Three weeks before our hotel stay, at the start of August, we arrived to contribute our comedy show to the Edinburgh Festival. A month-long run of sketches and stand-up on the Fringe is so tiring you feel wiped out (getting the audience in, a daily performance, dozens of friends’ shows to see), so by the final weekend, we’re ready to weep and/or die. Not quite yet though – Mr Smith has one final stand-up gig, a very important one. There will be agents, big promoters and even a scout from HBO. Let’s hope he doesn’t screw it up. He screws it up. He goes blank in front of 150 people. The cupboard is bare. Seconds become hours. Nothing nothing nothing. Thank you and goodnight. If ever a man is going to need some comforting, it is going to be now. If ever a boutique hotel is going to have to do its job – it is going to be now. Enter to rapturous applause: the Rutland Hotel.
Scotland’s capital, history fans, is dubbed the Athens of the North, and is a city of great beauty where the rain dictates that you get wetter than a haddock at the bottom of the North Sea. There are cobbled streets, interesting independent shops, excellent cafes and of course the castle, sitting atop the centre’s heart at its highest point but, bizarrely, often hidden from view, popping up at the oddest of angles from the corner of one’s eye. We are old orienteering hands in Edinburgh by now, yet tramping around it still feels like being trapped in an Escher painting: endless inclines, inviting tunnels and maze-like approaches spit you out where least expected.
The Rutland sits at a five-way crossroads at the west end of Princes Street; Edinburgh’s main drag and where one the city’s tramworks will soon return to life after fifty years. We sidestep the tarmac-drilling into the modernised Georgian townhouse – once the home of eminent bonesaw Sir Joseph Lister – and the serene, plush interior starts to work its magic. Baroque thrones sit under a large mirror in reception. Guided by the super-polite and friendly staff, we head upstairs in the sci-fi glass lift, passing Pop Art nods, highly lacquered lamps and more seating worthy of Posh ’n’ Becks-style nuptials. In room 10, we collapse on the bed in a heap. It’s not a pretty sight. Thankfully our backdrop is. The triangular haven echoes the reception’s purple-on-white decor – from dusty mauve-and-hot-pink curtains to the maroon Charles Eames chair. On the dressing table, glass jars of jelly beans and salt-and-pepper cashews sit alongside two deep indigo-bowled wine glasses and a bottle of Corvina Alpha Zeta emblazoned with a colour-scheme-fitting label. (I recall a friend’s mum who was so proud of her floral-patterned tissues from M&S matching the lampshade and curtains. This would knock her socks off.)
As we drink in the decor, Mr Smith prepares to get off the bed. Problem. It is cocooning his bruised comedy ego. He can’t get up: this king-size piece of heaven is such a grade-one comfort zone you’d have to be Houdini to escape its Egyptian cotton-clad clutches. Luckily, in the cosy bathroom with its Korres miniatures and illegally fluffy white towelling dressing gowns beckon. Mr Smith takes a minute to wash away the smell of defeat – and have a shave – and we’re ready to hit the town, via the Rutland’s bar, a sweeping ground-floor semi-circle with enticing padded stools and deep armchairs. Not only less raucous, stylistically, The Bar also scores full soundproofing marks – only when a thirsty Edinburger enters from the street do we remember there’s any noise outside. A couple of fellow comics join us for drinks to help lick Mr Smith’s wounds, so we settle into an inviting cowhide and chandeliered booth. A couple of Lipglosses (the hotel’s signature cocktails of gin, raspberries, pomegranate juice, lavender syrup), later and we waft up the dazzling steep staircase – all mirrors and sunflowers – to the red’n’black first-floor restaurant. Light bounces from long vertical strings of glass bubbles suspended from jellyfish booths, partitioning circles of diners from the rest of the room with their hanging black tendrils.
The food is properly good (head chef: David Haetzman) and we can’t wait to get stuck in. It arrives as swiftly as the cocktails. It’s a tomato and red onion tart, then salmon on potatoes for Mrs Smith, and leek, potato and thyme soup and an Aberdeen burger for her Mr. We share milk chocolate tart and pecan and maple syrup ice cream for pud. It’s all delish. Staff, too, are sweet and professional, not fitting your typical luxury hotel restaurant mould: young and groovy (a pierced nose here, a streak of brightly dyed hair there), they’re a reminder that the Rutland projects an anything-but-snooty policy that charms you into feeling especially relaxed. Before plunging one last time into the wild, Saturday night Fringe fray, we take our nightcap early with a sampling of the excellent, esoteric minibar whiskies.
Cometh the morning, cometh the continental brekker: mountains of fruit salad, some good mini-pastries and a brace of coffees and we’re ready to tackle Arthur’s Seat – the hill to the east of Edinburgh that’s a 45-minute hike with routes to suit all levels of climbing proficiency. Donning our ‘L’ plates we idle up, admire the stunning view of the city, high-five each other that it’s stopped raining, then saunter back down, meeting on the way at least three hairy kilts honing their teeth-whitening bagpipe skills. Mr Smith tells us we’re lucky: when it’s really sunny there can be as many as 20. He’s obviously on the mend.
In the centre of Edinburgh again, it’s time to head home; the city’s crazy layout puzzles us anew. Like Alice in Through The Looking-Glass, we seem to walk in the opposite direction to our destination yet still we pop up by the Rutland like rabbits out of a hole. The hotel is hushed and calm in contrast to the madding tourist and festival-goer crowd outside. It’s hard to say goodbye. And if it’d been raining, it would’ve been impossible.