Listen as former Edinburgh landlady, 98, reminisces on her return to the 'good old Port o' Leith' pub after 35 years

"They were really the good old days working here, I feel at home standing back here, behind the bar.

Saturday, 28th September 2019, 6:10 pm
Kate Anderson with daughter Marie Wilson and current landlord Craig Smith.

“It looks a little different, but it has the same feel, you’d never find another place like this, good old Port o Leith.”

Those were the words of 98-year-old Kate Anderson as she stood behind the bar at Port O’ Leith for the first time yesterday since 1984.

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Kate when she ran the bar with her husband Johnnie.

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One of 14 siblings, Mrs Anderson, who now suffers from dementia, said the memories “came flooding back” the moment she stepped through the door of the lively, nautical themed drinking hole.

“This was always a good little pub, I loved working here, It was somewhere you felt safe, always. In some pubs in Leith you had to watch your back, but not here, you could bring your wives here, it was safe.”

As she glanced around the room, sipping on her staple drink – a Gordon’s gin and bitter lemon – she smiled and pointed at the old sailor’s flags hung up on the walls.

“They were great those dockers and sailors that came in. They knew everyone, and by God they drank. I cannae mind what they drank, but it was probably ale, there was a lot of ale around at that time. They were such good company, and just never caused any trouble, I never had to boot them out.”

Kate when she ran the bar with her husband Johnnie.

Mrs Anderson, who worked up until 84-years-old said she never had a bad day working in Port o Leith.

“Everyone was so good to me, it was a cosy, special place, full of good people.”

As memories came alive in the four walls of the long-standing pub, Mrs Anderson’s carer Frankie Waters sat in awe.

Speaking after their visit Frankie said: “I can’t believe how much she’s been chatting away about her memories. It’s amazing that by coming here she starts talking more. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a character at the home, and always says ‘why am I sitting with all these old people, where are the young ones?’, but it was incredible seeing her light up and talk about her past.”

The Port o' Leith.

Frankie said she initially showed a photo of Mr and Mrs Anderson outside the pub to her which helped jog her memory. “I just thought after that moment, it would be great to actually take her to the pub and she hasn’t stopped smiling since.”

Marie worked shifts in the pub to give her mother and father a break from time to time. Smiling at her mother, she sat and relayed stories of her time working in Port o Leith, reminding Mrs Anderson of moments including the go-go dancers, strippers and how her mother was the best dominoes player in town. She remembers one particular customer “with a good drink in him” who came stumbling in at 11am asking for booze.

“He held his fist up to the bar staff asking for a drink, so I tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around,” Marie said. “He put that fist down once he saw I was a woman.

Nary Moriarty made a name for herself during her time managing the Port o' Leith

“So I put my arm around him and said, tell you what, why don’t you go home for a sleep, and when you come back I will buy you a drink?”

The drunk customer obliged and left the pub through the back door.

“But minutes later,” Marie continued.

“He came back in the front door and asked exactly the same. So I went up to him and said no, no, time to go home and he replied ‘you, you again, christ do you run every f***ing pub round here.”

Marie said her mother, who has survived both breast and ovarian cancer, always had a calm demeanour about her, despite the energy and bustle of the pub.

“I will never forget this moment when my mother was serving behind the bar, and a full pint just came flying right over towards her. And my dad who was standing at the bar just said ‘what was that?’My mum, in her calm manner just replied ‘oh that guy, he just threw a pint at me.’ But she had just ducked out of the way, and then asked the man ‘now what was your order again. She always remained so calm, and just took no nonsense.”

Granddaughter Leigh said: “I didn’t know how she would react going back in the pub, because when grandpa passed away it was hard for her to think back to her time with him in Port o Leith. But she’s just been so happy, she’s come alive.”

Craig Smith, who has been running the pub now for just over two years, sat fascinated, listening to the family digging up stories of the pub’s history.

While it has changed a little in appearance, he said it still holds its charm and character.

Mary 'Queen of Leith' continued bar's 'rambunctious' legacy

Known by many as the Queen of Leith, Mary Moriarty made a name for herself during her time managing the Port of Leith.

The now 80-year-old spent 25 years running the rambunctious nautical themed pub. She took over after the Anderson’s in the 80s and continued to build its character.

With a dream of jetting off to the United States to work as an antiques dealer, Mary only planned to spend a couple of years working in a Capital pub but ended up staying for a quarter of a century.

Born in Corstorphine, Mary was the landlady of the Gardeners Arms in Haddington before taking over the Port O’Leith in 1984.

Her famous clientele have included Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, playwright David Mamet and actor Steven Berkoff.

She was married to the late James Moriarty, a well-known mountaineer and has a son Niall, and daughter, Eilidh.

During her time behind the bar she said the area changed significantly.

When she took over in the 80s, the Shore was still a place to be wary of going for a drink, nobles still had go-go dancers and Malmaison was still a run down Sailor’s Mission.

Mary said: “When I first came to Leith there were lots and lots of derelict buildings.

“It was run down.

Then, suddenly, in the big abandoned whisky bonds, artists starting using the space as studios and then they brought their own friends to Leith.

“What transpired was that, maybe a wee shop would open on The Shore selling things like olive bread, croissants and German sausage, things that were more artisan.

“More and more little businesses sprung up.”

She said one of her highlights was meeting people from all over the world, especially the sailors docking in Leith.