I’ve lived in Edinburgh for over ten years now, yet it never fails to surprise me. This city is a labyrinth of secret closes, cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards all ripe for exploring. A pub crawl in Auld Reekie is never exactly going to be short on options, but while many head straight for the hedonistic thoroughfares of The Grassmarket, Cowgate or George Street, I’m more of a fan of cosy wee nooks. I’ll take a log fire and squishy armchair over battling the crowds any day.
The trouble with Edinburgh is that it can be a bit of a maze. Some of its best-kept secrets are just that – secrets. If you’re looking for an atmospheric hideaway to sup on that swallie but don’t know where to begin, here’s a few of my favourite tucked-away bars to get you started.
Teuchter’s (West End )
What exactly is a teuchter, you ask? Well traditionally it was a word used by lowlanders to refer to folk fae the Highlands. Today, it’s one of those bizarre half-insult/half-term of endearments words so lovingly used by the Scots. Anyone can be a teuchter, but generally you wouldn’t want to be one yourself, if that makes sense.
It’s also the name of one of Edinburgh’s leading proprieters. Teuchter’s own two joints across the city – one down on the shore of Leith, the other in the city’s West End. I’m a big fan of both, but it’s the latter which will win my heart every time for its cosy set-up. Tucked away on William Street -equidistant both to Haymarket and Princes Street – Teuchter’s may be wee but it’s not exactly short on tipples, with over 100 whiskies behind the bar and a nice range of beer on tap. They also serve food from 10.30am – 10pm.
Panda & Sons
Despite its city centre location, you could quite easily be forgiven for walking past Panda & Sons! Not only is bar below street level, you can only enter it by passing through a secret, mysterious bookcase! Masquerading as a barber shop, the quirkiness only continues downstairs, with vintage gramophones, secret booths and cocktails served in great glass bell jars all waiting to capture your curiosity.
The Devil’s Advocate
Housed in a former Victorian pump house, just off the Royal Mile, settings don’t come much more atmospheric than The Devil’s Advocate.
Word has definitely got out about this characterful little player, but it still manages to retain that quaint feel of an undiscovered gem, with its amber glow, mezzanine level and sneaky wee booths all perfect for cosying up in.
There’s an excellent food menu to accompany the plethora of whiskies, cocktails and craft beers on display; sadly this all comes with a city-centre price tag, but it’s certainly worth it for a treat!
The Blue Blazer
With its mosaiced floor, vintage photographs and whisky-barrel tables, there’s a lot to love from the offset about The Blue Blazer. Tucked away on the quiet Spittal Street (and admittedly, just a stone’s throw from the city’s infamous Pubic Triangle), this loveable little rogue draws a fun crowd – from art students and office workers to thirsty Thespians from the nearby Lyceum Theatre.
Under the Stairs
If Edinburgh gave out award for the ‘Most Visited Bar for a First Date’ it would probably go to Under the Stairs. There’s something undeniably romantic about this candlelit snug, with its dark chunky woodwork, exposed brick walls and shabby-chic decor. As the name implies, this is a another of the city’s finer basement bars, and probably quite easy to miss if you didn’t know where to look (Merchant Street is right in the heart of the Old Town, just up from The Grassmarket, but it’s a quiet wee street!). The ambience is great if you’re just looking for somewhere to catch up over a cocktail or a nicely chilled pint, but they have an equally cracking food menu if you fancy turning this into an all-night event.
The Roseburn Bar
Yes, yes, this may be just a two minute walk from my flat, but that doesn’t stop it being a great bar! The Roseburn Bar isn’t exactly in the city centre; instead it’s just a few minutes’ walk from Murrayfield Stadium, and easily reached by both bus and tram. In many senses, The Roseburn is a traditional Edinburgh Sports bar, with football and rugby memorabilia framed on just about every inch of wall space, and games shown most nights on the telly. There’s nothing loutish about this place, though! It’s a classic local boozer, packed to the corniced rafters with old-fashioned charm. It’s the type of place where the folk behind the bar known half of their customers by name. My fella and I often pop down here on a Saturday to soak up some of the atmosphere in one of the snug bars and have an obligatory tussle with one of the regular pub dogs. Best avoided on match days if you’re looking for somewhere quiet though…
It’s all about cocktails down at Bramble. This Queen Street haven has grown quite a reputation for itself over the last few years for its inventive tipples. The ever-evolving menu is sure to cater to all cocktail-connoisseurs tastes, so whether you’re looking for something tart with a Golden Delicious Sour, or something more playful like the bacon-infused Courvoisier, you’re not going to be short on choice. Despite its popularity, Bramble is very much a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ sort of bar, with only a humble name plaque giving away the clue to what hides behind the door. Great fun if you’re heading for a night on the town – though if you manage to bag yourself one of those leather armchairs, you might never want to leave.
The Bon Vivant
Another one from the team behind The Devil’s Advocate. It’s so easy to fall in love with The Bon Vivant. Although the secret is well and truly out of the bag with this place, it still retains the feel of a Parisian backstreet wine bar, with its low ceilings, ambient lighting and mismatched dark-clad furnishings. The food here is excellent, but it’s also just a gorgeous place to plant yourself of an evening if you’re looking to catch up with pals or that someone special over a few drinks – or a moderately priced bottle of bubbly! Better still, the proprietors also own El Cartel (one of the city’s best Mexican restaurants) which is just a hop, skip and jump across the road, so you can easily kill two birds with one stone.
One of the stalwarts of Tollcross, Cloisters is a friendly local with a big emphasis on serving up fine ale and craft beer. Housed in a former Church on the edge of the Meadow’s Park, it’s a nice enough distance to the city centre to make you feel connected to everything you need, yet still quiet enough to make you feel a million miles away from the hubbub of urban life. It’s the type of place where phones are tucked away in pockets and conversation reigns supreme, so it gets my backing all the way.
The Brass Monkey
This is a popular post-work haunt of mine. The Brass Monkey actually own two venues, one on Drummond Street, the other on Leith Walk. Both are great, but the Drummond Street comes up tops for me. It’s massively unpretentious, with an eclectic crowd both regular and new, friendly service, secluded booths and board games a’plenty. What’s more, the back room doubles up as an in-pub cinema, with its own screen available for hire and an array of deep squishy beanbags and mattresses you might never find your way out of again.
The Stable Bar @ Mortonhall
I might as well end this post on the most tucked-away bar of all. My folks actually discovered this place by chance when walking their dog. The Stable Bar and Restaurant is very much a country pub in the heart of the city. Sounds impossible, right? Trust me, it’s not. All you have to do to get there is jump on a bus up to the top of Liberton Brae, take a walk through the country path towards the Mortonhall Caravan Park and you’ll find yourself in a lovely wooded clearing, with nothing but the sounds of birds chirping away and the nostalgic smell of the nearby stables in the air. The Stable Bar is the perfect place to whittle away a Sunday afternoon, whether it’s the heart of summer or the dead of winter. They have a fab courtyard at the front where dogs roam freely and food can be enjoyed al fresco, but inside it’s your traditional country inn set up, with a log fire crackling away and a family-friendly set up with a bustling main bar and a quieter Saddle Room which can be hired out for larger gatherings. You’ll find it hard to believe that you’re still in the city, but the view of Arthur’s Seat on the way home will surely remind you how lucky you are to be in a place like Edinburgh.