It’s exhausting, all that having to shake your head in refusal as another leaflet comes your way, tramping from venue to venue, the relentless laughing, clapping, gasping in awe or moaning about being forced to watch rubbish.
Yes, all this Fringe festivity stuff is actually really hard work.
Thank goodness for the late licences, the pop-up bars, the chuck wagons selling gourmet burgers on a brioche roll for a tenner . . .
Indeed, the city centre seems to have been invaded by bartenders, previously quiet corners now house cocktail shakers and have astroturf underfoot and absolutely no-one is eating or drinking inside.
With George Street’s restaurants and bars now spilling out on to the road, the buzz around the Pleasance, Bristo Square, George Square and St Andrew Square – to name just a few – the Fringe would appear to be a sideline to a different kind of festival, one in which the key performers are food and drink.
According to one bar boss, there seems to be a definite leap in the number of random pop-up bars appearing around town.
“People are looking for a change and for something different,” says Kieran Spiers, who is running a unique kind of beer and cocktails only bar in the Old Town.
“Everything was becoming very ‘centralised’, it was all about Underbelly or Bristo Square to the expense of other parts of town.
“This year there is a lot more happening.”
So, with so much going on, here’s taster of where to eat, drink and chill this August.
Not far from Potterow, surrounded by tall buildings and normally a boring grey car park stuffed with the typical detritus of a busy bar, can be found The Tanqueray Secret Gin Garden.
The rear of 56 North at 2 West Crosscauseway has been transformed into an all-day gin oasis.
It’s the first time the backyard spot has been converted into a Fringe ‘pop up’ bar, complete with astroturf grass, pretty bushes, giant umbrellas and a bar specialising in gin cocktails.
“It’s very chilled out and relaxed,” says 56 North director James Sutherland. “It’s like a little oasis away from all the madness of the Fringe. No-one sticking leaflets in your face for a start.”
The spot is surrounded by flats, which gives it a real ‘garden’ vibe, but unlike many other temporary Fringe pop-up venues, customers drink from real glasses and enjoy table service.
According to James, this year has seen the bar being raised among pop-up venues. “I’m not sure there’s an awful lot more than normal, but there’s definitely more thought gone into them.
“Rather than just throwing up a temporary bar and putting out some chairs, venues are linking in with big brands and they putting more effort into what they are offering.
“The reality is that customers are expecting or looking for something that’s fun.
“And with social media the way it is, people are coming along and sharing their experiences.”
Blank Canvas at 5 India Buildings is a new pop-up bar with an unusual drinks selection – ready made cocktails in bottles and craft beer in tins.
Almost the antithesis of the posh Pommery Bar pop-up at Parliament Square, this Edinburgh through-and-through concept draws together cocktails pre-mixed by the staff at Timberyard, local mixologist Joe Dick and staff at the Devil’s Advocate and siphons them into dinky bottles with hand-written and arty labels.
Drink them straight from the bottle – no glasses or plastic tumblers to bother with here. If you prefer, the other option is a tin of craft beer, again, slugged straight from the can.
According to the bar’s organiser Kieran Speirs, there’s a clear shift in Edinburgh towards a different kind of more ‘niche’ Fringe drinks venue.
“There are definitely more pop-up bars this year,” he adds. “And a lot are more ‘DIY’ than before.”
By day, the venue morphs into a pop up coffee shop. By night, it’s open until 5am. Cocktails £4-£5, craft beer £4.
A trip down the Royal Mile isn’t complete without fighting your way past the tap-dancing, fire-breathing, bagpipe-playing acrobat and into the Signet Library for a swig of champers at the Pommery Champagne Bar.
The surroundings are, of course, stunning. By day, refuel with coffee and cake, afternoon tea or deli-style bites, by night, enjoy lobster and potato wedges and, of course, champagne.
All that poshness isn’t cheap – a ‘seasonal champagne taster of four glasses’ costs £35. Lobster and wedges, £37. Look for money off vouchers at www.thesignetlibrary.co.uk.
Had enough pulled pork on a burger bun to last a lifetime? Gasping for some mandazi or borevoures rolls?
For pop-up street food with an African flavour, head to Knights Kitchens at St John’s Church at the West End of Princes Street.
The recipes have been slightly adapted for Scottish taste by owner and cook Christine Knights, but display a true feeling of authenticity, served up beneath a tent in the grounds of the church.
Look out for African stews, bean curry, Kenyan chicken curry and mandazi, a kind of sweet fried bread which sounds perfect for Scottish taste buds. Part of just Festival, www.justjust.org for more details.
It’s a green space, therefore come festival time it requires at least a couple of bars and some trailers selling food.
George Square Gardens is now home to 11 Assembly venues, which means bars and food stalls aplenty.
There’s a range of bars serving the usual libations but if it’s nosh you need, this is where you’ll find the Street Food Cartel, a trio of chuck wagons that are as far removed from the basic concept of bacon roll and chips as possible.
Look out for Scoop’s retro-American trailer The Bullet, serving up Butternut and chickpea burgers, BBQ pork sandwiches and beefburger with chipotle chilli relish and barrel smoked brie.
So la ti dough bake their fresh pizzas in mobile wood-burning ovens and Southeastern Asia pavement kitchen pad BKK has shredded Thai salad with crispy slow roast pork, Thai curry and Vietnamese baguette on the menu.
The Assembly Roxy at 2 Roxburgh Place nearby, is where you’ll find two indoor bars, including the Snug Bar and a pop-up garden bar.
The Cow Shed brings a country and western vibe to, of course, the Cowgate.
There are hay bales, a plastic cow – naturally – barrels for tables and drinks that come served in jam jars, with entertainment throughout the evening, much of it requiring a good old-fashioned ho-down style dance. A pint costs £4.50 and the seating is not what you’d call ‘comfy’ but it is atmospheric. Find it opposite the Underbelly, at 65 Cowgate.
BEER GOGGLES ON
Set beer googles to manual at Southside Zoo in Nicolson Street, where Innis & Gunn beers are on sale at the outdoor patio pop-up bar run by the folks from the Greenmantle pub.
It’s the only pop-up bar to serve up Innis & Gunn brews on draught, look to pay £4.50 a pint.
The pop-up in St Andrew Square has created a Venetian hideaway style garden with orange trees, wooden terracing and Italian lounge furniture, water features, beanbags, grassy picnic areas and, oh yes, heaters.
The bar serves up its signature Aperol Spritz – Cinzano Prosecco, Aperol, soda and a slice of orange – while on the stage there’s a programme of live world music.
Pickerings Gin doesn’t have far to travel to get to its pop up bar at Summerhall – it’s distilled on the site.
Served from a
gleaming bullet-shaped trailer is good old gin and fancy tonic or choose from one of three exclusive cocktails created just for the Festival.
If you prefer a pint, Barney’s Beer, which is brewed at Summerhall, is available from the Royal Dick pub which has spilled out onto the courtyard. Expect to pay £4 for your G&T, cocktails around £5 to £6.
If you’re hit by the ‘beer hunger’, a tuck truck is there to dish up venison burgers, barbecue pork salad, home-made
pakora and chipolatas and mash.
PIZZA TO GO
WORSHIP at the altar of Festival entertainment at the Tron Kirk at Hunter Square, while chewing on log-fired pizza from the La Favorita pop-up trailer which is parked outside.
You can take your pizza inside the venue and grab a drink from the bar to wash it down.
Best of all, the entertainment inside is free.
The Royal College of Surgeons has leased the gardens of Hill Square from Edinburgh City Council and renamed it Festival Garden.
Painted railings, picnic benches and parasols are in place, food courtesy of the Wine Bar of Ten Hill Place Hotel or the Bar at Space@ Symposium Hall.
The pop-up is a first for the college and comes after several years of leasing theatre space venues to the Festival. It’s open until 9pm daily. There’s also the college’s vibrant outdoor courtyard bar, accessed from Nicolson Street (noon until 1am).
This pop-up is so secret that even we don’t know who’s behind Secret Mountain at 1A Hill Street in the New Town.
Still, it has been getting the thumbs-up from Twitter users – rather bright coloured cocktails seem to be the drink of choice.
OUT TO PASTURE
It’s at the heart of the action, so of course there’s going to be food and drink at the Udderbelly at Bristo Square.
If you’re not put off by a large purple inflatable cow, then there’s artificial grass underfoot, plastic tumblers and food stalls selling calorie boosting snacks.
Look out for the Drambuie pop-up. Normally associated with cold winter’s night in front of a roaring fire, here you’ll find it teamed with ginger beer for a tartan version of Sangria.