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Inns, Taverns and Pubs

Barman, c.1900 (photo, Jenny Middleton, LMA archive)

William Younger's Empire Palace Bar, Nicolson Square, c.1950s (photo, SBA)

‘Frae joyous tavern, reeeling drunk,

Wi’ fiery phizz and een half sunk,

Behad the bruiser, fae to a’,

That in the reek o’ gardies fa.’

Auld Reikie, Robert Fergusson, 1773

Inns or taverns offering accommodation to travellers were the earliest form of hostelry. From 1604 they were required to be licensed, and legislation was passed which attempted to control them: 10 p.m. closing time to help control the spread of plague, only genuine travellers served on Sundays, and fines for the employment of women - many inns were also brothels.

Some of Edinburgh’s oldest inns included, Fortune’s Tavern, Dawney Douglas’ Anchor Tavern, the Star and Garter, and the White Horse Inn. John Dowie’s Tavern was renowned for its food and clientele who included, Robert Burns, Robert Fergusson and Walter Scott. The White Hart (Grassmarket), Ye Olde Peacock Inn (Newhaven) and the Sheep Heid (Duddingston) are amongst the oldest public houses still in business.

The Victorian Age saw the building of ornate pubs, like the Cafe Royal, Guildford Arms and Leslie’s Bar (Causewayside). These elegant buildings used mirrors, glasswork and gas light fittings, and contrasted sharply with the darker, dingier older inns.

Until the mid twentieth century, areas known as jug or snug bars were often partitioned off for women customers. Later they used the lounge, rather than the public bar. With changing social conventions and the consequent changes in pub design, this separation of the sexes is no longer seen.

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