Drinking In… Edinburgh, During Festival Season
If you’re in the UK at the moment and desperate to escape the sporting insanity of the Olympics, there really is nowhere better to flee to than Scotland, for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – a haven of performance, comedy, theatre, music and general revelry for over 50 years.
Plus, you get to soak-up the culture and aesthetics of Edinburgh itself – an absolute treat, especially during the Fringe, which, by the way, is not the same thing as the Edinburgh Festival. Technically, that’s the Edinburgh International Festival, although The Fringe is frequently – incorrectly – referred to as ‘The Edinburgh Festival,’ which is now more of a catch-all term for festival season, which features the above two and several other festival events? Confused? You will be, but don’t worry – embrace the confusion.
Main festival activity takes place around the Old Town, around Edinburgh University, but the festival reaches every corner of the city, with free, cheap and expensive shows in countless venues, plus street performers at every turn.
But first, you’ll need a drink to prepare yourself. Looking for a bar? You’ve probably walked inside one while reading this sentence. The city is littered with them throughout festival season, but there are some reliable stand-outs. In the unlikely event of it being sunny, The Pear Tree House has a good beer garden with free performances all day, plus it’s close to other great performance venues: Underbelly, Gilded Balloon, the wandering vaudeville splendour of The Famous Spiegeltent (also an excellent outdoor bar) and the Pleasance.
Should the crowds, endless flyers and plastic pint glasses get too much, there are some fine ‘escape’ bars. The beautiful, multi-functional Voodoo Rooms serves some excellent mixes, including the Gingerbread Wicker Man, with cinnamon smoke-infused Johnnie Walker Black Label, Licor 43 (a Spanish liqueur of fruits and spices), chocolate and ginger.
Under the Stairs is a great venue, with its vaguely retro-chic atmosphere and decor, full of art and photographs, and backed up by a superb cocktail menu: try a Go Figure (fig liqueur, El Dorado rum, mint, chestnut liqueur, lime and sugar) for something rich and different.
Secret Arcade may not be particularly secret (it’s above a very pleasant traditional Scottish pub, the Arcade Whisky and Haggis House), but this Polish vodka bar supplies over 100 vodkas in a refined, minimal setting, from pure, premium choices to vodka flavoured with juniper berries, unripe walnuts or a type of oil apparently used in… Viagra. It’s also a great place to grab some grub, as they serve a mean combo of tatties (potatoes), neeps (turnips) and haggis (don’t ask, just eat it).
The Bramble is a renowned cocktail venue, with a cool, fun ethos and a fine list of drinks. Sample a Tea Time Toddy Martini (Hendrick’s Gin, chamomile flowers, honey, lemon juice, pineapple and syrup) for a worthy alternative to your actual tea (for non-UK audiences, ‘tea’ in this context means what you’d call ‘dinner.’ Just go with it).
If you’re all cocktailed-out, head to The Outhouse, with its abundance of locally brewed beers and ciders, and don’t leave without trying the sublime and strong Innis & Gunn beer. Other valuable drinking dens are listed in our heads-up of five great Edinburgh bars.
Should you want to mix up your Fringe binge, delve into surrealist and dada art at the Dean Gallery, with its beautiful grounds, and the Collective Gallery, another good spot for experimental pieces. Numerous pop-up galleries also appear all over throughout festival season.
And if all that art, street performance, comedy and Russian roulette theatre has overloaded your cultural nodes, there’s plenty of vintage and boutique shopping to be had along West Port in the city’s Old Town: Herman Brown, Godiva and Lady JoJo’s Boutique are all worth a look, while Bohemia supplies kitsch clothing and gifts, and Miss Dixiebelle offers burlesque delights.
Many Fringe performances go on into the small hours, but if you fancy something more musical, there are plenty of clubs to choose from, with many extending their opening hours until 5am. The Bongo Club is a brilliantly grimy institution, home to drum’n’bass mashup Xplicit and the eclectic world sounds of Four Corners. The Store and Sneaky Pete’s are good for electro, bass, house and dubstep.
Finally, sleep shouldn’t be high on your agenda – Edinburgh transforms into a heaving, 24/7 city during festival season. But if you need to catch some shut eye, there are few better choices than Tigerlily, a beautiful, boutique hotel with a superb bar, restaurant and club space, allowing you to carry on the party and quite possibly rub shoulders with some of Edinburgh’s rich and famous in the process.
Essentially, festival season in Edinburgh is a blast, whatever you get up to. So don’t worry about the specifics, just delve deep into whatever madness this wonderful city throws your way.
Top image of Edinburgh by kyz