A few years ago, Hollie and Gilan Kelly were preparing for a life-changing move from Aberdeenshire to New Zealand.
The entrepreneurial couple have sold the Breakout Games escape room they set up in Aberdeen and their Banchory-based battlegrounds as they prepare for a fresh start.
But then the pandemic hit and their carefully laid plans were left in tatters.
After a “dramatic pivot”, they are now heading northeast.
And the couple have big plans for a new bar in the heart of Granite City.
The German-inspired Steinhaus in Windmill Brae, under the former Garage nightclub, has been gathering dust since 2018.
Now Hollie and Gilan have submitted plans that could bring it back to life as a unique addition to the town’s social scene.
‘Heston Blumenthal’ Inspired Windmill Brae Cocktail Bar
Hollie, who is scientifically trained, explained her vision for a cocktail bar serving more than your average Mojitos or Espresso Martinis.
She said: “We looked at the options and this space is well known, most Aberdonians remember it – for me it’s like Moshulu.
“What we want to create is a molecular cocktail experience.
“It would be like ‘Heston Blumenthal cocktails’, which are reactive and taste different…
“We want to elevate the cocktail experience by bringing something new to the Aberdeen market.”
Molecular cocktails can look like something out of a mad professor’s lab – with vapors swirling from the glass as various ingredients mix together.
The process is said to produce “greater flavor intensities”, and drinks can be presented with froth and even an atomized spray.
Pardoning the pun, Hollie says the idea has been “bubbling” for a while.
“Our first sample was in a bar in South Africa,” she explained.
“It took years to prepare… We just thought we were going to open it in New Zealand.”
Couple’s nerves over plans for Windmill Brae cocktail bar
The Kincardine O’Neill duo have run several leisure businesses over the past decade and have an escape room in York.
Gilan now runs a luxury spa rental company, while Hollie works for a business consultancy.
Despite their background, Hollie admits the molecular cocktail business – known as Shape Shifters – is “pretty scary”.
She added: “We planned to leave the country before Covid, we sold Breakout Games and booked our flights.
“Then we had to pivot quite dramatically and refocus on Aberdeen.
“Talk about picking a rotten time to start renovating a bar… Everything doubled and tripled in price.
“The ground floor is a huge site, and it has been empty for some time.
“The redesign will cost around £400,000 – and that’s if we’re lucky.
It’s never easy… But we’ll get there.
One of their most important aspirations for the site is for it to be “completely carbon neutral”.
And if the Aberdeen business is successful, the couple hope to expand it with branches elsewhere in the UK “in quick succession”.
And the rest of the building?
It comes after OGV Taproom was given permission to take over much of the adjoining former Garage nightclub, which shares the address 17 Windmill Brae.
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Will there be an appetite for another escape room?
The cocktail bar also comes with an escape room, which could meet a growing trend in downtown Aberdeen.
As well as Breakout Games on Palmerston Road, there’s Northern Frights on John Street and The Locked Door on Hardgate.
And at Windmill Brae, plans are underway to turn empty offices into a new ax throwing venue.
Hollie thinks these businesses could complement each other and help bring much-needed footfall to Aberdeen city centre.
Last month it was confirmed that the Union Street spy would be brought back to life as a pub arcade.
Visitors can expect to play darts, shuffleboard, billiards, skee ball and arcade games in the old clubhouse.
Aberdeen City Council will decide whether or not to approve Shape Shifters, and the opening could still be a long way off.
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[Windmill Brae cocktail bar venture for Aberdeenshire couple]