James Boot – Panda and Sons

We were lucky enough to have a sit down with one of the long-serving bartenders from Panda and Sons, James Boot. With experience on both sides of the world, travels to South America and a big bartending family behind him, James was a great option to add to the growing Exploredi interview database.


Favourite Bar in the World

It was a bar that my sister and her partner were running in Guadalajara, Mexico up until a month ago, El Gallo Altanero.

I was there (Guadalajara) for about 3 weeks and spent most of my time in that bar, it’s beautiful. It has a big open roof, the sun comes in and there’s this giant bloody chicken drawn on the wall. They have a bar dog called Paloma which is like a Mexican dingo (also the name of a tequila cocktail). It was a lot of fun, amazing staff and good drinks - they change the menu literally every week and it’s all hand drawn by my sister. They did really well with what they had.

They opened it for a guy called Nick Reed who owns Tromba tequila; he met them in Melbourne and was like “Yep I need someone to come open a bar, you guys are cool, come on over.” They went over and opened up a tequila bar in Guadalajara which is actually kinda rare funnily enough.

Most important thing in a bar

I had a boss back in Melbourne and he’d say ‘The most important thing is setting a good vibe, you don’t want someone to come in and just have a drink. You want them to come in and have an experience.”

The Panda and Sons Menu

The whole story (in the menu) is basically about his close friends who helped him build the bar and his family. Each chapter on the menu is a different character in the family and they’re all styled after his friends, close family or himself.

Pay Structure at Panda and Sons

Iain is an advocate for paying a decent wage, the living wage. He will adjust it come inflation, when I started we were on £8.50 as general bartenders and then it went up. Even with small things like that he will just do it. It’s good, he’s definitely probably the best paying business owner when it comes to hospitality in Edinburgh.

Then 10% of the profits at the end of the year are divided between the staff and their hours, it’s a really good idea. Definitely, it helps keep things (wastage) down, people might think twice before grabbing a handful of napkins or whatever.

Iain's new bar project in Los Angeles

When I was still living in Melbourne I was living with Iain (owner of Panda and Sons) and that’s how I met him. We were living together for maybe four months because he was thinking about opening a place in Melbourne. He does his alcoholic ice-cream, Señor Scoop at Hoot the Redeemer and originally he was going to open a bar with that as the idea - doing alcoholic adult ice cream. But then when he was staying with me he got a call, it was one of the two directors of the new Avengers films.

Basically, Iain got a call from this guy's Personal Assistant because they’d filmed some scenes from the most recent Avengers in Edinburgh. All the stars came through Panda's and then several months later Yan got a call basically saying “Hey I’ve been to your bar and I love the concept, I love what you’ve done with it so can you come to consult for a bar I’m opening in downtown LA in the arts district”. Obviously, he was like ‘fuck yeah’ and dropped the Melbourne thing for a while, moved back and that’s been in planning for at least the past year. It literally just opened, it’s called Simone.

Drinkers in the UK vs. Australia

First thing I’ll say is sweet, everyone likes things sweet over here. In general, I don’t think the public drink as well over here when it comes to cocktails but then again people are just as lovely - if not more so. Less of a cocktail drinking culture and definitely more pints, shots and shite cocktails.

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