Thursday 1st May 2014
The Bow Bar is to be found on one of Edinburgh’s best looking streets and possesses the aura of having been there forever. However, this remarkable little pub only appeared in its present form in 1987. It was the work of Ian Whyte who created a number of the city’s finest pubs from previously run-down premises. See a separate article on Thomson’s Bar. I believe the Bow Bar was a pub before he took it on, and probably keeps its original name.
It is now owned by the Real Ale Company which possesses a couple of other pubs restored in similar style, the Stockbridge Tap and Cloisters Bar; the latter being the subject of another article in BeerVisits. The Bow Bar has a very traditional atmosphere created in part by the fact there is no music and the television is only turned on for Rugby Internationals.
It is situated on West Bow, one of the oldest streets in the city being first mentioned in 1160.
A Bow was the old name for an arch so it follows that it was the route to the West Gate of the Old Town.
The street appears to have a split personality as it seems to be also known as Victoria Street at one end.
If you look carefully at the photograph at the top of the page you will see the sign of West Bow on the pub wall and that of Victoria Street on the adjoining property.
The dual names are carried over to the pub itself as it is sometimes described as being in Victoria Street. The top of the thoroughfare was rebuilt into its present norm after 1827 and the later name must come from that period. It is said that the properties at the bottom of the street pre-date this rebuilding at the top end.
Whatever street the pub is actually in has no consequence on it being a great little boozer. On entering you will notice the mahogany bar on the right of the room. The bar back (gantry) is also made of the same wood. It is said that it came from a former church, although it looks more like a pub fitment to me, as it is now! The bar counter originated in a pub that was “modernised”. Many other features in the room were recovered from pubs that were closing.
There is wood panelling up the walls to shoulder height and the counter has brass bar rails in front of it.
There is a large amount of stuff on the walls including many old enamel advertising signs for Shipping lines, ferries, cigarettes and whiskies. About midway down the left side is a magnificent wooden fireplace with a fabulous mirror promoting William Younger’s India Pale Ale.
The mirrors actually provide a great visual atmosphere. There are also old photographs and paintings but I think the mirror advertising Ballingall’s India Pale is the best feature. It was a brewery from Dundee. Other mirrors hark back to the days of McEwans and others.
There are fitted bench seats with blue cushioning along the walls with small tables and wooden chairs in front.
The clientele mix is quite varied and basically customers are here for two things: beer or whisky; or both!
The Bow Bar has won many awards over the years for its fine whisky selection including Whisky Magazine’s Gold Award for 2012 for being the “Best Whisky Pub in Scotland”. Also the good Pub Guide made it “UK Whisky Pub of the Year” in the same year.
They have over 200 varieties including many rarities such as some from the Port Ellen distillery on Islay that closed in 1983.
There is a fine choice of cask beers as well all served from Aitken tall founts dating from the 1920s, also recovered from old pubs.
There are three regulars and these are Fyne Ales (Cairndow, Argyllshire) Hurricane Jack (4.4%); Alechemy (Livingston, West Lothian) Bohemia Pale (3.8%) and Stewart Brewing (Loanhead, Edinburgh) No 3 (4.3%).
When I called in on that May Day the guest beers were as follows: Fyne Ales (Cairndow, Argyllshire) Vital Spark (4.4%); Tryst (Larbert, Central) Sherpa Porter (4.4%); Alechemy (Livingston, West Lothian) Starlaw (3.5%); Houston (Houston, Refrewshire) Festival (4.0%) and Loch Lomond (Alexandria, Strathclyde) Brave Hop (6.0%). They also offer some “craft” keg and bottled beers.
It won CAMRA Edinburgh’s Pub of the Year in 2002 and 2011. It is a no music environment and people have been noticed talking to each other.
It is near the courts and is often frequented by lawyers and their clients. Food consists of soup and several types of pie supplied by Findlay’s Butchers of Portobello. These are highly commended. There are Beer Festivals in January and July.
These are many of the reasons why this beautiful little pub should be part of every beer drinker’s itinerary when visiting the Scottish capital.
The Bow Bar, 80 West Bow (Victoria Street), Edinburgh EH1 2HH. Tel: 0131 226 7887
Open: Monday-Saturday: 12.00-24.00; Sunday: 12.30-23.30
The pub is less than five minutes from the Royal Mile and ten from Waverley Station.
It is close to the Grassmarket which is served by the East-West cross-city bus route No 2.
At the top of Victoria Street is George IV Bridge and this is well served by buses from the city centre (Princes Street). The routes are 23, 27, 41, 42 and 67.