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Thursday, 20 May 2010

A Power in the East cont

The Shore Bar & Restaurant, 3 Shore, EH6 6QW
Carriers Quarters, 42 Bernard Street, EH6 6PR
Port O' Leith, 58 Constitution Street, EH6 6RS
The Jinglin' Geordie, 22 Fleshmarket Close, EH1 1QA
Bramble Bar, 16A Queen Street, EH2 1JE

It was only after quite a few visits east that Leith appeared on my itinerary. I think The Waterfront Wine Bar & Grill was my first destination. The main section was modern with large windows for elegant dining with a view of the redeveloping Leith harbour area, but I liked the wood-lined traditional bar at the entrance with its limited space and get-one-quick booths. It’s now gone, replaced by Teuchter’s Landing, part of the A Room in…chain of bistros.

The most popular part of new Leith is of course The Shore. In its earlier days only a couple of establishments sat on the quayside. I remember an evening there about a decade ago. It was certainly a quiet night. Things are busier now, bars and restaurants seem to fill every prime space and Malmaison is around the corner. The King’s Wark is rightly recognised for its great food and landmark status. At its best for lunchtimes and couple-friendly atmosphere. The Shore Bar & Restaurant is of similar vintage to The King’s Wark but a more moody space. On my first visit I was impressed by the dark-weathered wood lining walls and ceiling. Since then many places have attempted the same look but can’t match the effortless authenticity of The Shore. The drinking area is quite narrow but through a door you have a separate dining space.

I could go on about the many other interesting venues but also feel that this part of Leith could become a cliché of a place, a quick shorthand for out-of-towners, nothing but an area people go to without thinking, a la Rose Street twenty years ago or Ashton Lane in Glasgow. The plans to pedestrianize the area will obviously increase trade in this spot but probably to the detriment of other parts of Leith.

People should sometimes delve deeper. Head east into more traditional Leith. Carriers’ Quarters provides a good link between the old and the new on the way to Constitution Street. The front area is quite traditional and small enough to always have a good buzz. A wee surprise is the snug just off this area. I’ve never yet managed to get access to it such is the demand for privacy. Through the back the place opens out a bit to a candlelit space that seems intended for the younger market around here. The clientele has been described as colourful as my earlier mentioned friend will attest. Minding his own business on an early Saturday evening he got a blast of “speccy bastard” for his trouble from an evident regular, who wasn't impressed with my pal's new glasses. He took it in good humour though, my friend that is, not the regular. After all, the night was young.

Port O’ Leith on Constitution Street is nothing if not colourful. Festooned with flags covering the ceiling, accompanied by all other sorts of memorabilia from foreign sailors. There must be less of them nowadays. Leith is far from the principal port it was centuries back. This place may still be included in the Trainspotting tour, but it doesn’t need to trade on past associations, it’s an interesting enough hive of activity today. Mary Moriarty is the famed landlady of the Port and I’ve seen the effect she has on what remaining bampots the pub still attracts. Something mildly nefarious was going on behind us- maybe trading in imported Pokemon cards for all I know – but it stopped as soon as an elderly woman with steel in her gait entered the bar. Smiles at her all round from the offending table and she gave a look like: “Let that be a lesson to you, one more time and you’re out”. From personal experience visits to this pub often last longer than intended and plans to head elsewhere forgotten. There have been worse decisions.

So as you can see, my regard for Edinburgh’s drinking culture is considerable. Not even the Festival stops myexploration. My most recent Festival crawl started in The Abbotsford on Rose Street, its dark hues marking a calm beginning. From there we were on to the Udderbelly open-air hospitality areas on Pleasance and the bottom of Blackfriars Street, stopping off en-route at Jinglin’ Geordie on the steep climb up Fleshmarket Close. Jinglin’ is a good wee place with a remarkably compact smoking area at back. And it is right beside the inestimable Halfway House, my favourite pub in the city.

After the Udderbelly stop-offs, we went alfresco again at the previously mentioned Three Sisters. Then The Black Bull or the Beehive Inn on Grassmarket, tables now hard to find outside in the late-afternoon sun. I had noted down Baccaro under the Hudson Hotel as a possibility for after hours drinking but we got there well ahead of schedule so we made do with the hospitable upstairs bar. Then Bon Vivant, a new entry on Thistle Street, where things got a little too cosy. Cocktails are a speciality here but it smacked too much of a couples’ wine bar from the 90s, ie candles everywhere.

So not long before we moved on, Bramble this time, on Queen Street. More of an edge to this place certainly, a basement joint making imaginative use of the small subterranean space. Just how small became apparent when I headed further into the bowels of the establishment only to realise that it was mirror ten feet in front of me, not another part of the bar. Bar service was impressive, the guy taking my order while he prepared the round three ahead of mine. After he had produced at least 6 cocktails and other drinks he reached my order and got it spot on without any prompting, even down to the brand of gin. He may have been Marco Noe, who recently won the Scottish final of the World Class Vodka Cocktail Contest.

While all this was going on, my brother had fallen asleep in a corner, an early ferry from Belfast the reason, honest. We decided to get him out of there before the staff took matters into their own hands, as we didn’t want to end up as another Unight statistic. So ended the session.

Ah, the memories…but also a demonstration of the wide range of drinking experiences available in the city and the discernible differences in character between the various areas. This is something that has diminished in Glasgow recently, with the West End, for example, lately becoming an extension the city centre rather than retaining a defining personality of its own. And looking along the M8 from the west, Edinburgh seemed to withstand the smoking ban downturn better and is helped by a slightly more sympathetic licensing regime.

Of course Glasgow has an enviable pub and club heritage; an Irish connection which brings a perceived culture of good times; and a frenetic excitement or pandemonium that appears as if from nowhere when you are out and about in any part of the city, this said to be a contrast with the reserve of Edinburgh.

I have much still to do discovering Edinburgh. For example Dragonfly in West Port remains un-sampled as do, properly, areas such as the South Side, Easter Road and Stockbridge. So, my quest goes on to find out if Edinburgh does indeed possess the strength to overpower Glasgow as our entertainment capital.

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