To The Editor:
As a resident of Edinburgh, I take exception to your correspondent's claimed ability to identify the worst pub in town. Now, don't for a minute think that I'm knocking his literary talents. This is a painfully accurate account of a failed attempt to have fun in an Edinburgh pub. The thing is, I know exactly which pub you're talking about (the Blind Poet, right?), and even if the name he gave it "to protect the innocent" wasn't a disguise less effective than Clark Kent's glasses, from that description I'd be able to narrow it down to a very particular genre of pubs which includes the Blind Poet, even though he doesn't say where it is or what it looks like. So I would have to say that's good writing. But the worst pub in Edinburgh...? I don't think so.
For starters, the White Horse on the Royal Mile has been there for hundreds of years, and has nothing else going for it whatsoever. It proudly displays a plaque recounting the tale of how Samuel Johnson popped in for a tankard of ale, made some very uncomplimentary remarks about the pub, and Scotland in general for daring to have pubs this bad, and threw his tankard through the window before storming out. It's also got one of those ghosts that nobody's seen since about 1753. If your two most notable customers are a historical character who came in exactly once and hated the place, and a dead guy who probably doesn't drink and definitely doesn't exist, you're in trouble! They also used to have the worst toilet in Edinburgh, but they fixed it after they eventually realized that they were losing customers who didn't appreciate the fact that the entire pub reeked of rotting fecal matter so badly that you could smell it from the other side of the street.
And then there's Whistlebinkie's, which had to close for a while after they allowed a customer to get so drunk that he was comatose, then propped him up outside the door and forgot about him while he choked to death on his own sick. To the best of my knowledge the Blind Poet has never actually killed a customer, though on its premises I have admittedly been beaten semi-conscious with furniture for no reason at all. However, this is only the third-worst injury I have received while trying to have a quiet drink in Edinburgh. Then there was the time I was cornered and talked at for three hours by a complete stranger who never once wavered from his utterly straight-faced claim to be a time traveler. That was in the Blind Poet. Oh, and of course there was that guy at the end of the bar. He seemed to spend every possible moment sitting on his own designated bar-stool enjoying the unrivaled ambience of that particular hostelry. He probably didn't have much luck with the ladies because he was incredibly ugly—he looked exactly the way I imagined pig-farmers ought to until I met one. He really used to worry me because sometimes I'd see him in the street walking away from the pub, then I'd go in and discover that somehow he'd gotten there ahead of me with such impossible speed that he already had a pint. Clearly he either had mutant teleporting powers—he was certainly ugly enough to work for Magneto—or as a reward for being such a loyal customer he had his own personal supervillain elevator through the floor. I eventually found out that he was identical twins who lived in the same house but for some unexplained reason never went to the pub simultaneously.
Want a truly amazing Edinburgh bad pub experience? Go the the Canny Man's in Morningside. The peculiar thing about this pub is that it's incredibly difficult to get in at all. Among items which are banned are cameras, mobile phones, backpacks, and basically the entire second half of the 20th century. On one notorious occasion, a girl dying of cancer who wanted to have a special treat at the legendary pub was turned away because her wheelchair would inconvenience other customers. The main reason that anybody wants to get in is the extraordinary interior. Thousands of completely random antique objects cover every inch of space, so you really ought to have a fantastic experience in a unique Dadaist pub. Indeed, in the sixties it was a crazy place frequented by bikers, with barely-clad go-go dancers in cages hanging from the ceiling. It still has the same interior, but the regular clientele are the exact opposite. Morningside is notorious in Edinburgh as the place where everyone who is middle-class in the worst possible way wants to live. The archetypal Morningside resident is an elderly right-wing snob with just enough money to sneer at poor people and get away with it. This pub has mutated into a private club for those people, which pretends to be an ordinary boozer, but invents endless arcane rules to stop the vast majority of the general public from entering. If they don't like the look of you and can't find a rule that bans you, they will flat out lie and say that it's a private function tonight, which is pretty close to the truth every night.
If you actually get in, yes, the interior is amazing, and, thanks to the camera ban, comes as a real surprise. But once you get over that, it's no fun at all. All the drinks cost more than they would at normal pubs a few hundred yards away because turning away almost all of your potential customers is not a good business plan. The bar staff wear ridiculously anachronistic Edwardian uniforms, and seem to have been trained to be incredibly rude to anybody who hasn't been coming in there for years, so that people who don't belong in that smug little comfort-zone but got in by mistake never come back. The over-priced food is also overrated. And pointless rules confront you at every step. Want to order a meal? You aren't allowed to tell the waiter what you want - a method of ordering food so obvious that it has been adopted by every other eatery in the world. You have to write out your order. On a betting slip. An antique one. Why? Because we're quirky and we're going to ram it down your throat, that's why! Every time I walk past this place, I'm amazed that it's still there. You'd expect the sheer concentrated smugness to have reached critical mass and imploded long ago.
I should in all fairness point out that if you happen to exactly resemble the people who have turned the Canny Man's into their private club—basically the Stepford Wives' grandparents—this is the best pub in the world. If you don't, it's unquestionably the worst pub in Edinburgh, but that doesn't really matter because they'll make up some excuse not to let you in. In order to make a horror film about this pub, the only fictional detail you'd have to add would be that the regulars are willing to kill you for not being them. And actually I'm not altogether sure that they aren't. Most of them probably think Hot Fuzz is a documentary, and approve of everything except the ending. People of the world! Put on your best clothes, sneak into this awful, awful pub, and write reviews so bad that it goes out of business! Because it thoroughly deserves to.
For those of you with no chance of getting into the Canny Man's (which is most of the human race), you might try the Penny Black. They'll serve anyone. And I mean anyone. Their selling point is that for some reason they're allowed to stay open much later than anywhere else. Since they're guaranteed the custom of all the people who for whatever reason absolutely must have a pint or several at very strange times, they don't bother with other little details such as serving beer that doesn't taste horrid. And as the evening wears on and becomes the morning, you start to notice that the majority of the people still there are visibly mad. And at least one of them will probably want to tell you in great detail about how much acid he did in the sixties, and why, despite appearances, it was a good idea. If Charles Manson escaped from prison, he could spend the rest of his life hanging out in this bar without anybody noticing that there was anything unusual about him. It's probably the best place in Edinburgh to write a Jack Kerouac novel 50 years too late.
I trust this has been helpful.
Count Otto Black