Edinburgh City Centre
A pub tour in June 2003
The pubs visited were selected based on a number of factors but mainly the Good Beer Guide 2003
and Cask Marque accreditation.
One of the many delights here is the surprising number of pubs which have
escaped dubious 'refurbishment' in the twentieth century.
All beer prices are per pint and they seem to show a 'capital city' effect in being on a
par with central London (and also central Cambridge).
Starting from the Camera Obscura,
near the Castle at the western end of the Royal Mile
Ensign Ewarts was a welcome watering hole after having "done" those attractions, with
Caledonian 80/- (£2.35), Deuchars IPA, Orkney Dark Island and Tim Taylor's Landlord on handpump.
The front room has low rafters and the walls are adorned with horse brasses and other objects such as
swords and a clock with all the numerals replaced by "M". There's also a rear bar. Snug and friendly
when quiet, this must get very busy: the bar has the notice "please move back from the bar when
served" - many other pubs could do with that!
I waited and waited in full view but the staff were too wrapped up in their own doings.
As the only beer on was London Pride and the piped music was loud, I gave up and
pushed off down the sloping Candlemaker Row and onwards towards Grassmarket.
Heading southwards down George IV Bridge and opposite the striking
new Museum of Scotland building is
Greyfriars Bobby, which is named after a famously loyal dog.
I headed for the Beehive Inn, which only had Deuchars IPA on (£2.40). There's a garden with views of
the castle. This is the starting point for the excellent McEwans-sponsored Literary Pub Tour, performed
by two actors taking high and low stances on Edinburgh's writers and their pubs.
After an introductory chat, the tour headed up West Bow to Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile. Near Deacon
Brodies (of which more later) we went down a passage to the Jolly Judge, a basement bar which was
Over the following days I tried a few times to visit it early on during advertised hours but
never found it open (it's listed as opening at 11am Mon-Sat, 12:30 on Sun).
[And it's great, too - Ed.]
Our next stop was Market Street and the Doric Tavern, which had a DJ taking up space at the front even
though it's a compact place. We crammed in for a beer (Deuchars IPA, £2.20). There's also an upstairs
restaurant and bar. It's a bit of a mix, with one wall of stone, some wooden panelling, a moulded ceiling
and some pew-like benches.
Heading into the New Town, the tour finished at Milne's Bar, at the junction of Rose Street and
Hanover Street, a packed T&J Bernard bar.
The Three Sisters on Cowgate had a team of bouncers on the forecourt, who were confiscating booze
from young people arriving. It proclaimed it'd be open at 9am the next day for the Australia v. England rugby.
Write-ups say this is a friendly place but maybe not on Friday evenings!
The next day, after the rugger [result: 14-25], I headed to the Assembly Rooms for the
Scottish Traditional Beer Festival.
The festival was mainly in two spendid, ornate rooms.
The choice from the independent breweries of Scotland (with
a few English beers such as Nethergate and English/Welsh ciders) was superb
and the Festival was well-staffed.
The order and labelling of the beer stillaging was somewhat odd (by our
Southern standards anyway), making finding a specific one interesting!
The cask end signs had the beer name in a small typeface and below that an even smaller brewery name, and they
didn't seem to be in brewery name order.
In the afternoon I tried some more pubs in the New Town,
starting with the Abbotsford near the eastern end of Rose Street:
an ornate conversion from bank or office? The place was fairly full. The handpumps were round on the
far side of the U-shaped bar from the entrance. I tried Titanic Stoker (£2.40): others included Belhaven
80/-, Pedigree, Landlord and the seemingly-inevitable Deuchars IPA.
Passing by the Guildford Arms (busy) and the Doric (quiet), I tried the Bow Bar on West Bow, which
was also quiet. It's a classic-looking pub, with patterned red ceiling paper, mirrors and such like. Two of
the four handpumps featured Belhaven 80/- and Deuchars IPA.
I returned to West Register Street and the Guildford, which is another classic Victorian-style pub, with
high ceilings, etched glass and mirrors. Beers included Dent Aviator (4.0%, £2.30), Belhaven 80/-,
Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted, Atlas Wayfarer, Atlas Latitude, Landlord and Orkney Dark Island.
It has a high reputation and seems to be the real ale pub most often recommended to those about to visit the City.
It's usually described as 'behind Burger King at the east end of Princes Street'.
[Cask Marque, GBG2003]
After taking in sights such as Dolly the Sheep (Royal Museum's Science Gallery) and "Mr Wood's
Fossils", a shop selling just that [Web site],
I headed for Deacon Brodie's Tavern on Lawnmarket.
There were few in this early (around noon), which made the loud piped music all the more irritating.
It's yet another classic, ornate pub but with no handpumps, so I tried the
Tennents Ember 80/- (£2.30; surprisingly well-balanced and pleasant). The pub is named after
a man who led a double life as a businessman and burglar.
At the western end of Rose Street is Scott's, which had on Caledonian 80/-, IPA and Arran Blonde
A relatively basic but friendly sports boozer, with iron pillars, beams and a lowish ceiling.
Next I began a zig-zag route further into the New Town , starting with the Oxford Bar, a tiny,
atmospheric place on the south side of Young Street.
There's a narrow front parlour bar and a back room, with Belhaven 80/- (£2.26) and Deuchars IPA on.
[GBG2003, Web site]
By way of contrast, next stop was the JD Wetherspoon's Standing Order on the south side of George Street
(near the junction with Frederick Street). As they say, "if you've seen one..."
This was another huge, ornate main hall, with a family room at the front.
Food seemed to be on the pricey side (£5.25 for a burger, similar
to the Regal in Cambridge) compared to some others in the chain.
Caledonian Nectar (4.3%) was on at £1.30.
Unusually for a JDW, there were sufficient staff on for the number of customers - the place was
about half full. Four of five handpumps were devoted to Deuchars IPA and another five or so pumps,
including Everards Tiger, Arran Blonde and Houston Texas (4.5%).
Heading north through the Queen Street Gardens to Howe Street, I turned left and at the west end of the
Jamaica Mews is Kay's Bar, a wonderful unspoilt back-street pub.
The menu included chilli with rice or oatcakes at £3.25, stovies at £2.75 and mussels at £3.75.
Beers included Theakston Best Bitter, Marston
Pedigree, McEwan 80/-, Belhaven 80/-, Fyne First Light and Fyne Somerled (4.0%, £2.40, a complex
bitter). Old barrels featured along one wall.
Retracing my steps and heading further north and into Cumberland Street led to the Cumberland Bar.
Belhaven St Andrews Ale (£2.40) seemed a good choice but unfortunately it was the end of the barrel -
changed without quibble. Others on included Caledonian 80/-, Landlord, Summer Lightning, Burton Ale
and Orkney Dark Island.
Although there's a lowish ceiling, old mirrors and what-not, this place has a more modern feel.
I was surprised that this was the first place I'd seen any CAMRA leaflets.
[Cask Marque, GBG2003]
Next stop was at the Cask & Barrel on Broughton Street, a friendly place with high ceilings etc., an
impressive range of bottled beers and at least 11 handpumps. I tried Border Cowie (3.6%, £1.70) from a
choice including Nethergate and Caledonian. The good ventilation was noticeable - although there were
some smokers in, there was no apparent smell, unlike the JDW for instance, which was quite smoky.
Finally I had to revisit the Guildford, which was filling up by now (5pm-ish).
An old boy with a thick accent was trying to order a pint of "heavy"
and the barman was trying to describe what was on - seemingly neither understanding the other.
One of the things I found most surprising this trip was how rarely I heard a Scots accent -
perhaps like Cambridge many staff tend to be students or ex-students?
One pub I didn't visit was in the nearby brand-new entertainment complex on Leith Street, with a
Warner Village multiscreen and a trendy-looking JDW (probably one of their Lloyds No. 1 branded bars)
called the Playfair.
Some others recommended in this City centre area:
- Northumberland Street: The Wally Dug
- St Stephen Street: Bailie [Cask Marque]
- York Place (east end): The Conan Doyle [Cask Marque]
- Rose Street: Brecks; Kenilworth
- Hanover Street: Jekyll & Hyde
- Leith Street: Black Bull
- Broughton Street: Cloisters Bar
Western end of Holyrood Street, near the junction with the Pleasance: Holyrood Tavern
Canongate: The Canons' Gait
Canongate: Tolbooth Tavern
High Street: The World's End
High Street: The Tass
St Mary's Street: The Waverley
ALE Winter 2003/04 No. 312
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Cambridge & District CAMRA