Pub of the Year: Bowlers’ Rest takes top spot

Evening News deputy editor Euan McGrory, presents the trophy to, from left, manager Ross McKenzie, John Pearson, Carole McKenzie and owner Eric Morrison. Picture: Jane Barlow
Evening News deputy editor Euan McGrory, presents the trophy to, from left, manager Ross McKenzie, John Pearson, Carole McKenzie and owner Eric Morrison. Picture: Jane Barlow
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HUNDREDS of bars across the city entered – but there can only be one Evening News Pub of the Year.

The Bowlers’ Rest in Mitchell Street, Leith – once owned by Hibs hero Lawrie Reilly – clinched the prize following a public vote.

The Bowlers Rest, Leith. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The Bowlers Rest, Leith. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

They were presented with their prize after seeing off competition from 400 rivals in our popular competition.

General manager Ross McKenzie, son-in-law of Eric Morrison, who has owned the pub for the last 23 years, said: “Winning the award is great but it was a real surprise. We never expected to win and it started off almost as a bit of nonsense.

“I was reading the Evening News and said ‘We should put ourselves in for this’. And then the regulars said ‘Go for it boss, this is a great pub’.

“I think winning will have a great effect on business. This has made my year. We all worked hard to get here and we are chuffed to bits.”

Lawrie Reilly, legendary Hibs football player (one of the Famous Five) behind the bar in August 1985.

Lawrie Reilly, legendary Hibs football player (one of the Famous Five) behind the bar in August 1985.

Regulars were asked to vote for their pub based on qualities including individuality and character, welcoming ambience, good beer, wine and food and also to look at things such as decor, seating, lighting, nice nibbles, and whether the loos were kept clean.

The Black Rose Tavern on Rose Street came second, followed by The Harp & Castle on Leith Walk.

Asked what makes The Bowlers’ Rest a hit, Ross added: “It’s a fantastic community pub but it’s the people that really make it what it is.”

The pub was owned for more than 30 years by football legend and lifelong teetotaller Reilly after his playing days came to an end.

Ross also revealed that the pub’s rules these days are a little more relaxed than when Reilly’s name was above the door.

“Lawrie was a character,” he said. “He could be a bit cantankerous.

“If you dropped the white ball off the table [in pool] you were asked to leave. He was a good landlord but he could be a wee bit too serious.”

This was a point that Mr Reilly himself conceded.

Writing in his autobiography The Life and Times of Last-Minute Reilly, he recalled: “If anyone stepped out of line, I was quite happy to be a strict mine host and deal with them, but most of the time there were no problems.”

The family-run boozer got its name from the Leith Links bowling green but it is still known locally as ‘Reilly’s’.

Also in the top ten were the Dalriada, in Portobello, the Doo’cot on Ferry Road, Ensign Ewart in the Lawnmarket, the Murrayfield Bar on Roseburn Terrace, The Victoria Bar on Causewayside, Thomson’s Bar on Morrison Street, and the Tynecastle Arms, on Gorgie Road.

john.connell@edinburghnews.com