Wizard of the North. The Wizard was James Anderson, a hugely popular international music hall magician, now largely forgotten.
No less magical, is Flower Vogue, one of the city’s best-established florists and Wordies Ale House, which does a robust pub lunch and majors in real ale. Nearby, Haig’s is a good option for lunch on the go or deli treats, while O’Caykx offers perfect patisserie.
Take a left onto Back Wynd for Alex Scott, a traditional kilt maker, then a trio of foodie shops. Nick Nairn’s Cook School, offers quick two hour classes, as well as day-sessions and a shop filled with culinary gadgets, utensils and ingredients, while Aberdeen Aga is beloved of country cooks. MacBeans specialise in tea and coffee, grinding beans to order. Winter sports fans will appreciate White Stuff, while bibliophiles may turn up an interesting volume or two in Oxfam’s book shop. If you’re in need of sustenance, Ninety Nine Bar and Kitchen combines a relaxed atmosphere with some excellent and interesting cooking, while O’Neill’s Irish Pub is good for traditional bar meals.
Nip through one of the lanes to Belmont Street, where you’ll find a host of interesting little shops and probably the highest concentration of places to have a meal or a few drinks in town. From the Union Street end, Drummonds is one of the city’s leading live music pubs, Slains Castle is good for pub grub and Siberia and Revolution specialise in vodka. If you’re more of a cocktail type, try The Tippling House, which is also great for dinner, or the Wild Boar, a long-established favourite.
You’ll find one of the city’s finest Indian restaurants at Shri Bheema’s next door to the Belmont Picturehouse, Aberdeen’s arthouse cinema. If you’re just after a coffee or a sandwich, Books and Beans and Blue Mountain both have a laid back lunchtime vibe. Or head into the Academy Shopping Centre which houses Rye& Soda, Nando’s and Wagamama depending on whether you fancy something Anglo-American, Piri-Piri or Oriental. Cocoa Ooze offers delicious hand made chocolates and yummy hands on workshops. On the last Saturday of each month, Belmont Street is filled with stalls for the Farmer’s Market.
There’s more to Belmont Street than food, though. There’s a quirky little place on the corner with Little Belmont street and Juniper has been selling gifts and jewellery for decades, but always has something fresh, while the Academy has a fabulous music shop, and teen-orientated independent clothing retailers.
Back on Schoolhill, Aveda at James Dun’s House – one of the oldest houses in the city – offer great hair and beauty services, while the Art Gallery offers a respite from shopping and a bit of culture – at least until you hit the gift shop or the café.
Head up to Rosemount Viaduct, passing HMT and the Central Library, which has fabulously helpful staff and a great local history section and pop into Plan 9, worth a visit for its comprehensive collection of comics and graphic novels and tons of cute merchandise. What newborn doesn’t need a Superman Babygro? Further along, you’ll find upmarket clothier Kafka, the rose embellished frontage of Rosemount Tattoo and a sprinkling of charity shops. Taking a left onto Skene Street, you’ll find Nargile, purveyors of delicious Turkish and Middle Eastern dishes and Odyssey Hair, where Lee has a great reputation for colour and cuts.
Back on Rosemount Viaduct, Gordon Bell’s delightful piano shop will make you wish you’d stuck to practicing. Next up in a trio of beauty and hair salons, then the Rusty Nail, a decent neighbourhood pub and the Masada Bar, where the unpretentious frontage hasn’t changed in decades. Along a little more, you’ll find The Sailors’ Society charity shop and Teasel & Tweed, which has brilliant hand-made furniture, art and gifts all made in Scotland, as well as wonderful waffles and teas. On the opposite side of the road, head for The Breadmaker, a brilliant little bakery and café. This social enterprise does a great sourdough, a moreish cheesy bread and some lovely traybakes and cakes, while providing training and jobs for people with learning disabilities.
In this stretch, you’ll also find Avril Oenone, a St. Martin’s trained fashion and textiles graduate who moved into millinery. Avril’s designs have been to more stylish weddings than Liz Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor combined. Next door is Bride’s Delight and two more hair and beauty salons – Eden Beauty and the Embassy of Beauty.
Moving past Skene House Serviced Apartments, a computer repair shop and Bestpets, you’ll come to Leadside Road, home of the misleadingly named Georgian Dress Hire. There’s not a Georgian frock coat in sight but they do have a great selection of masculine formal dress and highland wear for sale or hire. Nearing the top of the hill, there are more hairdressers and you’ll also find Fabrimake, which is a little shop selling fabric, gifts and reupholstered furniture that makes the uphill trek worthwhile. They also run reasonably priced workshops so you can finally work out what to do with that sewing machine that’s been living in the loft!