The Canons’ Gait on Edinburgh’s Canongate is a funny one. I’ve been going there for several years, especially during my days working in the Old Town (I even had my leaving do there), when it was less busy, more welcoming and considerably less expensive than the nearby Holyrood 9a. But why’s it funny? Well, I guess I just feel it’s still trying to work out what it wants to be but has never fully committed in any direction.
Now is a good time to be taking about the Canons’ Gait. Not only is its most famous “guest” of recent years, Nigel Farage, leading the political agenda in the press as the General Election approaches, it also recently underwent an extensive refurbishment both internally and externally. The pub is part of the same group as the Cumberland Bar, the Guildford Arms and the Abbotsford, all stalwarts of the traditional Edinburgh pub scene, so the owners obviously feel this place has its part to play and have put their money where their mouth is. But what is its part?
The overriding problem with this place is its location. Yes, it can make hay during the Festival when it becomes a Free Fringe venue but that’s only four weeks a year. Yes, it probably does alright during tourist season as thousands of foreign visitors head up and down the Mile between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. But what can it do the rest of the year round, when it finds itself just a couple of hundred yards the wrong side of the junction with St Mary’s Street, not a million miles from the Waverley?
During the final year I was working in the area, one of its main attractions was its £2.50 pints of Tyneside Blonde. However, “The Gait” is now a “craft beer bar and kitchen” so the days of cheap pints are gone. The recent refurbishment has split opinion. It does look better but some of the more colourful furniture is not the comfiest, while I feel a trick was missed regarding the layout of the room. The problem with this place is the starkness of its one big room. For some reason, that just seems to suck atmosphere from the place. This is less of a problem if the place is busy but that is certainly not always the case. I think some booths or some form or room divider would have helped tremendously. The function room downstairs arguably has a greater intimacy about it and I’d recommend trying to catch some live music down there, which is frequently on, or a show during the Festival, to see this place actually come to life.
As mentioned, the Canons’ Gait is still trying to work out what it wants to be. There is a constant refreshing of the menu seemingly every time I go in. The most recent came about with the refurbishment and it’s actually pretty good. The paprika wedges, a choice with the burger, are pretty tasty, while other dishes I’ve seen look fresh, hearty and good value for money.
On tap, the ales change regularly and on my last visit I noticed that Jarl had become a permanent fixture. Sadly this is not from one of the hand-pulls and I definitely prefer my Jarl less fizzy. Each to his own however. There are still six hand-pulls to choose from, decent bottled beer and the usual wine and spirits.
The staff in here have always been brilliant and there a few faces I recognise that have obviously been there a while. They’re friendly but not over-friendly and always with smiles on their faces, even when faced with the inevitable and oft-repeated questions from tourists.
I want to heartily recommend the Canons’ Gait and I certainly wouldn’t do it down. But it needs to shout for itself. I may not be a huge fan of Holyrood 9a but its location is arguably worse and they’ve made it work there. The Canons’ Gait just needs to man up, become confident in itself and fight for its place on the Edinburgh pub scene.