Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#25. The Grosvenor, 26 Shandwick Place, Edinburgh

Lothian and Borders: Edinburgh: THE GROSVENOR

After a trip to the West End to buy a guitar for Linus, I stopped in at this pub for a thirst quenching beverage. It was actually t-shirt weather today, with a high of 24C.

The Grosvenor is under the same ownership as The Doctors and features the same menu, but a slightly different beer lineup. I broke down and drank a Deuchers IPA by Caledonian Brewery.

I had been avoiding this beer for two reasons: 1) it is an IPA, which due to often toxic levels of hops means it stands for I Puke After; and 2) it is everywhere, second only to Wellpark Brewery's Tennent's Lager and Guinness for tap placements. Given that the biggest selling beer in Scotland appears to be Tennent's Lager, and the biggest selling soft drink is Irn-Bru, I had grown skeptical of the Scottish palette. But Deuchers is actually pretty good! Caledonian definitely has its shit together.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

#24. The Phoenix, 46-48a Broughton Street, Edinburgh

Up Broughton Street from The Conan Doyle is this busy little pub catering to sports fans and students. This is another pub that we visited last year during our UK holiday, The Phoenix being the first stop on Birgit's mini pub-crawl.

Manchester City was losing to Bayern Munich on one screen, while Manchester United were drawing with FC Basel on the other. Here's a picture of some of the enthralled crowd.

Check out the wallpaper above the wainscoting. Too right.

Linus had an Edinburgh Gold from Stewarts, a beer I discussed previously. I enjoyed a tasty Hobgoblin from Wychwood Brewery.

#23. The Conan Doyle, 71-73 York Place, Edinburgh

This was my second trip to this pub at the bottom of Edinburgh's pink triangle formed by the intersection of Broughton Street and Leith Walk. On the snowiest day of last year, I spent an hour inside waiting for Meghan.

Not much had changed, including the staff (who I remembered because of the distinctive tall, skinny pseudo-goth look sported by two of them). There were four guest ales on tap, and I decided on a Blackout porter from Cropton Brewery, while Linus ventured for a Keltek Brewery King. The Blackout reminded us a bit of the Phillips Longboat Chocolate Porter from home. The King was quite nice, but like many hand-pulled Scots ales, a little flat for my liking. Keltek appears to have an interesting lineup of beers, so I hope to find them again.

The Conan Doyle is a nicely decorated room with a good feel, in a great location for access to the St. James mall and the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre (before or after you see the Queen musical We Will Rock You).

Linus didn't understand the name of this pub because he did not know who Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was, so I gave him this brief biographical sketch. Doyle was born and raised in Edinburgh, and received a doctorate in medicine around 1885. He moved to the south of England to setup practice, but business was slow, so he took to writing to keep busy. His series of mysteries involving Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson became immensely popular. But he was knighted not for his writing, but for his persuasive editorials that encouraged support of British imperial involvement in what would become the Boer War.

While drinking our beers we spotted a flyer advertizing a new iPhone app that helps you locate pubs. I downloaded Caskfinder (alas, not Assfinder) from the iTunes store. Reminiscent of the never-award-winning Backstage app Eat-a-Rama, Caskfinder conveniently maps out all the pubs in Edinburgh that are party to the Real Cask Ale initiative and have been awarded a Cask Marque Award for ensuring their ales are the right temperature, aroma, and taste. I applaud this initiative. A standing ovation, in fact.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

#22. The Bailie, 2 - 4 St. Stephens Street, Edinburgh

A deceptively large cellar pub, The Bailie is definitely the place to be in Stockbridge.

I sampled a Golden Sheep by Black Sheep Brewery of the Yorkshire Dales. It was one of four "guest ales" they had on tap. Weighing in at a paltry 3.9% alcohol, this pale ale was a decent but unforgettable session beer. (A session beer is anything you can drink for four hours straight without getting hammered; i.e., a low alcohol beer for when you are having a long drinking session.)

QPR were playing Aston Villa on the tube. I think QPR might be my favourite Premier League team. I like cheering for the underdog, and as a recent promotion, Queens Park fits that bill. And they play an exciting brand of soccer and have a player (Shaun Derry) that looks a bit like me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

#21. The Wally Dug, 32 Northumberland Street, Edinburgh

Another local, this 200+ year old gem was just the place to introduce Linus to Edinburgh pub culture. Below street level, the Wally Dug features an interesting mural painted in their areas.

They had multiple Belhaven selections on tap, and a Brew Dog. I couldn't decide between the Belhaven Aberdeen Ale or the Brew Dog Trashy Blonde. Our bartender graciously offered us a sample of each. I found the Trashy Blonde a bit too hoppy, and the Aberdeen Ale a bit too malty. Linus liked the Aberdeen Ale. He was surprised that we were warned that it was a strong beer, at 4.9%. Welcome to the UK, son.


With a name that means "stupid dog" it is of course dog friendly.



Friday, September 23, 2011

#20. 99 Hanover Street, Edinburgh

This classy pub takes its name from its address and features a first-rate interior and comfy furnishings. We loved this place. It was busy, but not crowded. There was music, but you could hear your friends talk across the table. I can't comment on the beer selection as our guests were buying, and they kept coming back from the bar with Guinness for me, and Magners for Meghan. How very Irish.

We closed the mother down. At home, when they turn the lights on in a bar, it is really time to leave. But at 99, they turned the lights on at 12:55 as a five minute warning. The added lumens made it easier for the bar staff to start washing table tops and stacking chairs. Meghan was cheered on in her efforts to chug her remaining cider.

#19. WashBar, 11 North Bank Street, The Mound, Edinburgh

Wash is a very sexy place, with a fantastic location and the venerable Caledonia Brewing Company's McEwan's on tap. The top floor must have a fantastic view of Princes Street Gardens and across to New Town, but it was too dark to fully appreciate it.

Apart from the fact it features McEwan's on tap, my favourite part of this pub is the way it looks from the exterior, all decked out in pastel blues and lit from below. Quite stunning, really.

Meghan reported that the women's toilet featured a coin-operated flat-iron hair straightener. I noted that (like many pubs in Edinburgh) the men's featured a coin-operated condom dispenser that also sold Male Angel, a natural sexual performance enhancer.

#18. The World Famous Frankenstein 1818, 26 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh

During our trip to Edinburgh last November, Frankensteins was one of our favourite pubs. I was really looking forward to our return trip. Here is a picture from last year, that made me declare that all the pubs in Victoria were now dead to me.

Unfortunately, this time around did not have the magic of that first time. The video screens that dominate the bar were not showing a classic black & white film of the Frankenstein gentre. No, it was DJ Night and the management figured we needed to watch music videos. Except the videos were not related at all to the music being played by the DJ. We were left scratching our head, and running for the door by the time we had downed our Guinnesses (Guinni?). Why did they think it was a good idea to keep increasing the volume of the music? There is no dance floor in Frankensteins. Nobody goes to a pub to listen to Brittney Spears for fucksakes!

World famous? World famous for now sucking tha wee bobby.

#17. The Globe Bar, 30 Niddry Street, Edinburgh

With the NHL season just around the corner, I google searched "NHL Edinburgh where?" The google machine told me that when in Edinburgh, The Globe is the place to watch not just hockey, but all North American sports.

Sure enough, The Globe had several televisions tuned to MLB. It also featured two rooms with massive screens that looked like a fun place to watch a game.

Being part of a hostel, the beer selection was "international." That is to say, very corporate, lager-heavy, and lowest-common denominator. However, they did have Belhaven's Best on tap, and Crabbies ginger beer by the bottle.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

#16. Cask & Barrel, 115 Broughton Street, Edinburgh

This is my second visit to The Cask & Barrel Ale House, having dropped in with Birgit and Meghan on our holiday to the UK last year. Here is a picture from last year of Birgit sampling some of the delicious drinks on tap, and some hot nuts.

I really like this pub. The bar itself is a semi-circular affair in the middle of the room, surrounded by tons (or loads, as the locals would say) of televisions. Perfect for some Tuesday night football. Manchester United was busy dismantling Leeds while Svea and I hung out, waiting for Rebecca's drawing class to end. Cheering for Man U is like cheering for the NY Yankees: ridiculously half-assed. It's who you cheer for (or support, as the locals would say) when you don't like sports.

I wonder if there is a Chinese restaurant somewhere called Man-Yu Wok?

Enough about soccer (or football, as the locals would say). Beer is beer in any dialect, and the tap selection at the Cask & Barrel befit its name. My first pint was Young's Special London Ale, which really was quite special. The history of Young's is very interesting, though in recent times they have gone quite corporate, through merger with Wells and now buying up pub chains to ensure distribution channels. I think the beer industry here could benefit from some regulation where a firewall is erected between the pubs and the product; kind of like how in Canada the CRTC used to forbid a carrier from also owning the content. Did you know that in Ontario, the monopolist Beer Stores are owned by three horribly bad foreign breweries? Now that is something to riot in the streets about.

Svea was enjoying a Crabbies Ginger Beer, which she said was so good it makes the ginger beer at The Reef taste like it was cold filtered through the decomposing remains of Bob Marley. My second pint was an Orkney Best. I'm afraid if that's the best that The Highland Brewing Company has to offer, they are in serious shit (or shite, as the locals would say).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

#15. The Doctors, 32 Forrest Road, Edinburgh

I've been looking forward to checking this place out ever since we walked by it during the University of Edinburgh orientation for families of international students. Located right across from McEwan Hall, The Doctors has a nice atmosphere and is a decent size.

And with a nice selection of TVs, I got to see high-lights of the Celtic vs. Rangers derby from the weekend. I still haven't figured out who I am officially supporting, but I advised Svea and Rebecca that the safe bet is to say you cheer for the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS. Our taxi driver from the Glasgow Airport (who drove us all the way to Edinburgh, but that's another story) had Celtic tattooed on his hand (but no Glasgow smile).

Beerwise, Doctors have their own special ale on tap, brewed for them by The Inveralmond Brewery. It wasn't bad, but paled in comparison to the spicy, aromatic, and zesty Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blond that I drank while enjoying a spicy bean veg burger. At least the coaster I was using told me it was "spicy, aromatic, zesty." Harviestoun, based in Clackmannanshire (?), has an interesting looking lineup of beers.

All told, not a bad pub.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

#14. The Tass, 1 High Street, Edinburgh

What a great address. My first pub along Edinburgh's famous Royal Mile was this unpretentious little gem at the corner of High and Canongate.

The tap selection included some Scottish cask ales. I chose a smooth and delicious Copper Cascade from Stewart Brewing company. Stewart is two-for-two with me, having also enjoyed their Edinburgh Gold ale.

The interior was crowded near the bar, but a small private room two steps up from the crowd offered candlelit ambience. Meghan couldn't help but remark how hard the pubs in Victoria try, and how large they are by comparison (e.g., the Bard & Banker).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

#13. The Venue, Potterrow Student Union, University of Edinburgh

Over the previous weekend I attended an orientation session for families of new international students, hosted by the University of Edinburgh. Most of the attendees were the baby-boomer parents of undergraduates, busy micro-managing their sons and daughters lives. I kept having to tell people "my children attend the University of Victoria... it's my wife who is a student here". During question period the only people to ask questions were Americans, who would take the microphone and confidently announce who they were, and what state they were from. Liz from Wisconsin didn't so much have a question as a concern that the drinking age was only 18 and the university seemed to promote the consumption of alcohol. The director of the International Students Office assured her that this was not the case.

As Freshers Week draws to a close, I have to agree with Liz. How many other student unions have six separate drinking establishments? And that's just ONE of their student union buildings. On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of visiting The Venue, a hall within the Potterrow building designed to hold 1,000 drunk and dancing kids consuming copious amounts of Carlsberg. Seriously, the bar only had Strongbow and Carlsberg on tap, at the low price of £2.40 a plastic pint.

We were at a DJ dance party for post-graduate and mature students. Despite the slightly older audience, I was asked no less than three times by three different students if I wasn't a bit too old and tired of this kind of thing. I politely explained that I like going anywhere just to watch Meghan bust a move. And dance she did, decked out in the official Edinburgh uniform of the young co-ed (a plaid mini-skirt). By the 3AM last call, her new Irish friends had joined her on the dance floor, performing Irish high-kick line dancing with plastic glasses that littered the dance floor.

Good times.

You might ask he's not a student -- how did he get in? There was security at the door checking for student cards, but Meghan had forgot to bring hers, and in the resulting confusion to assure them she was a grad student, the five of us were whisked in.

#12. Bar 50, 50 Blackfriars Street, Edinburgh

Located within the Smart City Hostel is Bar 50. Part of the hostel is permanently rented by the University of Edinburgh and used as student housing. I feel somewhat sorry for the students who live there as the pub -- with its steady stream of young, international, partying back-packers -- must be a huge distraction.

Speaking of students who live there, we met up with a couple of Meghan's new friends from her post-grad programme, who were kind enough to take us on a tour of the hostel and their rooms. The rooms reminded me of a train compartment. The entire building is like a United Nations train.

Anyway, the pub was fun, with a cafeteria meets pool hall kind of vibe. The tap selection was minimal: Guinness, Belhaven, Strongbow, and Stella. We've learned that Stella Artois is considered a trashy drink in this country.

UPDATE: we spent another fun evening at Bar 50 on the opening day of the Six Nations Rugby tournament. Here are some photos.

Here is the most Scottish man in the world.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

#11. The Stockbridge Tap, 2 Raeburn Place, Edinburgh

Today I ventured further north into the neighbourhood of Stockbridge. Crossing the tiny bridge over the mighty Water of Leith (don't blink or you will miss it, let alone be completely oblivious to the fact you are actually on a bridge) leads to a lively and colourful collection of shops and services. After a leisurely stroll along the main shopping street, I stopped in at The Stockbridge Tap for some fish and chips.

The beer menu consisted of an extensive collection of local ales that were completely new to me. I chose an organic ale from Black Isle Brewery based in the Scottish Highlands. Specifically, the beer is brewed north of Inverness, near the towns of Tore and Munlochy, just south of Middle Earth and the Shire.

The beer was superb. Their slogan (save the planet - drink organic) could easily be save your palette - drink Black Isle beer. The pint was strong by UK standards, weighing in at 5.1% alcohol. Time for a wee nap.

Black Isle rocks. I couldn't help but notice they stole my idea for a beer name: their St. Nicholas' Knicker Dropper Glory sounds suspiciously like my own Fernwood Brewing Company's Panty Remover Ale.

Further down the road in Stockbridge I found that Cafe Henri was selling their bottles. Sweet.

I think I might be getting fat. If it weren't for the fact that I am walking to these pubs, I'd start to get worried.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

#10. St. Vincent, 11 St. Vincent Street, Edinburgh

Just down the hill from our home, as you walk towards Stockbridge, you'll find this gem of a neighbourhood pub slightly below street level.

A great selection of local beers on tap, I chose a Dark Ale from Barney's of Edinburgh. This new brewery was started in his kitchen by a guy named Barney.

Chelsea was playing on the telly, and I read today's copy of The Times. This is the view of the bar from my seat.

Monday, September 12, 2011

#9. Kays Bar, 39 Jamaica Street, Edinburgh

Becca wanted fish & chips for dinner, so we set out to sample the highly-rated fare at Iglu, a pub/restaurant within walking distance. Unfortunately, it is closed on Mondays. A block away was Kay's, a warm neighbourhood pub with a friendly atmosphere. The small interior was chock full of interesting books and board games. They only served lunch, so we only stayed for one pint before moving on.

I sampled a new beer: a Theakston Best Bitter. It was very enjoyable, not unlike some of the finest Scottish cream ales. Theakston is based in North Yorkshire, England.

Jamaica Street is the historic ghetto of New Town. It was torn down around 1965, and today is unique within New Town in that the houses don't fit within the Georgian mold of its surrounding streets. Still, as Svea noted, it looks like the oldest part of Victoria; when they rebuilt the mews and townhouses, they did their best to make it look like it was 150 years old.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

#8. The Earl of Marchmont, 22 Marchmont Crescent, Edinburgh

Back in Edinburgh, and the rain has abated. It seems we find ourselves enjoying the streets of Grassmarket every time we head out for a walk. It might have something to do with this view.


We crossed through the Meadows and into South Edinburgh for the first time today, stopping for a pint at a friendly neighbourhood pub called The Earl of Marchmont.


That is us in the window. I had a skunky Fullers of London, but the girls shared an amazing Scottish ginger cider from a cidery in Dunbar called Thistly Cross.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

#7. Flat 0/1, 162 Bath Street, Glasgow

I think we just found the coolest place on Earth: Flat 0/1 on Bath Street in Glasgow, a nightclub connected to the Lucky 7 Tavern. We didn't actually stay for a pint as we were in a rush to eat dinner before the comedy show we were scheduled to attend. But it is on our to-do list the next time we are in Glasgow (soon, I hope... that city rocks).

I hope these pictures do it justice. From the outside it appears to suffer from Hipsteritis.


But once you step inside, the chill-out beats from the DJ warmly suck you in like that feeling you get when you slip into a warm bath. Here's Becca checking out the guitar on the bed.


Yes, bed. Why don't more night spots have beds?


And chairs on chains that swing, next to a diner-style bar.


Friday, September 9, 2011

#6. Crosslands, 182 Queen Margaret Drive, Glasgow

What better way to start a day-trip to Glasgow than a pint at Crosslands, the pub made famous by the film Trainspotting.


A converted church, the interior was extremely cool.


That old dude came by and tried to teach us some Scottish dialect.

On our way out, we asked a polite young man dressed in a track suit for directions to Byers Road. He actually had a Glasgow smile, which freaked us out. We thought those were urban myths.

#5. The Standard, 24 Howe Street, Edinburgh

Today we finally hit up our local. The Standard is the closest pub to our home on Heriot Row. It is also very nice. It calls itself a "bar", which seems to mean "slightly more upscale than a simple pub". The decor is consistent, the lighting is soft, and it has big screen TVs that were showing tennis. The Brits are still big on tennis, it would seem. The menu featured a couple of edible vegetarian options, including a delicious sounding vegetarian breakfast served until 5:00 PM on weekends. How very civilized.

Svea enjoyed a half-pint of Stowford Pressed Cider (brewed by Westons), whereas I resorted to what is quickly becoming old reliable: Belhavens Best. While The Standard gets full marks for its convenient location and decor, it loses points for its inadequate tap selection.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

#4. Lebowskis, 18 Morrison Street, Edinburgh

Any pub named for The Big Lebowski is okay in my books, except this pub might as well have been named Gone With the Wind for all it had in common with the film for which it takes its name. Putting a White Russian on the menu and a picture of John Goodman on the wall does not automatically make you worthy of the moniker. It appears the owners neglected not only to place an apostrophe in their name, but to actually watch the film. If they had, perhaps the bartender could have worn a housecoat, sunglasses, long hair and a beard. That would have been slightly better. Oh, and a micturated rug would be a nice touch.

We were soaking wet and searching for solace in the form of bowls of piping hot leek and potato soup. Instead, we were informed by the friendly staff that they had run out of soup. They were also out of veggie haggis. What is it with Scotland and running out of food?!? I had tried to order fish and chips at The Standing Order, only to be told they had run out of fish. How can you run out of fish (or veggie haggis for that matter) when you are one of about 5,000 places to eat in Edinburgh? And when you run out of something, what is stopping you from running to the store and buying some more for chrissakes? Meghan suggests it is because the kitchens only have the little mini-fridges that are so popular here in Europe; they simply don't have refrigeration or freezing space for more than two meals before they run out. Lame. Super lame.

I had an Edinburgh Gold ale from Stewart Brewing, and it was very smooth. I resorted to a hummus and black olive sandwich, served on burnt bread.


The Dude abides.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

#3. The Standing Order, 62-66 George Street, Edinburgh

Today's pub was The Standing Order, a so-called "chain pub" (one of many owned and operated by J. D. Wetherspoon) in a converted bank on George Street. I had possibly the worst beer of my life; some glass of malt vinegar brewed by Keystone called Born to be Mild. It was so bad I returned it for another pint of the quite enjoyable Flying Scotsman Ale from Caledonian Brewery. Scotland 2 - England 0. The bartender was kind enough to replace it without charge. I want to order another Born to be Mild just to confirm that it is indeed horrendous, or if I happened to get the dregs of the keg. The old saying "let me lick your ass to get this taste out of my mouth" was never more apropos.

The food was inexpensive and mediocre. The building was huge and featured some interesting ornate glass skylights.

While in the line waiting for service, I was chatting with an older Scots gentlemen. When he found out I was Canadian he (like everyone I've ever met in Scotland) proceeded to tell me a story about his cousins in Canada. This one was sad, because he felt too intimidated to visit his cousin in Thunder Bay when his mother told him that his relative had retired as a Colonel from the Canadian military. I wasn't sure how to explain to him that if the class system existed in Canada, it hadn't yet made it to Thunder Bay, and certainly didn't apply to anyone from our military (regardless of rank).

Earlier in the day we walked by the Cambridge and Oxford bars on Young Street on our way home from lunch at Bar Roma in the West End. The former is famous for its burgers and the latter for Inspector Rebus, protagonist of Ian Rankin's crime novels. We didn't partake of either, yet.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

#2. Jekyll & Hyde, 112 Hanover, Edinburgh

Part of the chain of eery themed pubs, Jekyll & Hyde is appropriately close to the family home of Robert Louis Stevenson. The poor selection of taps is compensated for by decorative touches such as washroom doors disguised as bookcases.


Friday, September 2, 2011

#1. The Queens Arms, 49 Frederick Street, Edinburgh

Not intended to be the first, but it was Friday after work and England was playing Bulgaria. After aborted attempts to get a spot at The Standard, then Kays, we stumbled upon The Queens Arms. Surprisingly good, with a quirky atmosphere. We loved the eclectic mix of books on the walls (e.g., Time Out Scotland next to Parasitology). It looked to have a great selection of real cask ales on tap, though I opted for a Belhaven's Best, a delicious cream ale brewed here in Edinburgh Dunbar, Scotland.
Svea and Russ