Edinburgh festival 2010: Where to drink

This article is from 2010

Amicus Apple

Amicus Apple

The Edinburgh bar guide you need for the 2010 Festival

It’s almost impossible to spend an August in Edinburgh without indulging in one of its watering holes. Niki Boyle takes the ultimate pub crawl, so you don’t have to

If there’s one thing Edinburgh is not bereft of it is places to rest your feet and quench your thirst. For pubs in the Old Town, the main emphasis is on whisky and ale. On the Royal Mile, both The Albanach (197 High Street, 0131 220 5277) and Whiski Bar and Restaurant (119 High Street, 0131 556 3095) have malts and casks by the barrel-full. Off that main drag and leading down Victoria Street, the Bow Bar (80 West Bow, 0131 226 7667) is also very whisky-centric, being as it is opposite two whisky specialists: Demijohn (32 Victoria Street, 0131 225 3265) and The Whisky Shop (28 Victoria Street, 0131 225 4666). Alternatively for cocktails of the highest order, don’t miss the North Bridge Brasserie & Bar (20 North Bridge, 0131 556 5565). Further up the Mile, St Giles’ Cathedral Café (High Street, 0131 225 5147) affords the perfect vantage point from which to take in the Festival mayhem complete with tasty drink selections and top notch snacks, while the more hardcore tippler can enjoy Bar Kohl’s knockout drinks menu (54 George IV Bridge, 0131 225 6936).

Down the hill, in the Grassmarket, among the anti-niche everyman pubs, are The White Hart (34 Grassmarket, 0131 226 2806), which claims to be the oldest bar in town, and The Lot (4-6 Grassmarket, 0131 225 9922) — a light and airy bistro/bar/jazz venue housed in an old church.

Wandering down the Cowgate, you’ll notice Opium (71 Cowgate, 0131 225 8382), Edinburgh’s main rock bar; Three Sisters (139 Cowgate, 0131 622 6801), with its wide courtyard that encourages sociable out-of-doors drinking; and, much farther down, the be-lichened caves of Bannermans (212 Cowgate, 0131 556 3254), a great down-and-dirty live music joint. If you only stick to the main streets, though, you’ll miss some fabulous little haunts, such as the modernist cocktail lounge GRV (37 Guthrie Street, 0131 220 2987); cosy List favourite Black Bo’s (57-61 Blackfriars Street, 0131 557 6136); and the aptly-named Secret Arcade Bar (48 Cockburn Street, 0131 220 1297), which has over 90 varieties of vodka, and some extremely knowledgeable bar staff to help you mix it.

On and around George Street, splash your cash at swanky establishments such as Tigerlily (125 George Street, 0131 225 5005), Browns (131—133 George Street, 0131 225 4442), Amicus Apple (17 Frederick Street, 0131 226 6055), Forth Floor (Harvey Nichols, 30—34 Saint Andrew Square, 0131 524 8350) or Candy Bar (113-115 George Street, 0131 225 9179). For less demanding but harder-to-find surroundings, keep heading north in search of Bramble (16a Queen Street, 0131 226 6343) or the elusive Starbar (1 Northumberland Place, 0131 539 8070). Whigham’s Wine Cellar (13 Hope Street, 0131 225 8674), is the place to hang out with literary types once the Book Festival bar closes.

Taking a turn into Stockbridge will land you back in the firmly-grounded world of real ales and stout pints, whether that be at The Stockbridge Tap (2-6 Raeburn Place, 0131 343 3000) or Hector’s (47-49 Deanhaugh Street, 0131 343 1735), which sit more or less side-by-side.

In the Southside of Edinburgh, the main slice of the drinking action lies east of the Meadows, although the Cameo cinema bar (38 Home Street, 0131 228 2800) gets an honourable west-side mention for its classy bar snacks and left-bank atmosphere, and the Wee Red Bar (74 Lauriston Place, 0131 229 1003) at the Edinburgh Art College is home to some great gigs and student-friendly drinks prices.

Head further east and you approach the wonderful Brass Monkey (14 Drummond Street, 0131 556 1961), home to a fully-mattressed back room that hosts daily cult film screenings. Even further east is the hustle and bustle of the Pleasance Courtyard (60 Pleasance, 0131 556 6550), beset on all sides by Fringe venues and filled with off-duty comedians sipping pints of fragrant Belgian beer.

Further south, there’s comforting traditionalism in the shape of The Southsider (3-7 West Richmond Street, 0131 667 2003) — not to be confused with The Southern (22-26 South Clerk Street, 0131 667 2289), about a mile further on and home to many a decent live music night. In the late afternoon sunshine, we’d recommend heading to the walled courtyard of The Pear Tree (36 West Nicolson Street, 0131 667 7533), who throw in the occasional barbeque as well, and 56 North (2—8 West Crosscauseway, 0131 662 8860), a trendy eatery with a classy cocktail-loving clientele that spill onto the patio furniture outside.

Hidden beneath the Rutland Hotel in the West End is uber-classy The One Below (1 Rutland Street, 0131 229 3402), home to one of the world’s few pressure-sensitive bars and a delicious (if pricey) cocktail list.

Further underground charms can be had at the Berlin Bierhaus (3A Queensferry Street Lane, 0131 467 7215), which often hosts free comedy during the daytime before giving way to the clubbers at night. Alternatively, the Traverse Bar (10 Cambridge Street, 0131 228 5383) is rather lovely for all those post-theatre non-sequiturs; for those wishing to keep pretension to a minimum, head round the corner to the real-ale haven of The Blue Blazer (2 Spittal Street, 0131 229 5030). From there it’s a short jaunt either to The Big Red Door (10 Lady Lawson Street, 0131 228 4567) to mingle with the circus set, or a slightly longer amble to abide with The Dude at Lebowski’s (18 Morrison Street, 0131 466 1779).

Finding a good pub in Leith is like trying to hit a barn from the inside. Starting at the top, on Broughton Street, The Barony (81-85 Broughton Street, 0131 558 2874) is a must for old-school ale-hounds; more laid back and exotic drinks can be found at the orange-tinted Basement bar (10A—12A Broughton Street, 0131 557 0097) at the top of the street, or tucked away at The Outhouse (12a Broughton Street Lane, 0131 557 6668), one of the finest beer gardens in the city.

Moving onto Leith Walk, and Joseph Pearce (23 Elm Row, 0131 556 4140) is the first of four Swedish family-run bars scattered around the area like stray meatballs — Boda Bar (229 Leith Walk, 0131 553 5900), Victoria (265 Leith Walk, 0131 554 5706) and Sofi's (63-65 Henderson Street, 0131 555 7019) all offer a warm welcome, comfortable interiors and quality booze. Venturing further towards the Shore, The Roseleaf Bar Café (23/24 Sandport Place, 0131 476 5268) has an exquisite menu alongside lovely drinks; while set back a bit from the water’s edge are The Port O’ Leith (58 Constitution Street, 0131 554 3568) — popular with everybody from sailors to Irvine Welsh and David Mamet — and The Pond (2-4 Bath Road, 0131 553 0639), probably the cosiest under-water-themed bar with a pool table in the world, with a cracking selection of beers and music to boot.

Finally, for something a little more relaxed Porto and Fi (47 Newhaven Mainstreet, 0131 551 1900) offers a nice stroll beyond Leith to the picturesque shores of Newhaven.