Review | The Captains Bar / Edinburgh

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'The Captains Bar, South College Street' / CC
'The Captains Bar, South College Street, Edinburgh' / CC

I’m sitting in Spain, it’s 10pm and I’ve been thinking of home and how: “Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on.” I don’t have to be there to know that home and the things I care about continue to be; it’s just enough to know that they do and that makes me happy.

The point of this is to tell you why you should go to one of my favourite pubs. I owe nothing to this establishment but my memories and that is a pot I would never sell for all the tea in China. ‘The Captains Bar’ is simply one of the best things about Edinburgh.

Situated behind Chamber Street in Edinburgh, I first stumbled across it (I would stumble out of it over the next five years) in my final months of university. The battle was not going well. My dissertation and the period from 2009 and to April 2010 was just dark. I look back on that and I just remember bleak, cold nights, warm fleeces and leather jackets wrapped tight. In my bearded, isolated desperation to try and master my dissertation topic – left in disarray, and to the last minute for a variety of miserable reasons – I would order books, mostly from other universities. They had a habit of arriving at Edinburgh University library after 8pm and, seeing as I was travelling from Corstorphine and was living in a frustrated procrastination at my inability to write, off I would go to collect them.

Afterwards, and with no great rush to go home for the same reasons, I used to meander to my bus stop. One night I walked down South College Street – I forget why – and stumbled across the Captains. I rationalised I could sit and read my procured books in there and have a pint. I’m sure I must have walked past it before but had never been in, certainly not to my recollection. I sat down with my book on Hans Morgenthau, ordered a pint, and saw and heard the best folk music I’ve ever heard in life. I have never been more relaxed and it remains the Alpha-Site of stress abandonment all these years later.

The place is not big and it’s the definition of cosy. Seats are few in number; there’s an oak bar, an assortment of sea and pirate memorabilia hanging on the walls and a beautiful assortment of spirits and whiskies lining the wall behind the bar. You can sit for hours, as has been done, by the window staring out onto the cobbled Edinburgh street outside and just watch the world go by.

I’ve taken friends there, girlfriends there and I’ve taken people who I’ve only ever met once there. It’s always sure to be packed in the evenings and the likelihood of live music is a certainty. It’s quiet during the day and the evenings are always loud later on, and while you can have a good conversation, why would you want to? Relax in a warm environment and enjoy the company, a drink and an assortment of cheerful and hauntingly beautiful songs performed with perfection and without pomp. Even now, this far away, I can hear violins.

The Captains features in many of my memories and none of them I would trade for the world. It’s home, it’s warm and it’s impossible not to sit there and rejoice at being in a place I love in a city I love. It’s just nice, with nice people, and you’re always sure to get chatting to people. It also holds the distinction of being the only place in the world – which is a phrase which means increasingly more these days – where I can completely relax.

All in all, I hope you’re reading this sitting there, having a pint, and listening to some beautiful music.

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About Alastair Stewart 208 Articles
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He was previously a press officer in the Scottish Parliament and worked in public affairs. He graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in International Relations and writes regularly on politics and the arts in the Spanish and British press.

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