The Georgian New Town section of Edinburgh city is an eclectic collection of department stores, cocktail bars and alas, the main tram line routes. It’s also the beating nightlife heart of the capital and there are very few evenings out in Edinburgh that don’t ultimately wind up in a George Street bar or club. Use our guide to the Best New Town nightlife to ensure you end up in all the right places.
Something of a local secret for many years, Bramble has become one of the capital’s brightest nightlife spots. Patrons will need a map or GPS to locate it, however, given its location down a steep set of stairs in a stylish subterranean Queen Street cellar with only a small brass plaque to signify its presence. Once inside, the interior proves equally unassuming yet inviting. Bare stone walls, antique furniture and little cubby holes are dimly illuminated by subdued lighting and flickering candles.The impression of a speakeasy is ably complemented by the management’s ethos of artistry in the making of their drinks, striking a balance of serving up retro classic and fabulous new concoctions. House specialties include the Campbeltown (single malt whisky, Cherry Heering and green chartreuse) and the Mint Choc Flip, but drop in a well-placed word with one of the barmen and they’ll assemble a cocktail to your own preferences. Bramble is sound tracked by chilled-out soul and R’n’B slow jams and on Fridays and Saturdays, one can groove into the wee small hours with the establishment’s house DJs.
For an even more hush-hush speakeasy bar in Edinburgh’s New Town, Panda and Sons is well worth a drop-in visit while exploring the city. Opened in 2013, Panda and Sons, in a charming throwback to a sense of old-school mystery and discovering hidden treasures, is deceptively disguised by a vintage barber shop facade, replete with old fashioned blow-dry chair in the entrance foyer and a false bookcase doorway.. Once you’ve crossed the threshold, an ever-bustling cocktail joint awaits, overseen by award-winning bartender Iain McPherson. The drinks list is divided into chapters and thus feels expansive enough to seem like the liquor is always flowing. The level of invention varies from house twists on old standards such as the Red Panda take on a Bloody Mary (Tanqueray gin, tomato juice, Kaffir lime leaves, cucumber, lemon juice, Worcester sauce, Tabasco and a Guinness float) to the Liquid Brunch of Ketel One vodka, chamomile tea, fennel syrup, ginger wine and gentian de lure aperitif wine. Mop up the copious drinks with some light bites from the sharing snack menu on offer which features cheese and meat boards, pork scratchings and complimentary popcorn.
Since 2012, The Hanging Bathas been quenching the thirst of Edinburgh’s craft-brew heads with its seriously rich abundance of beers. Six cask ale taps, 14 keg lines and 120 draught lines are available for perusal on any given day of the week. The Hanging Bat’s pursuit of quality brews may make it something of a unique venue on the Edinburgh bar scene. The lack of a cocktail list or pint glasses (draught beer comes in schooners, two thirds of a pint, or one third of a pint glasses if you’re sampling something insanely high in alcohol) won’t be to every punter’s taste, however, anything that breaks the homogeneity of the smoke-stained working man’s pubs clogging up the city centre is alright by us. What’s more, The Hanging Bat distinguishes itself as one of the most experimental and ethical watering holes on this list by their sourcing of local product from independent UK companies, and expansion into brewing some of their own in their on-premises pilot brewery. The bar’s décor is rustic with exposed wood and red leather couches, and to complement their beer, they have BBQ style food (pulled pork, hot dogs, meatloaf burgers) cooked on their own smoker and dog griddle and served up in brown cardboard street-food style boxes.
Sophisticated yet affordable, The Bon Vivant is one of the true pleasures of the New Town. Stuart McCluskey’s intention upon opening in 2008 was ‘to create an environment that was similar to those found on the continent, where dining and drinking is often informal and casual, yet of a very high standard’. To that end, The Bon Vivant features an ever-changing cocktail list (including highlights like A Woman of Paris – Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, Kirsch, Kümmel, Homemade Grenadine – and Death Lends A Hand – inQuinQuin Peach Aperitif, Orange Colombo Aperitif, Peychaud’s Bitters, Champagne), a varied and accessible champagne list and a gantry bursting with rare and classic spirits. Furthermore, The Bon Vivant singles itself out on Edinburgh’s bar scene by virtue of its unique approach to its wine list. All 44 wines are offered by the 175ml glass, 500ml carafe or by the bottle. Blind tastings are also conducted with customers, promoting smaller boutique wines and more unheard of varieties. Food-wise, the menu changes daily but always includes tapas-style mini plates in starter-size portions such as a beef cheek and morcilla beignet or a chorizo and plantain fritter with homemade sour cream.
Situated on the corner of two residential New Town streets, Spit/Fire’s Fire Bar is a below-ground speakeasy, decidedly more conspicuous than its upstairs, street-level counterpart Spit Bar. Customers can only access this den from late afternoon onwards by walking through the below-street basement restaurant, downstairs to the bathrooms and through a door at the end of a winding corridor. Once downstairs though, you’ll quickly be won over by the bare-brick warren awaiting you with its upturned shot-glasses for light fixtures, and if the decor isn’t enough to wow, the armada of drinks surely will. Curated by the team behind The Hanging Bat, you’ll find 50 different whiskies (with an emphasis on American bourbons and rye), 15 gins, 40 canned craft lagers (ranging from London’s Beavertown to US brewery Firestone Walker), 12 draught lines of the best beer available in the UK, and several blackboard special craft ales. Again, as with The Hanging Bat, beer comes in 2/3rd glasses on account of the fact that an IPA doesn’t taste its freshest when you’ve taken 30 minutes to drink it. The emphasis is resolutely on beers to taste, not just to guzzle down. Complementing all of this hooch is the American-themed range of bar snacks, such as quarter chicken with gravy and fries, buffalo wings in hot sauce, chicken popcorn and (perhaps one for the more tipsy patrons) a pickled hot dog.
Made famous by local author and Edinburgh celebrity Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series of books, the Cumberland Bar is a popular pub located down on quiet Cumberland Street and is an authentic yet refined Scottish boozer. The Sunday roast is a big draw but it is surely the prospect of a pint of Joker IPA or Caesar Augustus sipped outside in the shady beer garden that ensures return visits a-plenty. Book ahead for one of those sought-after outside tables.
Beyond the grand portico of the old BBC broadcasting house on Queen Street is The Jam House. This terrific central location hosts a markedly older clientele within its spacious confines, but the live entertainment is timeless. Jazz, blues, soul, swing, indie, latin and R’n’B are duly represented while artists such as Ben E King, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, and regular cover band The Jammy Devils will often be the sound track to your dancing. Guests can dine on the first floor balcony overlooking the main stage, kick back in the leather sofas at the chapel bar, or skip everything and head straight for the dance floor. Make sure you’re dressed up prim and proper though, as the Jam House enforces a ‘relaxed casual’ dress code.
The favourite haunt of Rebus novelist, Ian Rankin, The Oxford Barhas plenty of of charms for those patrons who aren’t looking to disturb the writer at work. Beer comes in pints and often, a cheeky dram on the side too. The wide range of spirits and vintage wines will surely tempt even the most fussy drinker. Avoid the tourist trap section of the Visitor’s Paddock where first-timers inevitably cluster and if you’re looking to fill your stomach, indulge in some light Boat Race-themed rivalry and head a few blocks down to the Cambridge Bar for a daily-changing menu of craft ale tap specials and the best burgers in the capital.
The very definition of a cosy wee pub, Kay’s Bar on Jamaica Street is a local specialty with mass appeal. Nestled in amongst the decidedly posher-looking New Town tenements, this former coach house offers fifty malt whiskies and seven real ales. You won’t hear any music being played through tinny speakers to drown out the conversation, nor rubbish daytime TV playing on a loop. Instead, customers are more likely to be found nursing a dram in the library room or playing Scrabble in front of the coal fire. The sense of history here is palpable, too. Up until the 1970s when Kay’s became a pub, John Kay and sons had been dealing in wines and spirits here for 150 years. Local New Towners would come down here to fill up their jugs with whisky, gin, brandy, claret and wines from across the world and you can still allegedly see the pipes in the bar’s staff room where the shop owners would pump the booze straight down into the customers’ waiting jars.
Sometimes, you just want to plump yourself down in an old local and nurse a pint while the sport’s on. The Cask and Barrelrises to that occasion with considerable aplomb. From its home at the foot of Broughton Street, you can find an impressive selection of British cask ales to satisfy the curious craft beer aficionado, including Orkney’s Highland Brewing and West Sussex’s Dark Star, but also seasoned bar staff who’ll engage in even the most obtuse of conversations. Basic bar meals are offered, so no-one will be going without their half-time meat pie watching the Saturday football and rugby.