A guide to bars and pubs of Edinburgh
The best bars in Old Town, Broughton Street, Leith Walk, Tollcross & New Town
The best places in the vicinity are either nearest the bottom end around the Palace of Holyroodhouse or on some of the narrow side streets that seep down into the Old Town. Particularly recommended in the former category are the White Horse (266 Canongate, 557 3512) and Kilderkin (67 Canongate, 556 2101). Both recently taken over, they combine an unforced local pub atmosphere with food menus and, in the latter’s case, a great selection of rum, whisky and beer.
A short walk from the Mile, meanwhile, are central pre-club boozers the City Café (19 Blair Street, 220 0125, thecitycafe.co.uk) and Café Voltaire (36-38 Blair Street, 247 4704, thecabaretvoltaire.com), the former a diner-style bar and café that was famously mentioned in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and the latter a stylish street level bar created during the refurbishment of the Cabaret Voltaire club venue below – it also serves pizzas. Nearby you can find Holyrood 9A (9a Holyrood Road, 556 5904, fullerthomson.com), a sleek, modern affair with good beer and great burgers, relaxed new Swedish bar Hemma (75 Holyrood Road, 629 3327, bodabar.com) and the Edinburgh branch of thrustingly contemporary Scots beer and bar chain BrewDog (143 Cowgate, 220 6517, brewdog.com/bars/edinburgh), which is all about specialist craft ales and an air of blokish authenticity that divides opinion. Their pizzas are good, mind you.
Those with more expensive tastes, meanwhile, might want to treat themselves to a night at Bar G&V (1 George IV Bridge, 220 6666, quorvuscollection.com, a public hotel bar with an extensive cocktail selection (re-branded from Bar Missoni in May 2014). The Grassmarket, meanwhile, is always busy and it’s a dependable choice for cheap, identical bars. The best of these is a short walk away along the Cowgate at the cheap and cheerful Tron (9 Hunter Square, 225 3784, thetronedinburgh.co.uk), while the opposite end of the Grassmarket holds one gem in smart cocktail bar Dragonfly (52 West Port, 228 5453, dragonflycocktailbar.com).
Around Tollcross, converted church The Cloisters (26 Brougham Street, 221 9997), Tourmalet’s equally-recommended across-town sister The Ventoux (2 Brougham Street, 229 5066) and the old-school Burlington Bertie's (11-13 Tarvit Street, 229 8659, burlingtonbertie.com) are all popular.
Be a bit adventurous and seek out the rest of Edinburgh’s best yourself: excellent spit ’n’ sawdust pub The Blue Blazer (2 Spittal Street, 229 5030); the thesp-filled Traverse Bar Café (10 Cambridge Street, 228 5383, traverse.co.uk); striking basement cocktail bar Bramble (16a Queen Street, 226 6343, bramblebar.co.uk) and Lothian Road favourites Red Squirrel (21 Lothian Road, 229 9933), or the arty Filmhouse Café Bar (22 Lothian Road, 228 6382, filmhousecinema.com/cafe-bar).
The area to the north of Queen Street isn’t so packed with student hang-outs, but the Bailie Bar, 2-4 St Stephen Street, 225 4673, thebailiebar.co.uk) and the Star Bar (1 Northumberland Place, 539 8070, starbar.org.uk) are both friendly and busy locals.
Look out for the gorgeous and much-lauded Café Royal Circle Bar (19 West Register Street, 556 1884, caferoyal.org.uk), excellent and affordable drinking and dining bar Bon Vivant (55 Thistle Street, 225 3275, bonvivantedinburgh.co.uk), and Lucky Liquor (39A Queen Street, 226 3976, luckyliquorco.com), the third cocktail-focused opening from the boys behind Bramble and Stockbridge's Last Word Saloon (44 St Stephen Street, 225 9009, lastwordsaloon.com).
Elsewhere, the area around Broughton Street and Picardy Place is popular with younger, trendier drinkers and a hotbed of fun, pack-’em-in gay bars. The Street (2 Picardy Place, 556 4272, thestreetbar.co.uk) is one of the area’s better straight-friendly pubs alongside Planet (6 Baxter’s Place, 556 5551) and the long-standing and ever-popular late-night favourite CC Blooms (23-24 Greenside Place, 556 9331, ccbloomsedinburgh.com), while The Barony (81 Broughton Street, 558 2874) is a characterful and friendly no-frills pub with a set of regulars of all ages and backgrounds, and The Outhouse revels in a clubbier atmosphere (12a Broughton Street Lane, 557 6668, outhouse-edinburgh.co.uk).
Nearby, Leith Walk is at the centre of a boom in Leith pub culture, with Kilderkin’s sister establishment the Windsor Buffet (45 Elm Row, 556 4558) and the Swedish-owned trio of Boda (229 Leith Walk, 553 5900), Victoria (265 Leith Walk, 555 1638) and Joseph Pearce’s (23 Elm Row, 556 4140, all bodabar.com) – the latter is particularly good for Swedish cider and food at all times – leading the charge.
Also recommended on a trip down the Walk is the Tourmalet (25 Buchanan Street), an out-of-the-way corner pub with knick-knack-strewn character and a good range of imported German beers, and the other branch of Brass Monkey (362 Leith Walk, 554 5286), while the Shore area down by Leith Docks offers a bustling selection of diverse drinking dens.
Best here is the high-quality food and ‘pot-tails’ of the Roseleaf (23-24 Sandport Place, 476 5268, theroseleaf.co.uk). The area also has its own Swedish joint, the snug but friendly Sofi’s (63 Henderson Street, 555 7019, bodabar.com), and new local star the Parlour (142 Duke Street, 555 3848, theparlouredinburgh.com).
Popular pubs abound at the heart of this area, including the Brass Monkey (14 Drummond Street, 558 1961), which boasts its own mini cinema in the back room, the Pear Tree House (34 West Nicolson Street, 667 7533), which is rough and ready but possessed of perhaps Edinburgh’s best beer garden, and the similarly spartan Blind Poet (32c West Nicholson Street, 667 4268) next door. There are plenty of good, authentic drinking bars that are a little frayed around the edges in the area, and many may find them more affordable and full of character, including places such as the Montague (81-85 St Leonard’s Street, 667 5946), Doctors (32 Forrest Road, 225 1819) and the Auld Hoose (23-25 St Leonard’s Street, 668 2934). The Royal Oak and the Captain’s (4 South College Street) both hold informal folk sessions, which are great fun if you’re willing to enter into the spirit of things. Nearby, with a scoreboard of their top beers on the wall and poker nights on Sundays, is Greenmantle (133 Nicolson Street, 662 8741).
The area holds a number of more conventionally contemporary bars too, including the stylish Villager (49-50 George IV Bridge, 226 2781), which does good food and good music, the smart and central Biblos (1 Chambers Street, 226 7177) and versatile and party-focused Irish bar Malone’s (14 Forrest Road, 226 5954). Revolution (32a Chambers Street, 220 5679) has a clubby vibe, while 56 North (26 West Crosscauseway, 662 8860) and The Bristo Bar & Kitchen (41 Lothian Street, 220 4288) (for years the student-famous Assembly) are what once might have been called style bars.
Those a bit farther out at Pollock Halls or thereabouts may want to make Reverie (1 Newington Road, 667 8870) their local for the duration, because it’s friendly, they serve food and it gets bustlingly busy at the weekend, while the Southern (22–26 South Clerk Street, 662 8926) has recently been taken over, offering good beer and great burgers. Other bars in the heart of studentland include the Earl of Marchmont (22 Marchmont Crescent, 662 1877), which does decent food for the price, the Golf Tavern (30-31 Wright’s Houses, 221 5221), which is busy all week and good for watching sport, and the recently refurbished No 1 Grange Road (1 Grange Road, 667 2335).