Public Interest - Edinburgh Royal Mile pub crawl
The List’s new editor, Jonny Ensall, attempts a bottom-to-top Royal Mile pub-crawl.
Between the sprawling concrete shapes of the Scottish Parliament and the historic heights of Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile covers some of the best and worst aspects of the city. Plenty of tartan tourists and Australian backpackers stroll aimlessly up and down its length, but so do thousands of genuinely thirsty ‘Burghers, looking for a quiet pint among friends, rather than a cheap kilt and a raucous Proclaimers sing-along.
Not being an Edinburgh native I decided – on the flimsy pretext of discovery – to bring my knowledge fully up to speed with a comprehensive Royal Mile pub-crawl. The aim was to have a drink in every establishment from the bottom of Canongate to the top of Castlehill.
I set off at 7:30pm on a warmish Wednesday, one drinking partner in tow, and stepped first into Jenny Ha’s [65 Canongate, 556 2101, Bulmers cider £2.70]. A complete stranger said a warm goodbye to us on his way out, leaving a quiet but comfortable pub for us to enjoy for the next five minutes. Moving on quickly (ten minutes was the allotted time per drinking hole), we were greeted by Calvin Harris on the stereo in the sprightlier Tolbooth Tavern [167 Canongate, 556 5348, gin and tonic £3.30]. With £1 wasted on the quiz machine we were quickly out-the-door and at the Canons’ Gait [232 Canongate, 556 4481, Tennent’s lager half-pint £1.45] where football fans watching the Scotland game on the big screen mingled with an upmarket regular crowd.
In stark contrast, the tiny White Horse Bar [266 Canongate, 556 3403, Highland Park single whisky £1.80] had a crowd of three staunch regulars listening to the game on the radio. My English accent was disapproved of but the landlord was pleased when I presented a Scottish £10 note. The Tass [1 High Street, 556 6338, Fentimans ginger beer £1.70] was both our first bar on High Street proper and the venue for our first conversation with an Antipodean tourist.
Just across the road, The Waverley [3–5 St Mary’s Street, 556 8855, Bacardi and Coke £3] had only one client when we arrived, though a few more stepped in immediately after us, enjoying ‘The Girl From Impanema’ on the stereo and the faded charm of the years-old event posters. Round the corner we walked into the World’s End [4 High Street, 556 3628, Kopparberg Mixed Fruits £3]. The fish and chips smelled good, the staff were friendly and, in a brilliant slapstick moment, a man sitting near to us unexpectedly fell of his bar stool.
Schadenfreude had us guffawing down the artfully lit passageway into Monteith’s [57–61 High Street, 557 0330, Manhattan £7.50]. Sitting at a swanky jet-black bar, a very helpful waitress suffered my ignorance and made me my first ever Manhattan. The led to my sophisticated yet queasy feeling as we headed to Black Bo’s [57–61 Blackfriars Street, 557 6136, Tsingtao imported beer £3] to enjoy its relaxed atmosphere and quiet sense of cool. All too soon we were back in the cut and thrust of High Street, where we landed in Whiski [119 High Street, 556 3095, glass of red wine £3.40]. On a busy night, many groups of happy people were tucking into hearty meals, overlooked by an impressive amount of classic pub ephemera.
Things were getting hazier, so we moved on to the Royal Mile Tavern [127 High Street, 557 9681, Sourz Apple shot £2] and experienced a forgettable rendition of an Oasis song. Hazier still was the Mitre [133 High Street, 524 0071, Belhaven Best ale half-pint £1.40] where another guitar-playing act had a very large crowd enthralled with some traditional Scots songs … and ‘La Bamba’.
Things were rapidly slipping into farce so we dove, without hesitation, into the mingling young crowds of the Tron [9 Hunter Square, 225 3784, Sailor Jerry and ginger beer £4] where some good-looking faces, Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Holiday’ and another wasted pound on the quiz machine passed the time. The City Café [19 Blair Street, 220 0125, Corona bottle £3.10] opposite, is a personal favourite, and seemed as good a place as any to finish, so I attempted to lie down on one of the benches downstairs while my drinking partner admired the salsa dancing that was in full swing.
But alas, it was not to be. Though I had made the responsible move to avoid any more liquids, I was dragged onwards into the ambient trip-hop atmosphere and exposed stone surrounds of the Albanach [197 High Street, 220 5277], then the jaunty, traditional fun of the Scotsman’s Lounge [73 Cockburn Street, 225 7726] and, lastly, the homeliness of the CAMRA lauded Halfway House [24 Fleshmarket Close, 225 7101].
I’d like to be able to say that I carried onwards valiantly, but I didn’t. I went to bed and drank lots of water. So this piece ends in homage to some of those great venues further up the Mile that proved several pubs too far. Whistlebinkies, Deacon Brodie’s, the Jolly Judge, Ensign Ewart, Whisky Society – I salute you. That night, staring up the street at your twinkling lights, I knew I had met my match.