Edinburgh Pub versus Cafe Culture

Looking for a great – or just decent – pub in Edinburgh? Depends what type you’re looking for – unreconstructed old man’s, reconstructed old man’s turned gastro, George Street rip-off domes, shag-tag student dives… enough already! Personally speaking, here’s what I tend to look for: wide range of international beers, good quality wine by the glass, food – with a decent choice for vegetarians – available throughout the day, great relaxed atmosphere and – to quote Julian Clary – getting a metaphorical ‘warm hand on your entrance’! Price is important too, but hey, this is Edinburgh so maybe the best we can hope for is not rip-off. Oh, and being able to get a tea or coffee at whatever time. Okay, where are these havens of continental, cosmopolitan attitude?

No 1 spot has to go to the Brass Monkey on Leith Walk (not to be confused with the other BM on Drummond Street which is unreconstructed/student/slightly grubby). Friendly and very efficient service (order and pay at the bar); plenty of space – front, middle and back type set-up with varied seating suitable for singletons, couples and larger groups. Excellent range of international beers at around the £4 mark, all detailed on menu cards on the tables – nice. Wine choice is good with four of red and four of white available by the glass. Try the ‘top of the range’ red – the carignan – it’s quite lovely. Cocktails are nothing fancy but are a good price (£3.95) and I don’t know where else you can get a Bobby Davro! A cheeky wee G&T will set you back around £2.50. Another big box ticked is food is served all day with imaginative choices for veggies. Finally, it has that ambiance that can’t be manufactured: a great mix of people – from local Leithers to those visiting the city (it’s just round the corner from guest-house-lined Pilrig Street) are all made to feel more than welcome.

Five minutes walk from the Brass Monkey is the gloriously quirky Tourmalet (on the corner of Iona and Buchanan Streets) which merges a Tour de France theme with an aquarium and a truly marvellous selection of bottled (mainly) German beer. There’s a good selection of spirits and some decent wine but the beer is the thing – with labels not often seen outside of Germany. Prices are a standard £4 but for 500ml of pure quality – it’s a bargain! The place is quite small and food is of the bar snack variety but the atmosphere is cosy and welcoming and like BM has a lovely relaxed and inclusive quality. Tourmalet has a sister – Ventoux – on Brougham Street in the Tollcross area of the city – it’s more barn-like with long wooden tables and a slightly colder vibe. Same cracking selection of beer though. Oh, and both do very decent coffee.

Next on my list is Nom de Plume at the bottom of Broughton Street. It’s LGBT friendly (Broughton Street is the centre of Edinburgh’s ‘pink triangle’) but has a varied clientele. Whether you’re looking for tea and a scone (excellent, home-made), lunch, dinner or something alcoholic – it’s available here, all day, table-served with exceptional efficiency by a small, friendly team. There’s a large back bit and a large front bit, both are like being in a friend’s light and airy New Town flat. It’s also the kind of place where sitting on your own, with a cuppa and your laptop is no problem as all, in fact it often seems de rigueur. The extensive menu has an international flavour and approximately half of it is suitable for veggies. Opening hours are 11am to 11pm.

Nom’s owners – Alan and Colin – also run The Regent on the corner of Regent Road and Montrose Terrace, five minutes along the road from Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament. More pub than bistro-like Nom – it has a bigger range of beers/ales and is CAMRA recommended. Similarities include all-day food and welcoming come-as-your-are attitude. Opening hours are more typical of your average Edinburgh pub and you order and pay at the bar.

Finally, it doesn’t tick all the boxes but worth a visit if you’re in the Stockbridge area is The Antiquary on St Stephen Street. The Antiquary is a bit of an Edinburgh institution – it used to be a pre-gig hangout for various punks, goths and new romantics making their way to the legendary Tiffanys at the end of the road. Like most of the establishments on St Stephen Street, you have to negotiate a short but steep set of steps down. When you descend the stairs and enter the lounge bar through the left hand side door be prepared for an overload of old Edinburgh pub nostalgia, especially in winter when there’s a fire roaring in the grate and tea-lights twinkling on the tables. You may just cry at the whole cockle-warming scene – cosy doesn’t begin to describe it! The food is more your traditional type of fare with the emphasis on fried but there is a good drinks choice with a couple of special offers usually on. The Blue Parrot Cantina (as mentioned in my ‘finding veggie satisfaction in Edinburgh’ post) is just across the road so combining the two venues makes for a very satisfying evening.

So there you go – not a huge selection from a city that has a helluva lot of pubs but they’re my own personal favourites. Hope you can give them a try if you’re ever in Auld Reekie!

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