We spent a day in Edinburgh – just enough time to be intrigued but not enough to claim that we’ve even begun to understand it. But, anyway, here a few impressions.
First, Edinburgh’s pubs, based on the two we drank in and a few more we peered at, feel more like English pubs than those in Glasgow.
The Stockbridge Tap, with two reformed vikings behind the bar, could have been in Bristol, not least because of the presence of Tiny Rebel, Electric Bear and other familiar names on draught.
There were some Scottish beers – Swannay Island Hopping on cask, for example, and Crossborders Heavy on keg – but we got the impression those were for the benefit of visitors like us. The Heavy was our favourite beer of the day, though, bundling cherry with chocolate with the dark crust of a day-old rye loaf.
Crashing a get-together of local beer geeks we heard English, Australian, American and French accents, and contributed our own chat about the West Country and Walthamstow to this off-brand blend.
On the way back to the station, tanks dangerously full, we stopped at the Guildford Arms which had caught our eye as we rushed past it earlier in the day. It’s at the junction of a passageway and a backstreet, like many of the best pubs, and projects a distinct gin palace energy. A handy board outside tells the story:
In the period 1880–1910 a unique breed of luxurious pubs were built. This coincided with major changes to the city including the demolition of old buildings like The Turf Hotel and The Bridge Hotel… Curiously, and perhaps as a reaction to it, pubs like The Guildford Arms were built during the height of the temperance movement: their opulent character was in marked contrast to the dark and dingy bars of Edinburgh where the ceilings were not often beyond the reach of a man’s arm.
Though we chickened out of trying to cover Scotland in the 80,000 words of 20th Century Pub that really does seem a familiar narrative.
Inside, it felt like a London pub: a bar at the back, not horseshoeing through the centre, as we gather is the standard in Scotland; large windows with ornate detailing rather than frosted slits; with all the carpet and brown wood you could wish for.
And Fyne Ales Jarl in fine condition. This is what lured us through the door, if we’re honest, and we stopped for a couple of rounds, watching locals and German tourists navigate around each other at the bar and bargain over table space.
“Shame you didn’t make it to…”
Well, here’s the thing: we’re at peace with the idea that we can’t get to every pub in every city on every visit.
Cramming ten pubs into a single day just isn’t much fun for us anymore; we’d rather than spend two hours in one pub and three in another than just 20 minutes each in every stop on a crawl.
We also know we’ll go back to Edinburgh sometime and have another go.
That’s what we have to tell ourselves, anyway, or these kind of drive-bys would break our hearts.