Bar Crawls: Edinburgh - No Sleep Till Leith
From central Edinburgh and Leith the best way possible – by the bars
Determining the point at which Leith Walk starts has baffled philosophers, locals and postal workers for decades. Haddington Place and Leith Street have (understandably) become subsumed within this long, iconic thoroughfare that joins Edinburgh with Leith. For our purposes, the trees of Elm Row and Gayfield Square that flank the top of the Walk’s east and west side mark the start of our journey.
(1) The Windsor Buffet (45 Elm Row) is the first pub you come to, a no-nonsense, unassuming establishment entirely free of any regal garden party associations the name might suggest. The walls are wood-paneled and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to hide away in with an IPA among the ranks of its secret army of loyal regulars.
Next stop is (2) Robbie’s Bar (367 Leith Walk), a Leith Walk institution within striking distance of the Hibs ground, meaning the atmosphere can oscillate wildly depending on whether it’s match day (and the result of said match). The ornate wooden bar, good selection of draught ales and surly, experienced barstaff make for an experience as close to the brown bars of Amsterdam as you’ll find in Edinburgh.
(3) The Tourmalet (25 Buchanan Street), a place combining two of my strongest passions – beer and cycling – is a bar I could live in. It’s named after a climb along the Tour de France, and has a huge range of bottled Weissbier, a selection of ceramic steins to drink it from and the promise of an occasional appearance by a model railway train. On the safety and legality of combining beer and cycling, The List Ltd couldn’t possibly comment.
Three drinks in and now we are officially walking the walk. For those who find it tough being a gin and tonic-drinking urban sophisticate, (4) Victoria (265 Leith Walk), boasting a dedicated ‘gin shelf’, is a venue to cherish. This is one of several bars that have been transformed from old Leith pubs (places where adapting to the modern age meant provision of a ladies toilet), to Swedish bars that retain enough rough edges to be cool, but where several things previously unheard of can now be found, including plants, fairy lights, patterned cushions and candles.
Beyond the Foot o’ The Walk, carry straight on down Constitution Street to enter Leith proper, where neighbourhood corner pubs such as the (5) Alan Breck Lounge (159 Constitution Street) can still to be found – honest pubs fluent in the language of ‘heavy’ and ‘darts and doms’.
Follow the smell of the sea to hit the (6) Port O’Leith (58 Constitution Street), where the nautical paraphernalia, ghosts of bygone sailors, a well-stocked jukebox, and a heady mix of regulars and curious outsiders make for an entertaining night out.
A few doors down, (7) Nobles (44a Constitution Street) is fast becoming popular among discerning Leithers. This is a good-looking Victorian bar with several Scottish beers on draught, a good food menu and regular live music with plenty of room to enjoy it in.
Take a left turn along Bernard Street for your first glimpse of water. Overshoot The Shore, crossing where the Water of Leith meets the Firth of Forth, and investigate the old whisky bonds of Commercial Quay. Here you’ll find (8) Bond No 9 (84 Commercial Street), a sultry, stylish and atmospheric bar specialising in cocktails and champagne.
Now, safely down at sea-level, having earned your EH6 stripes and with the John Lewis rug department a fading memory, it’s time to make your journey home. Much like a religious pilgrimage, but with added crisps, this has been a spiritual journey of sorts, and one requiring discipline and moderation.
See also Brass Monkey (sister bar to the Brass Monkey in our ‘prudent student’ pub crawl) at 362 Leith Walk.