BeerVisits - UK - Europe - USA/Canada - World

Pub Visit - Scotland

Cafe Royal 1Thursday 1st May 2014

Bob Thompson

This beautiful pub is the second of this name. This first was opened on 6th December 1826 and was located at 1, Register Place which was opposite the present building. It was noted for its oysters, a tradition that has been carried forward to the present day. The original pub was knocked down in 1861 and work started on the construction of the present structure that same year.

The new building was designed by Robert Patterson and its grand opening was on 8th July 1963. Back then the main entrance was on the north side where there was a smallish public bar with the restaurant and smoking room taking most of the remainder of space on the ground floor.

Cafe Royal 2At this time it was also a hotel and during the late nineteenth century it changed ownership a number of times.

In 1893 considerable alterations were made in the layout under the direction of architect William MacNaughton. The smoking room was incorporated into the restaurant or luncheon room as it was now known. An east-facing door to this room was included in the design. Then in 1895 a smoking room and a further dining room were created on the first floor. Four private dining rooms were constructed on the second floor.

The changes in ownership and layout didn’t stop there as Charles Clarke, proprietor of the Royal British Hotel in Princes Street, purchased the property in 1898.

Cafe Royal 3He engaged James Henry to change the interior yet again. The thinking behind this was that any travellers requiring hotel accommodation would be directed to the Royal British.

However, the major alteration was on the ground floor as the current small public bar became a quick service luncheon bar, later known as the Oyster Bar and the main restaurant took on the role as the main public bar now named as the Circle Bar room complete with a new entrance. These changes were made between 1898 and 1900 and form the basis of what we see today.

For the Oyster Bar there were eight new stained glass windows depicting classic sports. Probably the most memorable decorations in both rooms are the painted ceramic tiles. This process was developed by the Royal Doulton Company of Lambeth, London. In the main bar they illustrate the great innovators and inventers of the times. They depict Caxton, Franklin, Peel, Stephenson, Faraday and Watt.

Cafe Royal 6There are a further three tiles in the Oyster Bar and one of these commemorates Niepce and Daguerre, the founders of photography, the other two are of ships. It is said that they were purchased from the Edinburgh International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art held in 1886. During the 1920s a revolving door was added to access the Oyster Bar. This was also designed by James Henry. A notable addition was made in 1943 when a red cast iron lobster was fixed above the exterior sign, please see photograph at top of page.

It is difficult nowadays to imagine that in 1969 there was a proposal to demolish the Café Royal. This was when it was owned by Grand Metropolitan Hotels. They agreed to sell in order for Woolworths to extend back from Princes Street. There was an outcry and the City Council threw out the proposal. 8,700 people objected to it and, no doubt in response to this, it became a listed building on 27th February 1970.

The heritage of the pub is apparent the moment you walk through the door with the tiled wall along the left side of the main room. This is divided by a stunning carved wooden fireplace. The bar is central with beautiful gantries topped by a clock on two sides. Against the curved outer wall are a series of fitted semi-circular red leather stuffed settles. Illumination throughout is mainly provided by pedestal lamps; smaller around the perimeter with larger versions on the bar itself.

Cafe Royal 5At the far end there is an attractive varnished wooden frieze screen with mirrors separating the main bar from the Oyster Bar, which is a remarkable room. It was immaculate the morning I photographed it with crisp white linen tablecloths bathed in light flooding through the stained glass windows. This side of the wooden dividing screen is inlayed with some wonderful carving between even more mirrors, please see the photographs. A tiled floor, marble-topped counter and an ornate ceiling complete the picture.

You will normally find seven beers served from eight hand pumps and on the occasion of my visit these were:
Edinburgh Brewery (Edinburgh) Edinburgh Pale Ale (3.4%)
Inveralmond (Perthshire) Homecoming Scotland (4.2%)
Orkney (Quoyloo, Orkney) Dark Island (4.6%)
Barney’s (Edinburgh) Red Rye (4.5%)
Strathaven (Strathaven, Lanarkshire) Clydesdale IPA (3.8%)
Broughton (Biggar, Borders) Clipper IPA (4.2%) and Exciseman’s 80/- (4.6%)

Cafe Royal 4I thought this was a good selection of the nation’s breweries. Having a separate restaurant means that food is important here but in no way diminishes its appeal as a pub where one can have a good drink.

The Oyster Bar, not unsurprisingly, has a heavily fish and seafood based menu with carved roasts on Sundays. There is also a lot of fish on the bar menu but there are also more meat-based offerings.

As one would expect there is large number of malt whiskies offered. So, all in all, it’s a stunning pub with a great selection of beer and good food. What’s not to like!

Important Information:

The Café Royal, 19 West Register Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2AA. Tel: 0131 556 1884

Open: Monday-Wednesday 11.00-23.00; Thursday 11.00-24.00;
Friday-Saturday 11.00-01.00; Sunday 12.30-23.00

From 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 street going slightly uphill is West Register Street. Keep the Guildford Arms to your left 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.