Elephant House Edinburgh: how is Capital cafe linked to Harry Potter and JK Rowling - and where is it located?

A large fire that broke out at Edinburgh’s George IV Bridge has affected the city’s famous ‘Harry Potter cafe’

By Jenna Macfarlane
Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 2:12 pm

A large blaze broke out at Edinburgh’s George IV Bridge on Tuesday (24 August) morning, affecting the Capital’s “Harry Potter cafe”.

Fire crews have been tackling the “level four” inferno after the alarm was raised shortly after 6am by a cleaner at the Elephant House, which is thought to be where JK Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter novel.

It is understood that the blaze started in the Patisserie Valerie cafe next door to the iconic spot.

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Fire crews tackle the blaze near Edinburgh's Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling is said to have penned her first Harry Potter novel (Getty Images/Facebook/Matt Dolan)

So, what are the Elephant House’s connections to Harry Potter and JK Rowling - and how badly has it been affected by the fire?

Here’s what you need to know.

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Where is the Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh?

The iconic Edinburgh cafe, which opened in 1995, sits at 21 George IV Bridge in the city’s old town.

Its back room overlooks Edinburgh Castle.

Harry Potter fans often flock to the coffee house to catch a glimpse of where JK Rowling wrote her popular wizarding stories.

How is the Elephant House cafe connected to Harry Potter?

The Elephant House calls itself “the birthplace of Harry Potter”, but JK Rowling revealed the truth of the Boy Wizard’s origins last year.

The author of the wizarding novels didn’t actually visit the cafe until after she had been writing the books for a few years.

Ms Rowling revealed the information on Twitter when responding to a fan who queried the Elephant House’s claim.

She said: “I was thinking of putting a section on my website about all the alleged inspirations and birthplaces of Potter.

“I’d been writing Potter for several years before I ever set foot in this cafe, so it’s not the birthplace.”

But the cafe does still bear large connections to the Harry Potter books, as the writer went on to say that she did pen part of the story in its premises.

She joked: “I *did* write in there so we’ll let them off!”.

The Elephant House’s website says it was made famous “as the place of inspiration to writers such as JK Rowling, who sat writing much of her early novels in the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle”.

Which other writers have visited the Elephant House cafe?

JK Rowling is not the only author known to have frequented the famous cafe.

Novelist Ian Rankin, author of the bestselling Rebus detective novels, was one such visitor, along with author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Alexander McCall Smith, the coffee house claims.

How badly has the Elephant House been affected by the fire?

Elephant House’s owner, David Taylor, said the blaze hadn’t spread to the famous cafe but it had been subjected to smoke and water damage.

He told BBC Scotland he felt “absolutely gutted” about the incident.

"At best, we can hope for opening in a few weeks time, but if there is structural damage too then it isn't bearable to think about,” he said.

The cafe had just resumed normal operations following Scotland’s Covid lockdown.

Mr Taylor added: "It's really quite disturbing because we had just got back to some semblance of normality after two years, although we were only running at about 50% of our festival trade."