Leslie’s Bar: an Edinburgh pub of two intriguing halves

Leslie's Bar in Edinburgh is ornate in a comfortable kind of way
Leslie’s Bar in Edinburgh is ornate in a comfortable kind of way

Fact sheet. It’s not a phrase you hear very often – it takes me back to a time before the internet when television shows would often urge you to send in an SAE to receive a “fact sheet”. Back to a time when John Leslie was presenting Blue Peter and posing outside this pub on Causewayside, claiming that it was named in his honour. Back to a time when this pub looked, well, exactly as it does today. Leslie’s is a fantastic looking pub and if you ask the bar staff, they will furnish you with a fact sheet to answer all your questions. It’s a first for me, I have to admit. It may look good but is it a decent boozer?

Leslie’s is not somewhere you’re going to pop into when out doing the shopping on Princes Street. Situated on Ratcliffe Terrance on the south side of the city, it’s a wee bit out of the way of the centre, on a street well served by drinking establishments. It looks inviting if nothing special from the outside but inside you’ll find a pub that is proudly part of CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors.

It's all hatches and mirrors in Leslie's Bar, which can get confusing after a few
It’s all hatches and mirrors in Leslie’s Bar, which can get confusing after a few

I’ve written before about good-looking, historic pubs in Edinburgh – Cafe Royal, Bennets Bar and Diggers among others – but for sheer historical quirkiness, Leslie’s has to be regarded as a step above the rest.

As soon as you enter, you’re faced with a right or left decision. Go right and you’ll enter the traditional bar area that you’d expect to see. Go to the left and you’ll struggle to see the bar at all as it’s concealed behind a wall of polished wood, accessible only through four numbered hatches that appear at regular intervals. Although I’ve been in before, I did a complete circuit of the pub and was delighted to see that the manager was aware of my entrance and positioned himself by the taps, ready to cheerily serve me and welcome me in to his pub. It’s not hard and it really starts your pub experience on a positive note.

The liveliest part of John Leslie's is the public bar
The liveliest part of John Leslie’s is the public bar

With six ales on tap, it was the Strathbaan Due South pale ale at £3.35 that caught my eye. Leslie’s also has Deuchars, Landlord, two other guest ales and its own Leslie’s Ale at the bargain price of £2.70. This is complemented by Leslie’s Lager at the same price and I also noticed a sign for mulled wine – that can’t be common in March. Offers abound, as they have to in pubs these days, and you can get a burger and a pint for a tenner.

A great selection of beers, a poor grasp of spelling (Brooklen?!?)
A great selection of beers, a poor grasp of spelling (Brooklen?!?)

Choosing to settle in the quieter part of this pub of two halves (although with three other snugs, it’s really a pub of five bits), I sat down in the banquette seating facing the hatches and laid my pint on one of the tiny, brass, mirrored tables. From here, I was able to drink in not only the fine pint of Due South but also the beautiful stained glass that features around the pub and also the Bryson clock at the end of the 30-foot mahogany bar. I have to admit, I’m not sure as to the significance of a Bryson clock but it’s noted in the fact sheet so I thought I better mention it here. I wouldn’t set your watch by it though, as it was a little on the slow side. There are also mirrors aplenty in Leslie’s and after a few beers, you begin to wonder why the writing on the blackboards is back to front until the penny drops.

There's something to see round every corner in Leslie's Bar
There’s something to see round every corner in Leslie’s Bar

As the night wore on, it became second nature to stoop down and order our beers through hatch number one. In the olden days, the curtains would be drawn and a bell would be provided to alert bar staff to your thirst on the other side. In those days, the drinking classes were separated, with the posh ones in the area behind the hatches and curtains where they were safe from the prying eyes of the working men on the other side.

The pub has a fact sheet! There's a real pride in what they offer round here
The pub has a fact sheet! There’s a real pride in what they offer round here

Those working men on the other side are still there these days, happy to enjoy the usual banter down the narrow public bar front while taking in the racing on one of the televisions that are dotted round the bar – a necessary evil I suppose though they do look a little out of place. Elsewhere, the various snugs were occupied by groups of guys who have probably been meeting here every Friday for years, or by local couples enjoying a pint and a glass of wine. Upon leaving, one of these couples who had been sitting nearby bid us a warm good evening and asked if we’d enjoyed “their” pub. “Hope to see you again,” they replied cheerfully as we exited.

The exterior of Leslie's Bar on the south side of Edinburgh
The exterior of Leslie’s Bar on the south side of Edinburgh

Leslie’s is very much a local pub. I know it’s changed hands in recent years and there was a little bit of initial disquiet but based on my recent visit, this is a fantastic pub. I got talking to Ian behind the bar later on in the evening and he was very proud of the service he’s trying to offer, not just to locals but anyone that steps through the door, including dogs who are also welcome. As it states on the fact sheet he proudly handed over, Leslie’s is “a traditional pub where Quality of Service and Product still count”. Ignoring the random use of capital letters, I’d have to agree with him – it’s certainly up there in my quest to find the best pub in Edinburgh.

Leslie’s Bar is at 45-47 Ratcliffe Terrace, Edinburgh, EH9 1SU. You can find them on Facebook here.

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