O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro’ wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an’ wink,
To sing thy name! – Robert Burns
It has been noted, on a few occasions, that Scots are partial to the odd dram.
And no wonder when their capital is so richly woven with places to drink. The city’s basically one enormous unofficial pub crawl. But besides Edinburgh’s cosy pubs you’ll also find natural wine bars, gin palaces, and a cocktail scene that rivals London and New York. Here are our picks of Edinburgh’s best bars, from an avant-garde mixology den disguised as a barber’s shop to a rowdy neon-lit dive bar themed around a nostalgic board game…
Bramble | New Town
Going strong since 2006, we’d bet good money that the phrase ‘nooks and crannies’ was invented here. Tucked into the basement of a townhouse on Queen Street, Bramble invites you to first descend the worn steps, then to make yourself comfortable in a worn-out leather armchair or propped up at the bar, and finally to avail yourself of the frequently inventive cocktails mixed up behind the bar: numbers like the Shibuya Shake with bourbon, rum, raspberry port, white cacao and the Japanese yoghurty soft drink Calpico, or the Grand Central with gin, vermouth, marshmallow and fizz.
Details: 16a Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JE | No bookings
Lucky Liquor Co | New Town
Sibling to Bramble, and located just up the road, Lucky Liquor Co is the definition of low-key with its subway tiling, bare wooden shelves and pegboard menu. But don’t be fooled by the laid-back interiors: the drinks here are just as complex, and a little tongue-in-cheek. Try the Charlemagne, a clarified milk punch with peach soda and sage distillate; or the inventive Fat Duck with single malt, plum, hoisin and five spice, and bop your head to the all-vinyl soundtrack.
Details: 39A Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 3NH
The Devil’s Advocate | Old Town
Tucked away up a steep medieval lane in the Old Town, The Devil’s Advocate is set in what was once a Victorian pumping station – and there’s a lot more than water passing through there these days. A 300-strong whisky selection sits gleaming on the shelves behind the bar, plucked from both Scotland and further afield – but they also do a solid line in signature & classic cocktails, Old World wines and craft beers from local breweries like Pilot and Bellfield.
Details: 9 Advocates Close, Edinburgh, EH1 1ND | Book here
Spry Wines | Calton Hill
An elegant, grown-up natural wine bar whose muted palette and gentle decor let the grapes do the talking. Owners Matt and Marzena are a genned-up pair who hand-pick their bottles, stretching from Sussex to Sicily, and pick out a modest selection to drink in by the glass. They also run a bakery & coffee shop below, and in the evenings Spry doubles up as one of Edinburgh’s best restaurants, too – pick and choose from the à la carte, or plump for the five course tasting menu of leek dumplings, rarebit tartlets and steamed crab buns.
Details: 1 Haddington Place, Edinburgh, EH7 4AE | Book here
Nauticus | Leith
This beautiful bar was inspired by Leith’s history as a busy trading port, but it’s actually a great place to try some local produce – 90% of the ingredients going into their cocktails are sourced from Scottish suppliers. The wooden shelving behind the bar houses whiskies organised by finish (complete with a ladder for the barkeep), a roaring fire warms the room in nippy weather, and there’s many a cosy nook to huddle up in (including a curtained-off library area).
Details: 142 Duke St, Edinburgh EH6 8HR | Just walk in
Never Really Here | New Town
The door looks like you might end up summoning Marley’s ghost, but lift the leonine brass knocker at No. 89 Rose Street and you’ll be hustled in with open arms. This intimate speakeasy-style bar has no sign, no menu, no card machine – just turn up and entrust Fate (or the bartenders) to hand-craft something bespoke to your tastes. Just remember cash, because Fate always forgets.
Details: 89 Rose St N Ln, Edinburgh EH2 3DX | DM for bookings or just walk in
Panda & Sons | New Town
A family-run cocktail tavern disguised as an old barber’s shop, which has been turning out some of Edinburgh’s best cocktails since its inception in 2013. Inside it’s heavy on the Victoriana, with painted mirrors, wood panelled walls, studded leather banquettes and cabinets stuffed with vintage curios and bottles of booze, but the atmosphere is buzzy, as panda-aproned barkeeps chat with the regulars and keep them topped up with popcorn. Innovation here goes way beyond your typical mixology wizardry – the team are currently investigating the world of ‘sub-zero flavour’, enlisting the use of freeze dryers and ultra-low-freezers to create high intensity drinks.
Details: 79 Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 4NF | Book here
The Last Word | Stockbridge
The Last Word is one of the finest bars in Edinburgh, and that’s final. It comes with good pedigree, having Bramble and Lucky Liquor for siblings, and yes, there are great cocktails here like the Pickleback Rickey (bourbon, Cocchi Americano and pickle spices) and the Poached Pear Sbagliato. But the biggest draw is the extensive whisky list, arranged helpfully by region (with a few concessionary nods to the US and Japan). There’s plenty for long-standing fans to get into, with small batch releases and whiskies finished in Calvados and white port barrels, as well as some left-field numbers like Craigellachie’s ‘Caramel Chai Latte’. Don’t know where to start? Ask the tenders to put together a whisky tasting flight for you – you’ll get to try three for less than a tenner.
Details: 44 St. Stephen Street, Edinburgh EH3 5AL | Book via [email protected]
Heads & Tales | New Town
‘Not easily found, not easily forgotten’ is the motto of this clandestine gin bar… although after a few hours here you can expect your memory to be somewhat compromised the next day. Inventive cocktails and eccentric Victorian decor means the place has more than a whiff of Mr. Fogg’s about it. The cocktails are made primarily with gin – some distilled right there behind the bar – and range from classics to house concoctions like the Chai Time, mingling Rutland Square gin with cardamom-infused tea and milk. And if you’re in for the long haul, order a tasting flight of martinis or negronis, and add ballast with a dessert board loaded with profiteroles, chantilly cream, frozen hazelnuts and chocolate shards…
Details: 1a Rutland Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2AD | Book here
The Mousetrap | Bonnington
A raucous dive bar that combines live music with shot roulette, pinball, and dogs. The interiors are every bit as joyfully slapdash as you’d expect of what is essentially an 1980s fever dream, with bunting and fairy lights strewn across the room and a giant mural of the Operation man sprawled across the ceiling (pub quiz fact: his name is Cavity Sam). There’s table football, there’s cheese toasties, there’s Mario Kart, and there’s a list of cheap and cheerful cocktails like Amaretto Sours and Mega Margaritas doing the round. But really, at £3.50 a go, you’re here to turn the shot crank behind the bar, and hope you don’t end up with Blue Bols.
Details: 180 Leith Walk, Edinburgh, EH6 5EA
Want to make the most of your trip? Take a look at our Edinburgh Guide