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Aesthetes should fit in a visit to the Café Royal, home to perhaps the finest of the city’s many excellent pub interiors. The Circle Bar is a harmony of gilt Corinthian pillars, white marble and dark wood, while the Oyster Bar provided the setting for a suitably kinky scene by the late Iain Banks.
The venue’s artistic high point: gorgeous 19th-century tile murals of famous inventors at the eureka moment.
19 West Register Street, EH2 2AA, 0131 556 1884; www.caferoyaledinburgh.co.uk
Edinburgh is a city of contrasts and few are sharper than that between the Café Royal and the Oxford Bar, just a few blocks away but a world apart in its modest size and simple style. Regulars may size you up on entry, but the Oxford’s battered pews are a great place to recharge. The “Ox” has even somehow survived a celebrity association with John Rebus, Edinburgh’s famous fictional detective, who called it a source of “therapy and refuge, entertainment and art”.
8 Young Street, EH2 4JB, 0131 539 7119; www.oxfordbar.co.uk
Whighams Wine Cellars
Recent decades have transformed Edinburgh’s once smoky and often dingy watering holes, most of which now not only offer fine beers and whiskies but even decent coffee. Few are better than Whighams, a 30-year-old wine bar in a basement off elegant Charlotte Square, venue for Edinburgh’s International Book Festival (August 10-26). Converted cellars offer snug spaces for high- minded discussion; enthusiastic bar staff can recommend wines to match.
13 Hope Street, EH2 4EL, 0131 225 8674; www.whighams.com
The Black Cat
For a nightcap of the national “water of life”, drop into this nearby whisky bar, which boasts a wide selection of single malts and is open to 3am during festival time.
Only two years old, the Black Cat also keeps some excellent examples of Scotland’s new crop of small brewery beers, and presents live Scottish music a couple of times a week.
168 Rose Street, EH2 4BA, 0131 225 3349; www.theblackcatbar.com
For less gentrified drinking, travel the two miles to this unreconstructed pub in the heart of Leith, Edinburgh’s lively port. An electric kettle and jar of Nescafé on the bar and the linoleum floor set the tone. Locals say the Port O’Leith is no longer as notoriously wild as it once was but photographs of regulars dancing on the bar suggest it still has its moments.
58 Constitution Street, Leith, EH6 6RS, 0131 554 3568
Mure Dickie is the FT’s Scotland correspondent