Remembering Edinburgh's '˜legendary' Waverley Bar

OVER FIVE decades it developed a reputation as one of the city's top watering holes, but since the death of its '˜captain', the fate of the Waverley Bar is uncertain.

Wednesday, 2nd November 2016, 8:09 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 3:52 pm
The Waverley in St Mary's Street. Picture: Dan Phillips

Perched next to the infamous World’s End, St Mary Street’s Waverley Bar was a jewel in the Old Town’s crown, and has been much-missed since its demise.

Its chief publican, the mild-mannered Ean Walker, was an eccentric but well-loved character who had been at the helm for decades and held on firm to “the old ways”.

The Waverley’s clientele, a real mix of talents, professions, and social backgrounds, knew Ean’s ways well. Non-regulars and tourists, however, could be alarmed.

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Mr Walker was famous for his strict policies and bizarre opening times. Profanity was prohibited, under 21s frowned upon, and mobile phones heavily discouraged. Staff and regulars referred to him as ‘The Captain’. It was Ean’s ship, and if you didn’t like how he steered it you took your business elsewhere.

But that didn’t mean you couldn’t let your hair down.

In the 1960s the Waverley’s upstair lounge developed a formidable reputation as a foot-stomping folk venue, playing host to a diverse range of acts such as Billy Connolly, Bert Jansch, The Clancy Brothers, The Corries and The Dubliners over the years. Alongside Sandy Bell’s and the Royal Oak, the Waverley was one of Edinburgh’s must-visit folk establishments; a place where Scotland’s aspiring balladeers could cut their teeth.

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The folk ethos is what gave the Waverley its unique character. This was an old-fashioned public house drenched in history and as rich in tradition as it was in cobwebs. Crossing the threshold was to collide with a bygone era, one where you might expect to walk into a bluish fug of pipe smoke before sitting down to a pint of 80/- and a discarded copy of the Evening Dispatch. There was a clear intent here by the owner to keep things as they were from years ago.

The Waverley’s distinct two-tone frontage, complete with decorative sculptures depicting Bacchus, the God of Wine, was an authentic relic of the 1890s, and the well-worn furnishings, poster-covered walls and faded carpets of its dimly-lit interior looked as if they’d barely been altered since the price of beer was calculated in shillings.

Speaking of beer... There were more legs on your barstool than there were taps, and pints were served in dimpled glass jugs. This was not the place to come for a BrewDog IPA or a Daiquiri, but if you hankered after good craic, a quiet pint and an eclectic range of music, the Waverley was a hame from hame.

Following Ean Walker’s untimely passing at the tail end of last year, the legendary bar, one of the city’s few remaining independents, shut up shop. The pub had been in the possession of Mr Walker’s family for nearly a century, but, sadly, it looks like it’s now closed for good.

Judging by current trends, and the ‘Wetherspoonification’ of modern-day pubs, we may never see its likes again.