Edinburgh pubs and bars are closely linked but unidentical twins: the former are cosy retreats with an emphasis on chairs and chatter, while the latter favour a more stylish hang-out vibe you won't mind standing and mingling in. We'd hope you have room in your life for both - and a restaurant or two, too - but for nights when only a bar will do, the following options will see you right.
From the same Scandinavian stable of bars as Joseph Pearce’s, Sofi’s is not new and hardly prominent either. Sitting on Henderson Street, it's all of a couple of minutes’ walk away from the heart of Leith but easy to miss as you rush towards that Michelin-starry locale. Launched in the mid-Noughties, this is a hard-working twenty-first century neighbourhood bar that offers a great deal more than lager and crisps – convivial, community-minded and relaxing, it’s worth getting to know.
The Hanging Bat is a peculiarity on the Edinburgh bar scene, in that it seems to have jettisoned most bar-like elements in case they get in the way of appreciating a good (read: craft) beer. Foregoing cocktail lists, dimly lit corners and even full-size pint glasses, it's an altar to the creation and appreciation of the not-so-humble brewski.
The Blackbird attracts a hip-young-thing clientele who create a not-unpleasantly-busy atmosphere most nights of the week. Beers are typically either continental or craft, and the cocktail list is well curated too, with edgier titles like Shotgun Shoes and Unorthodox Behaviour backing up the more traditional mojito, daiquiri and cobbler crowd.
Opened in early 2014, Usher’s of Edinburgh is the latest craft beer bar to hit Edinburgh’s burgeoning scene. There are some great ales on tap here from brewers such as Alechemy, Stewart, Drygate, West and Tempest, and super-friendly bar staff man the pumps. Those in exclusively for a pint can grab a seat on the benches by the front, which have the added bonus of being near the big sports screen.
Obviously favouring their own brand, the range of Brewdog beers on offer at their Edinburgh branch includes a handful of IPAs, a dangerously dark porter and – whisper it – a lager (unequivocally called ‘This. Is. Lager.’ for those in doubt). Home brews aside, there’s also a selection of top quality guest draughts, with Mikeller’s gluten-free ales, Weihenstephan and Brooklyn Lager all getting a look in.
A 2016 debutante in the heart of the Old Town, Salt Horse is dual-purpose beer shop and bar with the business very much on message in terms of artisan food and drink. The bar space is not the biggest but it has the maximum number of small tables squeezed in, simple décor, lots of beer in bottles and cans, and a dozen rotating keg lines. Foodwise, the kitchen has been offering great burgers and barbecue lately.
An extended home-away-from-home for the local Leithers, young professionals and hipsters, this little(ish) space is littered with quirky vintage-style armchairs and comfy lived-in sofas. A small bar with big ideas, Boda offers a drinks menu for all seasons, with decent beers, local gins and a good selection of wines and cocktails, although snacks are limited to the odd cheeseboard.
You take one traditional nicotine-stained boozer much patronised by the middle-aged-gent-afternoon-drinking sector, give it a fresh lick of paint and some quirky fittings, a Scandinavian-style bar menu, provide a welcoming space for children during the day, put seats outside but offer fleece blankets too (you are 56° north after all) then watch the punters roll in (except on Tuesday evenings when the bar runs a jogging club and some people literally run in).
Once upon a time the premises at Summerhall were the University of Edinburgh’s vet school but the animal doctors moved out in 2011 and a multi-purpose arts centre moved in. It has subsequently established itself as an important creative hub in the city and one of the main venues during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; on site it also has a café, craft brewery (Barney’s), a gin micro-distillery (Pickering’s) and a bar that shares a name with the old vet school itself – the Royal Dick.