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Pub Visit - Scotland

Tuesday 29th April 2014

Bob Thompson

This is the nearest pub to Edinburgh Waverley station, yet despite its proximity it is not that easy to locate if you are a first time visitor. Please see directions below. Having made the ascent to its door you will be rewarded by a superb little boozer with excellent beer.

Halfway House 1Despite its name it is only about one third of the way up the steps of Fleshmarket Close. In England a close would be a dead-end street or a Cul-de-Sac, if you like. Here it seems to describe an alleyway and is a common name throughout the city.

I try to visit this pub every time I am in the capital, not a difficult task really, given that it is so close to Waverley station yet this time it was a little different, as I was spending several nights in the city. This gave me the opportunity to relax in the knowledge that there were no trains to rush off to catch.

The pub is not big, possibly the smallest in the city. This night it looked very inviting as the light steamed out from the open door on to the stone pavement. If you look closely at the photograph above you will see the steps of Fleshmarket Close on the left that take you up to Cockburn Street in the heart of the Old Town. Fleshmarket Close actually continues further upward from Cockburn Street to High Street on the Royal Mile.

Halfway House 2
The Close gets its name from the meat market that was once to be found at the bottom. The alleyway itself was once home to a number of shops that sold all kinds of meat. A few still exist a bit further up the climb.

An unusual aspect of the Halfway House, if not unique, is that there is another pub on top of it. This is the Jinglin’ Geordie, not a bad pub yet nowhere as good as the Halfway House. Its entrance is further up the steps of the Close.

On entering the pub the bar counter is to be found on the left of the room with some a few bar stools along it. Opposite there are a few small tables. Past the bar and slightly around a corner you will found some more tables with fitted curved seating underneath the windows. The walls are covered with railway memorabilia in the form of signs, pictures and posters. There is a small television screen for showing sporting events and there’s also a Juke Box, not seen very often nowadays in pubs like this.

Halfway House 3While we don’t major heavily on food in BeerVisits, it is worth a mention here. The menu features traditional Scottish fare from highly respected sources and serves as a good introduction to the nation’s cuisine.

Normally offered is Cullen Skink, a chowder of cream, potatoes and smoked Haddock. Whilst on the subject of fish they also serve a Smoked Haddock and Cheese pie.

This fish comes from Eyemouth in Berwickshire and that county also offers the Black Boar sausages that are served with mashed potato and onion gravy. Another traditional dish is Stovies served with oatcakes. Stovies are a mixture of cooked beef in an onion and potato mash. And what Scottish menu would be without Haggis, Neeps and Tatties? A more modern touch is the various toasted Panninis available. Game is also offered in season.

Halfway House 4This is first and foremost a pub and although it serves good food, it shouldn’t be regarded as a food destination. I say this as it is one of The Independent’s “50 Best Gastropubs” Gastropub it ain’t!

That’s more than enough about the food, so let me explain about the beer. There are four hand pumps yet there are no regular beers, although there are a few rules and a pattern emerges. You could expect three of them to be from small Scottish breweries, with one from the Northeast of England. Normally there is one dark beer with another being a session beer of 4.0% abv, or less.

This was the choice available on my visit:
Northumberland Brewery (Choppington, Northumberland) Firkin Hoppy (3.9%)
Houston Brewery (Johnston, Renfrewshire) Warlock Stout (4.7%)
Scottish Borders Brewery (Jedburgh, Borders) Heavy Nettle (4.2%)
Ayr Brewery (Ayr, Ayrshire) Hiphopopatamus (4.0%)

This was the only pub I visited that evening in Edinburgh, so I went through the card. All of the beers were in good condition and I enjoyed them all, even the Nettle beer!

Halfway House 5The pub often has what they call in the USA: “Tap Takeovers”. It is when one single brewery supplies four different beers for sale over a weekend. There are also between 30 and 40 whiskies available, including some from closed distilleries.

Some readers of this piece may realise that Fleshmarket Close is the title of a novel by Ian Rankin, his fifteenth in the Inspector Rebus series. It was published in 2004 and once it was in paperback, I bought a copy of it at King’s Cross station on a journey to Edinburgh where I knew I was going to visit the pub. However, although some of the narrative was set in a pub, I couldn’t make any connections. I must re-read it.

In the summer there a few tables outside although I suspect not much light gets down to this location. It was CAMRA Edinburgh Pub of the Year back in 2009 and won more awards before that. It offers a 20p reduction on pints to holders of CAMRA membership cards. This pub is a must should be you be visiting the city or even if you have more than thirty minutes whilst connecting trains.

Important Information:

The Halfway House, 24 Fleshmarket Close, Edinburgh. EH1 1BX. Tel: 0131 225 7101

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

From the station you need to climb the steps to the long footbridge that crosses it from north to south. You exit on the south side (more steps involved!), then cross Market Street using the pedestrian crossing. The steps of Fleshmarket Close are now in front of you. Once climbing these, the pub is apparent on the right about one third up.

Waverley station has rail connections throughout Scotland, also to a great number of English towns and cities.