Thursday, 13 October 2011

Edinburgh's best bars? My favourites certainly.

Having recently been reading some drivel in the Guardian about Edinburgh's 10 best bars, one of which can be best described as a toilet, I decided to have a crack myself.

I have no idea what the criteria was when the Guardian's author wrote their top 10, however my criteria is based on quality of product. There are some very pretty bars in Edinburgh that serve utter dross, and as Sienna Miller is living proof of, being pretty doesn't make something good at what it is/does.

One proviso though is the evil of the brewery tie.There are some great bars, great places to sit and relax that I wouldn't say are great bars because they draught beer offering is shocking, through no fault of the operators. They fall in to the 'I love that place, but the beer is rubbish' category. Similarly, 'I love that place but the food is dreadful' etc etc...

My assumption is that the Guardian writer wasn't a beer geek, whisky geek or actually interested in what gets sold, more the atmosphere. Which still doesn't explain several of the choices but anyway....

So in no particular order....

Cloisters Bar, Brougham Street.
Having been managed by the same miserable git for the past 140yrs, Cloisters is still the benchmark for cask, keg and bottle offering in Edinburgh. The constantly rotating 5 cask lines bring a breadth and depth of UK beer and more recently a rotating keg line has seen more choice in that arena too. The manager, despite being bald and grumpy, actually pays attention to the changing markets and has most recently brought in beer from Old Chimneys brewery, the first time it has been sold in a Scottish bar.
You'll also find a huge selection of interesting whiskys and a cracking selection of rum. New chef can cook a bit too.

The Saint, St Stephen's St.
I've been accused (by idiots) of over rating this bar in the past but that's nonsense. Great staff, great atmosphere, a small but uncompromising selection of beer and operated by two guys who have forgotten more about spirits this morning than most of us will ever learn in a lifetime. The food is far far too cheap for the restaurant quality that it is. It's a gem. If you want a cocktail go to their other bar Bramble, it's one of the best in the UK.

The Stockbridge Tap, erm, Stockbridge.
Struggled a bit being next door to the smugfest of Hectors for a while but a new manager, new chef and a new focus has rapidly changed things over the last 4 to 5 months. The beer (cask and keg) selection is always good and the recent beer festival showcased beers previously unsold in Scotland. Sticking some sofa's in the back bar has changed the atmosphere and the decision to remove a few of the mirrors calmed the lighting a bit too. It's Cloisters sister pub and whilst it lagged behind is now nipping at the heals.

Caley Sample Rooms, Slateford Road.
Bags of potential finally being realised. 8 rotating cask lines, a huge bottle range, great wines, selection of spirits and cracking food, all added to friendly staff and good service. Only thing that lets it down is that pig of a brewery tie to kegged beer, but the vast array of choice makes up for that. It's also just a very nice place to be. If you're in town, their sister pub the Cambridge Bar has a similar beer offering and excellent burgers.

Holyrood 9a/Red Squirrel.
I've lumped these two in together because they are the same thing with minor tweaks. If it ain't broke, make another one as they say. The burger menu's in both are huge and the food is consistently good. The keg offering is the largest permanent line up in Edinburgh with a crossover appeal to niche and non niche beer enthusiasts with some craft, cask and mass market beers. Good spirits range and I'll be honest, I've never bothered looking at the wines.

BrewDog, Cowgate.
If it wasn't in the Cowgate and they had a few cask lines there would be little competition for title of best beer pub in Edinburgh. The persistent striving for new and interesting beers has breathed new life in to the beer scene in Scotland and their own beers are good value in today's market. Too many bars go for quantity over quality but there's no compromise here. Passionate and knowledgeable staff, great pizza's and food platters (again, not expensive) and a product list to die for. If you want wines and spirits you're limited, but this is a craft beer bar, and a great one at that. Despite being brick and metal the atmosphere, even when empty, is enjoyable.

Brauhaus, Lauriston Place.
The original Edinburgh 'craft beer bar' with a massive selection of bottled beers. Upped their game recently by sourcing more interesting beers outwith the usual channels too. A break from the trade tie on draught would do wonders, as would about 200sqft extra space. Alternatively making more seating space by taking away the massive sofa's that take up half the bar and sit 4 people. Interesting spirits selection and german style bar snacks. A little usurped by BrewDog, but still plenty of choice for the quality booze lover.

The Bow Bar, West Bow.
Feel free to take bets on how long Duechers IPA lasts in this bar, it can't have long left surely. Mind blowing array of whisky, excellent draught beer selection and small but quality bottle offering. Pies at lunch are a bonus and the staff know their stuff. That this pub is ever omitted from a 'best pub' list of Edinburgh is a travesty.

Nobles Bar, Dukes Street.
Where some fail, others succeed. Considered a dog of a site the new owners have worked wonders. It's eclectic styling, low lit atmospheric mood and cracking food make this a blinding place to be. The beer offering is varied and mostly local to Scotland and the staff are friendly and helpful (this shouldn't be a selling point, but far too many staff just aren't).

The Pond, Salamander Street.
The beers are good if limited (in bottle) and the draught is average. No food to speak of so technically this adheres to none of my own criteria. However, I don't really care. It's miles from anywhere useful in a pretty shitty end of the city next to something which has lots of lorries going in and out of it. It's still a really cool bar with a great atmosphere, and I know I'm not the only one who thinks that. Move it half a mile and you'd make a fortune? Well, would it be the same if you moved it....

Other bars definitely worth a visit.... Tcheuchtars and Tcheuchtars Landing, Cumberland Bar, Bennets in Morningside, Blue Blazer, Joesph Pearce (and the others in that group, Boda, Sophies and Victoria), Cask and Barrel Southside, Kil-der-kin, Thomsons, Golden Rule, Abbotsford and the Staggs in Musselburgh (not in Edinburgh but a great beer pub).

I've probably missed a few too.


  1. Found the Beer at Hector's at Stockbridge rather good.

  2. Love a wee trip to Staggs in Musselburgh when I'm down visiting friends. Cracking pub.

    Will be sure to check out some of these pubs in Edinburgh too!

  3. Paul: I gave up drinking in Hectors, despite a decent selection, after having to take my umpteenth pint back for smelling and tasting of vinegar. Meantime London Pale Ale, BrewDog Edge and Thornbridge Jaipur all returned on seperate occasions for being so badly off they'd make you ill. Whilst I applaud the addition of Brooklyn Lager, I'd rather walk 2 minutes up the road and drink it in The Saint.