Thursday 1st May 2014
This is a well-known and beautiful pub that is but a stone’s throw from Waverley station. Getting here from the station is now a lot easier than it was. Of course, you can relive former days by walking up the famous Waverley steps but nowadays I will always be found using the new parallel escalators to get up to Princes Street. Once you have arrived on that thoroughfare the pub is hidden just around the corner in West Register Street, see directions below.
The origins of the pub go back in 1841 when the site was occupied by a tenement with a shop at street level. In 1896 it was acquired by the D.M. Stewart Co. and they remain the owners to the present day. They rebuilt the old building into what you see at present and the ornate pub opened its doors in 1898. Whilst the outside view has not changed over the years there have been some alterations to the interior.
It has the appearance of a “Gin Palace” but was constructed a bit later than the golden era of that style. The temperance movement was even stronger in Scotland than it was in England. This meant that pubs of considerable opulence were built around the turn of the century to entice drinkers and diners to cross their thresholds, as they were a complete step change from the dingy houses that were the norm at the time.
Because of the constraints of the plot the pub has an unusual shape with the main entrance being on the corner of West Register Street. This has a revolving door although it is not visible in the photograph above as that was taken just before opening time and there are a further set of conventional doors for security, however please note the ornate portico.
The pub was designed by Robert MacFarlane Cameron and originally possessed an island bar which obviously had some divisions to segregate customers. This changed in 1940 and the bar was moved to its present location. In 1970 they installed booths in the pub but that wasn’t regarded well and they were removed in 1987 and the pub gained its current look.
One of the most striking aspects of the interior is the mezzanine level restaurant with its curved balcony that confronts the entering customer as they exit from the revolving door.
The walls are wood-panelled up to shoulder height and the beautiful large wood-framed windows stand out as a major feature. The ceiling is highly decorated and there is lighting from chandeliers.
Underneath the balcony restaurant there is a further area allocated to dining and it is decorated in a more modern style. Personally I think that this space should be more traditional and in keeping with the rest of the pub. I haven’t noticed this before so assume that is relatively recent.
A very noticeable feature of the public bar area is the magnificent old mirror promoting Thorne Bros. Sparkling Pale and Mild Ales. During the Edinburgh Fringe Festival the pub is home to the Caledonian Folk and Blues Fest, sponsored by the brewery of the same name.
Usually there are up to ten cask beers on offer here including offerings from both north and south of the border. However on this visit there were only five, very unusual compared to my previous visits; you should expect more than this. Never mind, it was a reasonable selection as shown below:
Highland (Swannay, Orkney) Island Hopping (3.9%);
Orkney (Stromness, Orkney) Dark Island (4.6%);
Brew Company (Sheffield, South Yorks) Blonde Ambition (4.2%);
Wells-Young (Bedford) Bombardier (4.1%)
Sonnet 43 Brewery (Coxhoe, Co Durham) IPA (4.4%).
There is a full menu available and as the Guildford Arms is so close to Waverley station and Princes Street any visitor to the city at any time should not miss this wonderful pub.
The Guildford Arms, 1 West Register Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2AA. Tel: 0131 556 4312
Open: Monday-Saturday 11.00-24.00; Sunday 12.00-23.30
Assuming you have arrived at the top of the Waverley Steps in Princes Street. Turn right along the pavement and pass the entrance of the Balmoral Hotel. Cross Princes Street via the pedestrian crossing. Once over the road the street going slightly uphill is West Register Street. Walk up it and you will see the pub on the left.
Waverley station has rail connections throughout Scotland, also to a great number of English towns and cities.