Temp Check: Stuart McPhee from Siberia Bar & Hotel

Aberdeen’s hospitality sector has been hit extremely hard by Covid-19. Business has been massively curtailed and the staff that are still working are on the frontline of an industry that has always had to tread a think line between safety and fun. One of the many venues in the city that has worked positively within the Scottish Government restrictions is Siberia Bar & Hotel.

We thought it was time to catch up with their director, Stuart McPhee. We talk about his active role in standing up for the hospitality industry.


Hi Stuart, this seems like a simple question, but how are you doing right now?

I’m doing well personally…my wife is due our third child in December and excitement building in the house for Christmas. Professionally, it feels consistently like one step forward two steps back a lot of the time, but we’re remaining resilient.

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m originally from Kirkcaldy, went to University in Dundee and moved to the Granite City about 8 years ago. I’ve worked in the hospitality sector for over a decade and worked my way from being a glass collector in a nightclub to where I am now at Siberia Bar. I’m happily married with 2.9 kids residing in a wonderful little village in Aberdeenshire called Methlick…and I enjoy when I can put the boots on for the local football team there.

We were relieved to understand what was needed from us and we knew that there would be help coming in terms of support at the time. We also thought that it would be short-term and nobody would have considered impacts going on this far down the line.

What does a typical day for you look like?

I don’t have a typical day. Every day presents it’s own unique challenges. My wife will testify to me working 24/7…even when I’m home I’m not off. I’m generally in the bar for 8am and home for 7pm (kids bedtime) and whatever happens in between we solve the problems and we get through the day.

The initial lockdown was a blow to everyone, but especially those in hospitality. Do you remember how you felt at that time?

I remember welcoming the initial lockdown at the time as there had been so many unknown quantities. We were operating as we normally would have been at the time and when you compare that to all the mitigations we now have in place…it’s crazy to think about! We were relieved to understand what was needed from us and we knew that there would be help coming in terms of support at the time. We also thought that it would be short-term and nobody would have considered impacts going on this far down the line.

Siberia Bar's beer garden is popular in Aberdeen

What have some of those longer term impacts looked like?

The biggest long term challenge is having the vision to see what they are. It’s my view that the only way to get out of this is by growing and diversifying our business. I’ve been looking to invest time and effort in advancing our food offering and faculties. That’s my own business view. However, for the sector as a whole I think that the landscape post vaccine will be completely different. We will respect and value for the freedoms that will return to us. I hope it’ll be a time where we can look back on our present position and be thankful for the lessons learned.

Did lockdown mean you had more time away from Siberia Bar? How did you spend that extra time?

I did have extra time away from the venue, I spent it at home with my kids. My wife is a nurse in a GP practice and she worked right through the initial lockdown, so I was on Daddy Day Care most of the time. That time was so valuable. I would never have gained that time before, and will never get again. Between that and doing work around the house. Painting, decorating, organising, moving furniture around to see if you like one room one way or one room another!

Siberia Bar seem to have a very strong community of staff and customers, how have they supported you through 2020?

You know I think we have all just muddled through really. There was no real sense of needing to support anyone. It was very much continuing the sense of community we have always had. We just had to find other ways of connecting. For example Zoom quizzes was one of our favourite ways to catch up.

One of our chefs, Micky, created something called Sibeira Wrestling. This was a championship of recorded simulations of matches between people from the bar. We also broadcasted them for our community to watch. We all had our unique ways of getting through it. A couple of shandies here and there, but mainly making sure we checked on with everyone as often as possible.

What has been some of your biggest frustrations?

Communication and information sharing. In the first lockdown there was such a lack of communication. How we would be moving forward. What is the exit plan. More than anything, how do we get this all under control and get back to normal. No one seems to have a clear vision and thrust for this. And I felt a lot of time I was finding out things too slowly.

Has the pandemic made a difference to your personal priorities?

It has for sure! I have very much gone into survival mode. I would never have considered myself as someone who is confident doing interviews or television etc. Now I’ll do anything I can to make sure that those in power hear our voice in a constructive and considered fashion. Both as a business and as a city. It has very much heightened a lot of the priorities we ran with before. All I want to do is be able to look after the people around me. That's whether that’s my immediate or extended work family.

Customers enjoy food at Aberdeen's Siberia Bar.

Tell us a little about the support you have been lending to the wider hospitality sector?

The sector as a whole is really not being listened to or connected to properly by governments in any country. There’s a lack of understanding as to how these businesses operate and their ecosystem. What happens to footfall when these businesses are not operational and other sectors like retail are.

Out of the depths of despair in the Aberdeen lockdown there was a need for businesses to come together. To forge our way out of it collectively. Therefore we formed an information sharing organisation called Aberdeen Hospitality Together. This brought together 141 venues on the city. As a result of that the local authority has brought me into conversations to discuss issues weekly. I also have a national platform. I have joined newly formed groups. The Scottish Hospitality Group and the NTIA Scotland Commission.

I’ve also been campaigning for positive trade representation and a joined up approach to communication. On a local level I help businesses that have questions I share information. On a national level I help inform messaging. I participate in meetings and do the best I can to coney that hospitality is a wonderful sector to be a part of. Both now and into the future.

If you could give advice to the March 2020 version of yourself, what would it be?

Don’t change a thing. Do exactly everything you think is right and every point you think you have to do it. Stick to what you think and know is the right thing to do and it will serve you well.


It's been great to catch up with Stuart. It was fantastic to hear his frank views on the challenges he has been facing through 2020. You can follow him on Twitter. You can also find the latest on Siberia Bar and Hotel by checking out their Facebook page. In addition, the Scottish Hospitality Group have set up a petition calling on the Scottish Government for better protection. Both of the sector and its employees.

Read more: Our chat with Louise Grant from Fierce Beer.