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How it’s all happening at No 103

Perhaps you will remember the lyrics of the song that was the theme tune to the 1980s TV sitcom, Cheers.


"Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

You want to be where you can see

our troubles are all the same"


Aside from the fact the action of the TV show was set in a bar where no one ever seemed to get drunk, the lyrics make it sound like a pleasant place to be.

I’ll let you in on an, admittedly poorly kept, secret. I know where this place is in Edinburgh.

If you are a professional and like a strong coffee, this is where you can find a host of friendly faces of a morning. While outside, the bleak midwinter maintains its grip on the empty high street, inside the place is buzzing, warm with steam and redolent of croissants.

Cent o Tre in George Street has become the capital’s equivalent of that frenetic café in the comedy series Frazier: the ‘go-to’, on-the-edge, Café Nervosa.

How did this happen? Taking a seat in the busy place earlier this week I see a chap who used to be the managing director of a big Scottish publisher. Looking around there are some more familiar faces, from business, finance, the law, the charity sector. Who is meeting who? As a regular observer of the Scottish business scene, I rub my hands.

It used to be, in better times fuelled by debt, these same people were lunching at an establishment across the road with panoramic views of the castle.

I remember its apogee well. It was April 2008. Having taken the lift and entered the famed diner there wasn’t a table unfilled. I waved to a number of people I knew on my way to meet my hosts. Journalists were being wined and dined, deals were being cut over a rich cassoulet and a glass of something discretely expensive. It was electric.

But then it all started to change. The banks were just beginning to wobble as they teetered on the brink of collapse bringing hundreds if not thousands of well-heeled employees and their associated professional service associates down with them. Within a year the restaurant was in trouble. Last year it closed.

Across the street though, it was an altogether different story. Ostentatious lunches were replaced by hard working breakfast meetings.

If you have been there you know what to do. The booths on the raised platform next to the windows are prime realty. Failing that, the expansive cubicle seats next to the bar are good. Otherwise you are stuck with table seating. But still they come, straining to hear the discussion over the din of chatter in the high ceilinged room and the screaming of the milk frothers on the highly engineered cappuccino machines.

Since the start of the recession, mornings here have only got busier. But I suspect that along with the lovely toasted sourdough breakfast there might be a slight aftertaste of desperation. Behind me I overhear someone meeting with a head-hunter. Others, having been “shaken out” of a high level corporate job, have set up a consultancy and are feeling around for work.

There has been much musing over the puzzle of the UK’s sputtering economy that still seems to be maintaining employment.

Part of the puzzle’s solution must be that few people who make £50k+ sign on when they are made redundant. Instead they become a one man or woman band. This is borne out by business creation figures, which have been rising steadily.

Anyone in the position realises the prospect is a bit scary. But it doesn’t always have to be. Often the hours are flexible and the cash flow is chunky, but liveable. And I can tell you about a place in Edinburgh where it is likely they know your name, and they are always glad you came. And where your troubles are all the same.