Edinburgh Festival Guide: Where to drink, Old Town
Sample some of the 310 single malts at Bow Bar or recover with a Bloody Mary at the Holyrood 9a
This article is from 2016.
From real ale gay pub, via a bar made of old suitcases, to a basement serving up beetroot and wasabi Margaritas, we pick the best drinking dens in Edinburgh's old town.
Andrew Usher & Co
32b West Nicolson Street, EH8 9DD
The team behind this subterranean bar (named after the pioneers of Edinburgh's brewing and distilling industries) are self-confessed beer nerds. Stocking a plethora of bottled beers, ciders and meads and with 20 beers on tap, there's plenty of scope for them to pursue their obsession. Six of the taps are reserved for the output of the in-house micro-brewery, which operates from behind glass walls in a corner of the bar. Food is largely carb-based, think burgers, hotdogs and mac and cheese.
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The Bow Bar
80 West Bow, Victoria Street, EH1 2HH
On the historic curve of West Bow and Victoria Street, the Bow Bar remains delightfully traditional. Somehow, this little nook fits in an astonishing 310 single malts, eight cask ales and six kegs. Keeping things local, they dispense beer from Scottish brewers Fyne Ales, Tempest, Cromarty and others, as well as hunting down bottles of Belgian duppel, German lager and good old, all-American beer. If you enjoy your pint with a pie, get down before 3pm, grab a wee wooden table and get your chops round one from Findlay's of Portobello.
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The Holyrood 9A
9a Holyrood Road, EH8 8AE
The dark wooden bar spanning almost the entire length of the main room is well utilised, with 25 taps of rotating global and local brews served in four different sizes for optimal sampling. Beer also runs the length of the menu, cropping up in beer-battered onion rings and, more unusually, in mayo, mustard and ice-cream. Bulky burgers in 16 meaty and veggie styles are served in the obligatory brioche bun. Bar games also step back in time, with classics like Connect 4 to help while away a Sunday afternoon over a Bloody Mary.
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184 Cowgate, EH1 1JJ
OX184 is big into its beer and much more booze beyond, including a huge range of whisky and whiskey (the list runs to over 100). The cocktail list is another highlight of the drinking experience here, featuring classics with a twist and a beverage named after each of New York's five boroughs, of which they'd be surely proud. The food menu includes quality burgers, long boys and steaks. The dishes are there for you up to 2.30am, which is always a good time for a sundae with a giant toasted marshmallow.
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3 Robertsons Close, Cowgate, EH1 1LY
With a bar built from retro-style suitcases and a choice of old cinema chairs or sofas wrapped in denim jeans to lounge on Pilgrim's sustainability ethos is on point. Their stock of Innis & Gunn and Williams Bros products shows off some of Scotland's best brews. Pilgrim's offerings on the large are curated to keep their loyal student clientele happy; cheap spirits, wines and a very boozy Long Island Tea make a cheerful start to any night out. Hearty plates of mac 'n' cheese, cottage pie and nachos are guaranteed to fill hungry tums.Plus, during the Fringe they host spoken word performances.
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2 Montrose Terrace, EH7 5DL
The Regent is the kind of place you could happily lose an afternoon ensconced in one of the deep sofas reading your book or surfing the web on the free wifi. Describing itself as a real ale gay pub, there are four real ales on tap, two of which rotate to accommodate guests. There's also a broad selection of bottled beers, ciders and wines by the glass. Grub comes in the form of quality pub eating with options for vegetarians and vegans plus a selection of daily specials including fresh soup, tarts and curries.
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Salt Horse Beer Shop & Bar
57–61 Blackfriars Street, EH1 1NB
Just off the Royal Mile and Cowgate there is a shop one side of the dual unit selling all manner of beer, properly stored and ready to drink. The bar on the other has 12 rotating keg lines and a strong mix of UK and imported bottles and cans. Served alongside is small batch charcuterie, cheeses, house made pickles, breads and seasonal bar snacks and specials. There's also a sneaky wee beer garden tucked out the back for warmer days.
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Under the Stairs
3a Merchant Street, EH1 2QD
Under the Stairs doesn't give much away until you're down in its basement depths. But cast any doubts aside: inside, old wooden tables, vintage-style chairs and a wood-burning stove create a definite home-from-home feel. On the cocktail side of things, they have all sorts of weird and wonderful tipples – a whisky-based 'Sideboob' or a 'beetroot and wasabi Margarita', anyone? Draught beer is limited, but the wine selection means business. On the food front choose from the likes of duck, stuffed squid and venison.
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119 High Street, EH1 1SG
Unlike the many souvenir shops nearby selling anything vaguely tartan, Whiski offers a truer representation of Scotland's offerings, and doesn't blast out the unavoidable sound of screeching bagpipes while it's at it. Instead, it provides a snug setting to sip on a pint of local beer from the likes of Williams Bros, sample a dram or two of their 300-plus whiskies or have a glass of wine from an ambitious wine list. Good value is found in their lunch menu, where most dishes can be snapped up for less than a tenner. During the Fringe there's footstomping traditional Scottish music to enjoy.
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Where to eat in Old Town