It’s taken a few years for me to come round to the idea of the Cask & Barrel on Broughton Street. On paper, I should love it: plenty real ale, a traditional pub feel, and a wide selection of crisps. However, pub-going is not done on paper, as is often said of football too. And this is where the key to my new-found warmth for the Cask & Barrel has come from: The Beautiful Game.
I like my football and have supported Dundee United with various levels of enthusiasm since the mid-’80s. One test of my love for them came when I moved to London for eight years: would I be able to see them on the telly in the Big Smoke? Well, I managed. Despite quizzical looks from landlords in places like Tooting, Arnos Grove, Stratford and the like, I could usually find somewhere that would be willing to put Dundee United versus Dunfermline on the TV of a Sunday evening.
Fast forward to 2014, 400 miles north, and I feel it’s sometimes hard to find the Scottish football on in Scotland’s capital, particularly if it clashes with a live English Premiership game. Since when did Tottenham versus West Brom become such a big fixture for us Scots? A number of years ago I hit rock bottom when trying to see Dundee United take on St Mirren in a Scottish Cup replay on a Tuesday night. On this particularly evening, I ended up on my own, watching the game in booth at Sportsters on Market Street. Not great. And this is where the Cask & Barrel steps in.
With seven or eight screens, this place has it sorted when it comes to the football. It’s the kind of place that does that little bit of homework so it knows what’s on and when. They keep their blackboard up to date and different games are distributed around seven or eight screens positioned throughout the bar. Now, when I want to see United take on Inverness Caledonian Thistle on a Sunday at 12.45, I know I can safely pop down here and they’ll have it on. Similarly, when an imperious (?) United marched on in the Scottish Cup recently against St Mirren, it was to the Cask & Barrel I ventured to see Nadir Ciftci head us into the quarter finals.
So, apart from football, what does the Cask & Barrel have on offer? Well, ten real ale taps that constantly change, including a Broughton Street ale that retails for less than three quid. However, I’m a sucker for the Orkney Best that is often on here and enjoyed a pint of that recently as United put some other hapless bunch of misfits to the sword. The Cask also has an excellent crisp selection and is the kind of place where a filled roll is on offer. I have popped in on a weekday lunchtime and been dismayed that I’ve not had time to grab a plate of their curry for around the £4.00 mark. Looked like good portions of decent home-cooked food.
One thing to watch out for if you do arrange to meet in the Cask & Barrel is that Edinburgh does boast another one: the Cask & Barrel Southside opened in the former Junction Bar on West Preston Street in Newington three or four years ago. Controversially, I probably prefer the “new” one to its sister as I feel it has a better layout and a better feeling. I also think the service is better. The service on Broughton Street isn’t poor but it can be perfunctory – neither cold nor particularly warm.
Decor wise, the C&B boasts a large horseshoe bar with some fine traditional features. Where there aren’t TVs, the walls boast the usual whisky and beer mirrors and there’s a good mix of seating, from small booths to large booths, tables to barrels so there’s always something to rest your pint on. It reminds me of the likes of Thomson’s Bar or the nearby Robbie’s Bar on Leith Walk.
The Cask & Barrel will never be my favourite pub in Edinburgh. It’s fine and its reliable football showing abilities mean that I’ll still pop in when United are on the telly, there’s a particularly big Champions League game or maybe during World Cup 2014. I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to meet people here on a purely social level (surprisingly it’s not dog friendly so Eric would not be welcome) but perhaps that’s because it’s dominated by televisions showing football . . .
The Cask & Barrel is at 115 Broughton Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3RZ. I can’t locate them on any social media but they might be out there somewhere.