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Edinburgh’s cosiest pubs with live music to enjoy this winter

Busker Andy Gregory picks out his favourite Edinburgh snugs and cosy pubs in which to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat whilst taking in some live music.

Published: November 9, 2016
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As the cold months draw in and woolen knits appear once more, the comfort of a warm pub becomes a top priority.

Luckily, Edinburgh’s historic architecture lends itself well to a cosy pub or two.

The city’s rich variety of watering holes is rivalled only by the legacy of excellent musicians who have frequented them.

Which is perfect, considering a hot toddy and rousing song are one of the best-known remedies to winter’s bite.

All but the hardiest of buskers are driven indoors, so it’s a good time to catch them in a more intimate setting. Here are a few of the capital’s cosiest pubs featuring live music.

St Vincent

(11 St Vincent St, Edinburgh EH3 6SW, 0131 225 7447)

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Picture: Trip Advisor

Tucked away down a few steps at the end of Circus Lane, one of Edinburgh’s most picturesque streets, the St Vincent is quintessentially Stockbridge.

A Dickensian lantern lights up the cobbles outside, conjuring the image of a century’s worth of warm welcomes, good ales and well-stoked log fires.

Once you step inside, these quaint notions are gradually dispelled. All of the traditional elements are there - ornate water jugs for whisky, low, conspiratorial ceilings and an authentic bar with a musician propped up at the end - but they are adorned with a menagerie of hip additions.

Above the piano, a vintage motorcycle hangs from the wall alongside an excellent record collection available upon request. These additions complement their new American street food-inspired menu, which ensures a mixed crowd of newcomers and regulars. Music starts at 7pm, with a range of artists playing blues and classic pub tunes.

Rose & Crown

(170 Rose St, Edinburgh EH2 4BA, 0131 225 4039)

Similarly to the St Vincent, the Rose & Crown do a good line in traditional window frames - always a good indicator of cosiness. d

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Even better to be listening to a musician in said window, glancing out at dreich weather from a warm vantage point.

Having started off with one house band a few years ago, the Rose and Crown's musical output has steadily grown to include an eclectic assortment of highly skilled bands and troubadors.

Allow yourself to be lulled by candlelight in romantic booths towards the back or enjoy the patter at the bar, manned by friendly staff.

Their selection of pub grub is favourable among patrons too. If the band of the evening doesn't take your fancy, head across the street to sister pub, the Shoogly Peg, for more music.

The Black Cat

(168 Rose St, Edinburgh EH2 4BA, 0131 225 3349)

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Picture: Trip Advisor

Arguably the jewel in the crown of Rose Street's west end hub is The Black Cat. Since opening in 2011, they have fast gained the approval of punters and critics alike.

The bar was a finalist in DRAM magazine's 'Scottish New Bar of the Year' award thanks to the whisky expertise of owner, Chris Miles. Like Whiski Rooms and the Albanach, The Black Cat is contemporary Edinburgh's take on the Hebrides, leaving tourists with a taste of 'real' Scotland - not just from the single malt. Live traditional music dances around the sparsely lit black decor four nights a week.

Quite a few locals have been known to don their brogues and follow suit. Many of the sessions are open, which allows new and returning performers to join the fray with guitars, fiddles and bodhrans. Time can jig away from you in here, so be prepared to stay for more than one drink, and don't be afraid to ask the bar staff for their expertise.

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READ MORE: Busker Andy Gregory picks out his favourite places to grab a bite to eat or enjoy a cheap pint during the Edinburgh Festival

Sandy Bell’s

( 25 Forrest Rd, Edinburgh EH1 2QH,  0131 225 2751)

www.flickr.com/photos/johnpaulendicott/3324851742

No list is complete without Sandy Bell’s and certainly no introductions are necessary, its name is firmly etched into the history of Edinburgh's pub culture. The folk sessions continue to be incendiary and the pub itself shows no signs of mellowing.

The size of a matchbox and friendly to boot, Sandy Bell's is the perfect place to take refuge, whatever the weather.

The Blind Poet

(32 W Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DD, 0131 667 4268)

You don't have to look far in Edinburgh for a pub with literary associations and unsurprisingly, The Blind Poet is a perfect example. This hearty establishment is named after previous inhabitant, Thomas Blacklock, a famed wordsmith whose letter of encouragement revitalised the career of a despondent young Robert Burns. Much like its namesake did for our National Bard, The Blind Poet has been nurturing the capital's creative talent for aeons.

The pub's shabby charm and big heart has made it a home for students and locals of every variety. Nightly entertainment reflects this, ranging from open mic poetry to karaoke. Pressure Valve's showcases on a Wednesday night are particularly special, featuring old favourites and rising stars on the Edinburgh scene. You can catch their events five nights a week in locations city-wide.

Captain’s Bar

(4 S College St, Edinburgh EH8 9AA, 07493 555702)

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Picture: Trip Advisor

Located inconspicuously in the centre of Edinburgh's student hub, the Captain’s Bar is a great find for any who sail over the threshold. It's both a tight ship and a tight squeeze, which adds to the pub's homely feel.

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Affordable drinks are served with a smile - an honest tactic that has no doubt served the pub well over its two-hundred-year history.

Musicians are scheduled every night of the week, playing a range of folk and popular music. Things can get very lively and most performers will let you strum a few chords if you bring along an instrument. If you're caught in the rain this should be your first port of call.

The Royal Oak

(1 Infirmary St, Edinburgh EH1 1LT, 0131 557 2976)

Picture: Wow247

Picture: Wow247

Alongside filing false insurance claims, writing letters to The Sun and buying stolen goods from 'Portobellie' you could add heading to The Royal Oak to Bobby Nicholson's list of 'things to do when nothing's on the telly'.

Each line that Nicholson sings on this particular evening is punctuated by approving laughter from an audience thoroughly won over.

The stripped back layout gives the feel of being in someone's living room and in fact there is a battered guitar case, old heater and a dishevelled telly stacked up on a ledge above the musician's head.

This DIY setup attracts a healthy mix of backpackers, students and folky veterans, which never fails to create a jovial atmosphere, with the aid of some great ales on tap.

Their Wee Folk Club every Sunday costs a fiver and is the stuff of legends, attracting some big names. This is no wonder as The Royal Oak is the sort of venue that musicians regard as particularly special and by default increases the odds of magic happening every night.

Andy Gregory is a musician and freelance journalist who grew up busking in Edinburgh. Alongside graduating in music at Leeds University, busking has taken him all over Europe and Asia, while he writes his debut album under the moniker Primitive Streak.

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