A favourite bar is a very individual thing. One person’s Heaven is another’s Hades. The good thing about Edinburgh is that there is a bar to suit almost everyone and almost all moods. One observation that we might make – and this is not confined to just Edinburgh – is that any establishment that describes itself as ‘Famous’ or ‘Traditional’ or ‘Authentic’, is very rarely any of those things. A healthy scepticism is necessary to avoid disappointment. However, stick with us and you won’t go wrong.
Oh, and the usual disclaimer. We have no connection financial or otherwise with any of these bars. They are here simply because we like them and have found they provide a consistently excellent service and we keep coming back.
The pub was already about twenty years old when the mosaic on the floor was put in place in 1889, so it’s fair to say that the Blue Blazer has been a fixture on the Edinburgh scene for a fair while. It’s as popular with art students from the nearby college as it is with office workers from the surrounding financial district.
Good, local beer range and a surprising choice of rum, if that’s your thing.
It’s not overly large and can get crowded at busy times but that’s part of the charm. The toilets are down a steep staircase, so not the best if you have mobility issues.
This bar is a fairly new arrival but one that has quickly made itself very popular. Where other bars champion their choice of Scotch whiskies, for Salt Horse, it’s all about the beer. There are usually twelve lines on the bar with around another 400 available in bottle or can (half the bar is a shop). It would be fair to say that you’ll find beers here that you won’t get in any other bar or shop in Scotland – even possibly the UK.
The decor and furniture might be minimal but the beer knowledge of the staff is enormous. Salt Horse compares well to the best of the beer enthusiast bars in Belgium, and that’s high praise indeed. The food is also of a high standard, with the burgers being particularly outstanding.
Tampons and towels are available in the Ladies, which as one OEF team member pointed out was ‘Notable, though it shouldn’t be’.
Salt Horse Bar
Salt Horse Minimalism
The Barony is a bit of a Tardis bar, as there’s rather more room inside than might at first appear. This is the perfect spot for Saturday lunch – check out the menu on-line – followed by live jazz from 3 to 5. If your tastes tend more towards the blues, then come along on a Sunday evening from six.
Much of the interior dates from 1899, and the lighting, tile work and old mirrors help retain that Victorian feel. If you visit, be sure to look out the tiled panels showing scenes of Scottish rural life as these are especially fine. The bar counter and back are good examples of the workmanship that went into turn of the twentieth century pubs.
The Barony keeps a good range of beers, usually including a couple of local brews, such as Stewarts and Barneys, while our resident wine drinker was very impressed with the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Bigger on the inside
A small city-centre bar that has more won more awards than it has seats. The Bow Bar feels as though it has been part of the cityscape for ever, rather than the thirty-odd years it has actually been here.
The walls are covered with old advertising signs for mostly long-gone breweries and forgotten tobacco brands. Is there anyone left alive who once smoked Half Dark Nailrod?
No piped music, no TV, no games machines, this is where people come to meet and talk. In the space of hour it can go from quiet and intimate to noisy and crowded and then back again. If there isn’t a seat free when you arrive, don’t worry, have a drink and one will be available shortly. They stock more than 300 whiskies, along with a fine and an ever-changing range of beers mostly, though not exclusively, from small Scottish breweries. Pies are available at lunchtime.
Beer and whisky
signs and mirrors
Light and dark
Bennets Bar possesses one of the finest public house interiors in the whole of Scotland. The bar was refurbished in 1906 and still retains the Edwardian tiled and mirrored interior of that period. There are also superb stained glass windows and many original advertising signs.
Our particular favourite spot is the tiny ‘Jug and Bottle’ just inside the door to the left, which seats four, at a tight squeeze.
In the main bar, check out the marble spittoon trough running along the front of the bar. One feature we’re glad is no longer in use...
There are always a couple of good local beers on the bar and a more than acceptable array of whiskies. This is also a good place to have a pre-theatre meal before popping into the Kings Theatre, right next door.
The Bottle and Jug
Edwardian Stained Glass
The Stockbridge Tap Raeburn Place
A fifteen minute walk from the city centre brings you to Stockbridge, one of the ‘villages’ of Edinburgh and home of the Stockbridge Tap.
If you’re on holiday with your dog (and your dog doesn’t mind other dogs) then this may well be the bar for you. We once came in here and there were two Pyrenean Mountain dogs, each the size of a Shetland pony, lying on the floor but nobody seemed to mind.
Stockbridge has something of a reputation for being friendly and little bit ‘Bohemian’ and the clientèle can sometimes reflect this, so expect to be drawn into conversations.
The beer choice is excellent, predominantly Scottish, and always served in peak condition. Lunchtime meals are popular, particularly at the weekend so it pays to get here early.
bar and beer menus
Old brewery mirror
Why a monkey?
The Regent is an LGBT pub just a little to the east of the city centre. It’s a little less loud than the gay bars about Broughton Street/Picardy Place with more of an emphasis on comfort and good beer – though they also do a scrummy hot chocolate, perfect for winter days.
The staff are always friendly and chatty and they love a good dog. The stash of treats behind the bar ensures that dogs love them back.
The Regent advertises itself as “The best real ale gay pub in Edinburgh” but could just as easily go for the “The best gay pub in Edinburgh that straight people like”.