Things to do in Scotland : The Best Rock Bars in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle has stood on top of the rock for over 600 years and is a truly Scottish icon. A symbol of the city and by far the biggest tourist attraction in the country.
The rock itself is over 340 million years old consisting of igneous basalt from an extinct volcano.
So, the city certainly rocks and it surely rolls and it may surprise you to learn that it has a thriving scene for Rock music. Perhaps on a par with the great musical cities around the world.
Aside from live concert venues and stadia there are also many bars that cater for people who like their music loud, their beer strong and their whisky neat. So here, in alphabetical order, are the best that Edinburgh has to offer.
With a short description and a photo of each there are also weblinks that provide more detail including pictures, prices and location maps.
THE AULD HOOSE
Slightly off the beaten track is The Auld Hoose which is in Newington about a mile south of the Royal Mile. It's an old-fashioned type of bar displaying a lived-in feel with its bare wooden floor and no-frills décor. It serves traditional pub food as well as a selection of hearty ales for enthusiasts of the grain.
The Auld Hoose attracts the younger type of clientele as there is a large student community around the area since Edinburgh University is nearby. But older folk will feel right at home too especially if they partake of good beer. Hand-pulled pumps drawing up some fine brews have earned the pub an endorsement from CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale)
Free Wi-Fi is available and also a CD juke-box with many underground bands that will appeal to an alternative crowd of Thrash, Goth and Punk fans. The staff encourage an "eclectic and constantly changing mix of music" so any attempts to play countless tracks of your favourite band will be frowned upon.
It's well off the tourist areas so foreign visitors are probably thin on the ground. It can be very quiet during the week but comes alive on Fridays and Saturdays.
Situated in the Cowgate at the corner of Niddry Street is Bannermans Bar. Drinks are quite expensive especially considering it's a favourite student hang out. But normally they have discounted offers on a limited selection of bottled beers as well as cider.
Unfortunately there are no similar deals with their draught beers. But if spirits are more your taste then you might also be able to find the odd bourbon at a bargain price.
The pub has an old-fashioned interior but is festooned with colour from a multitude of national flags hanging from the ceiling. Not to mention the picturesque tattoos on the staff and patrons of an evening. When it's busy though, it can get hot as the ventilation isn't the best around.
Next to the bar is a live area where you can see bands playing. Usually the price is around £5-6 a show and it's normally original music. Quite often it can be young bands on tour. So you never know, if you're lucky you might catch tomorrow's superstars. You're unlikely to find tribute bands in here although good cover bands are possible.
Aside from the music the pub will regularly screen sports on the TV, especially football and rugby. Also during the Edinburgh Festival in August they also host free comedy shows too where top comics will provide a 10 minute taster of their acts.
THE BANSHEE LABYRINTH
Next door to Bannermans is The Banshee Labyrinth which does exactly what it says on the tin. It's a cavernous maze of bars, rooms and corridors which are supposedly haunted since half of the venue was once the 'underground vaults' of Edinburgh's netherworld.
No surprise that it's a favourite among Goths and fans of the dark side of Alternative Rock. It also includes a small cinema room where you can enjoy watching classic movies and cult favourites.
Some visitors have commented that the place is not very welcoming for outsiders who are not in the scene. But the vast majority have found the regulars friendly. That even extends to the house poltergeist we presume.
The Banshee Labyrinth is also a live venue hosting Heavy Rock bands and even has a fetish night once a month. Plus during the Edinburgh Festival it is a hub for many free comedy events which have established the bar as a major venue during the festival weeks.
THE BLACK BULL
Moving slightly north you will find The Black Bull on Leith Street just off the eastern end of Princes Street. You could easily walk past and not notice the bar as it nestles below street level at the junction of Leith St and Calton Rd where the buildings taper to a narrow edge.
However in the mid-1990s the steps outside the bar were forever immortalised on film. They were used in the opening scene of the movie 'Trainspotting' when actors Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner ran tearing down them.
In hot pursuit were a pair of store detectives as the pounding beat of Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life' blasted through the cinema speakers.
Inside the bar you will find an excellent touch-screen jukebox full of everything from Punk and Grunge, Classic Rock, Thrash and more. But you'll even find many more tunes of various descriptions covering almost 50 years of Rock music.
For the sporting among you there is a pool table and a TV, although the latter will be soundless as music takes precedence.
The Black Bull is busy at the weekends but without being too jam-packed. But don't sit near the front door as there can be a lot of cigarette smoke wafting in from the small entrance area. They had a few problems with leaks and dampness in the toilets but that has been much improved.
Perhaps of all the rock bars in Edinburgh this one has the most varied mix of ages, people and great music. It always feels very welcoming with friendly staff and has all the atmosphere of a local pub without the tourist trappings.
THE BLACK ROSE TAVERN
In the New Town area of Edinburgh you'll find Rose Street which is famous for its many bars. Chief among them being The Black Rose Tavern which is roughly half-way along the street. It's the sister pub of The Banshee Labyrinth although much smaller in size.
Most times you can choose your own music from the jukebox but on other nights there is live music, including an open-mic session and a fantastic Rock Karaoke.
The clientèle tend towards the younger end of the market but it is a friendly place for all. Because of its central location on a famous street plenty of tourists drop by to sample its beers, wines and spirits. In the summer months in particular you'll often hear American and Australian accents mingling with the local twang.
Meals are also available and especially tempting with an enticing aroma coming from the open kitchen right next to the bar. On a dry sunny day the Black Rose Tavern is ideal for sitting outside to enjoy a drink or your food while you catch some rays. Since Rose Street is pedestrianised there is no noisy traffic or exhaust fumes to disturb you.
THE HARD ROCK CAFE
A place that needs no introduction The Hard Rock Cafe is a centrepiece in the social scene in George Street. Famous all over the world this was the first in Scotland. There's another in Glasgow. Naturally during tourist season you'll find lots of Americans in here as well as other folk from all corners of the planet.
Like any other Hard Rock Cafe the Edinburgh version is decorated with Rock memorabilia. Nothing really spectacular but it does have a bass guitar that once belonged to Jack Bruce. A legendary Scotsman from Bishopbriggs in Glasgow who was one third of the 60's supergroup Cream alongside Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker.
All along the walls inside you can watch an endless stream of Classic Rock videos playing while you tuck in to large helpings of quality fast food. Burgers are the order of the day although many diners will enjoy the Mexican snacks too. Budweiser or Coca-cola will keep that atmosphere of the old 'US of A' rockin along nicely.
The food is overpriced as you might expect but if you have plenty of cash then there is a small shop at the front where you can spend even more of your cash to buy souvenirs of your visit. The staff are well-trained and friendly and it's a fun place to take the kids too.
If you're heading back to the Cowgate and fancy some late night rockin then Opium is ready and waiting for you. It opens later than the other bars at 10pm and has a club upstairs where you can dance till 3am in the morning.
During the Edinburgh Festival this stretches to 5am although the dance-floor doesn't follow suit as it's quite small. But otherwise you can just hang out at the bar downstairs at street level.
It's the only nightclub in Edinburgh solely dedicated to Rock Music and probably the only club that allows you in for free. Drinks are cheap as is the setting so don't expect luxurious surroundings.
It's mainly youngsters who descend on the place and there is a large student presence which is normal around the Cowgate area. So if you're not too fussy and just looking for a few more drinks and some fun to round off your evening then Opium will be right up your street.
At the top of Niddry Street just off the Royal Mile is Whistlebinkies bar. This venue has a lot to offer with live music everyday and a late licence until 3am. Most Rock music is catered for including Blues, Acoustic, Indie and Metal. It's definitely the strongest live bar venue in town and can offer 6 bands all day on a Saturday.
To be fair the Indie Music scene probably dominates and at weekends the bar can be very busy. So don't expect to get a seat too easily on a Saturday night when it will be full of young people mainly. And if you're standing don't expect much elbow room either.
But ordinarily you get a nice mixture in Whistlebinkies especially as it is just off the Royal Mile. Being so close to the heart of the tourist trail means you will find people from all over the world in there especially during the summer. From Sunday to Thursday entry is free but at the weekends only up till midnight after which there is a cover charge.
If Rock music isn't your taste then there is no need to worry because Edinburgh has many bars to cater for all types. For a city that once boasted over 150 breweries it could hardly be surprising.
But if the sound of a loud electric guitar, raucous vocals and a thunderous drumbeat is what you're looking for then you'll feel right at home in these bars above.
So next time you're in the city and looking for the old castle then just remember that it's on top of the rock.