Judgment Day.

Just near the western end of the Royal Mile, down an old close tiled with cracked cement and circumscribed by smooth-edged cobbles, is a pub of which I’m very fond. As you duck off the High Street with its pipers skirling an erratic jig of taxis and tourists, tenements looming overhead and soot-blackened stone bordering the grey crevasse of sky canopying the roadway below, there is a quiet respite that I enjoy taking in when I find myself in Edinburgh.


It takes only a moment to hunch through the stone tunnel that takes you into the courtyard beyond, ringed with 18th-century skyscrapers in varying states of life and death. Some have mossy capstones and crumbling mortar while others are newly limned with lime and sandstone plaster, already starting to collect dust and grime from creeping modernity. The stone slabs of varying ages blend together, but the scrutinizing eye can pick out the differences. No one cares anymore; it’s been this way for centuries, and the renovations and reconstructions continue on.


A narrow well of stairs shoots down to the left, and you’re in the Jolly Judge before you know it, helpfully pointed out by a sheepishly inebriated Lord Advocate, periwig cocked askew and finger erect. The pub is small and cozy, low ceiling above and small wooden tables in an oaken labyrinth spaced around paintings and Victorian gas lamps, retrofitted with bulbs for more economical illumination. My favorite Edinburgh periodical, The One O’Clock Gun, lies in quarterly state inside a sturdy wooden box on the window sill. Haven’t seen it in two years and they didn’t even tell me I’d been published within.

80 shilling is good for the soul, and though pubs here are no longer smoky, better men have suffered more on a chilly October day by taking their drink outside. The Judge has provided sturdy tables along the stuccoed courtyard wall, and the views there are perfect for reflection or rumination. Spiky iron fences ring elm and ivy, the Forth mist rolls in high above and lights wink on as evening approaches. Six stories above, folk would shout warning to those wandering below before emptying their chamber-pots onto the street, and the stories are still there. I can crane my neck from here and see these snapshots of history, even in my mind’s eye. Multiple pints help this hallucination immeasurably.


Free wireless access to drinking customers makes this place extra special, and I can spend some time here with my thoughts and get them down electronically, since I’ve forgotten how to write like a normal person, with hand and pen, but so have we all. I feel at my happiest here, amidst it all: the buskers’ songs drifting above the din of clinking glasses and a thousand local accents that bounce off the high walls and double-paned glass. This, the heart of the city, the Heart of Midlothian.

The advocates of Edinburgh would break for watered-down ale nearest one o’clock they could muster, and sometimes their lunch breaks would carry on longer than they perhaps should have. It paid, then, for the accused to push for afternoon trials, when the solicitors still had hops in their whiskers and a hankering to dine with wife or concubine, rather than presiding over thieves and beggars in the musty Georgian court offices. I’m sitting where they might have, just now, certainly as whiskered, but certainly not as pickled and possibly enjoying my occupation a bit more.



This is just one pub experience out of 586 locally; 160,000 nationally. What’s one of your favorites, whatever the country?


25 Responses to “Judgment Day.”

  1. gloomylex Says:
    October 13th, 2006 at 7:25 am

    I've seen your comments in some of my friend's posts and I finally decided to check your profile and was positively surprised.
    I have undying love for Scotland ever since I spent a month there 10 years ago… I was fortunate enough to return to Edinburgh this Summer and it was the absolute confirmation that I need to be in that country much more often. I'm now planning on taking my Masters degree there next year.
    Would you mind if I add you? 🙂

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 13th, 2006 at 8:16 am

    How could I mind? 🙂
    This is fabulous news and clearly we have much to talk about. I'd be keenly interested on hearing of your postgraduate plans, and if I can do anything at all to ease the transition, please just say the word.
    You clearly loved visiting here; you'll love it even more being a resident!

  3. gloomylex Says:
    October 13th, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    I smell some juicy communication 🙂
    Actually, I have a few doubts about the academic equivalences between Portugal and Scotland. Also… did you get any sort of scholarship or financial aid?

  4. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 8:09 am

    I'm sure there are correlative equivalences; the trick is finding out what they are. Usually you can mail the institution you'd like to attend and ask about this.
    I received no external aid, but there are a few prizes out there to be had, depending on your field of study. Scotland itself offers a very limited selection of scholarships and fellowships, so you might want to look in your home country to see what can be offered from that end.
    Once you obtain a degree from a Scottish university, however, you're then open to other avenues of future financial aid from within.

  5. blu_matt Says:
    October 13th, 2006 at 7:30 am

    One of the few pubs in Edinburgh that I actually like (as opposed to tolerate visiting), even if it is just off that touristic hell/mecca known as the Royal Mile.
    I don't believe I've offered you a piggy back in that particular one. 🙂

  6. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 13th, 2006 at 8:17 am

    And I don't believe I've accepted, sir. We shall have to remedy that!

  7. handworn Says:
    October 13th, 2006 at 9:13 am

    Mmm, I love the Old City in Edinburgh. It's so wonderfully Gothic. Not literally, of course, but in the literary/descriptive sense of the word, like "ancient and mysterious and redolent at every turn of a different way of being." I'm sorry to say I haven't spent nearly as much time there as I'd have liked. Next time I'll check out the place you were at; the subtle self-mockery of an 18th century style sign advertising a "lounge bar" speaks quite well of the owners' mindset.
    Have you been to the Halfway House? I did go there, and enjoyed it.

  8. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 8:18 am

    I agree with your assessment of Old Town. 'Redolent' is the optimal descriptive here.
    Never been to Halfway House. Tell me about it?

  9. handworn Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 8:42 am

    By Edinburgh standards, Halfway House may not even be that great; we didn't spend enough time in the city to get a feel for that. But we were right off the train, and it charmed us. It's halfway up (or down) Fleshmarket Close– hence the name– and it's tiny. The food was OK. The beer was fine (the place was named Scottish Pub of the Year for 2005 by the Edinburgh chapter of CAMRA) but at least when we were there in 2002, not exceptional by American standards, even though the pub makes a selling point of being one of the few untied pubs in Edinburgh.
    Here and here are a couple sites on it. The first includes a link to the pub's website itself, but these two are better.

  10. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 8:46 am

    Ah! Yes, I know this place. Took me your description to get it in my head. Nice!

  11. angledge Says:
    October 13th, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    Ooooh. Oooh! The Jolly Judge! D'you remember Craigslist-hunting for apartments in San Francisco while sitting at that very table?
    What’s one of your favorites, whatever the country?
    The Safe House in Milwaukee is the coolest bar I've ever been to.

  12. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 8:11 am

    How could I possibly forget that strange, liminal experience? 🙂
    I've heard tons about The Safe House, and all of it good. Did you ever make it to Jekyll and Hyde in New Town? Some similarities, I think.

  13. inkbot Says:
    October 13th, 2006 at 7:22 pm

    so. jealous!
    will you be there on the 21st? my lads are playing the castelmilk fest. i'll be on a road trip to vancouver, though. sniffle.

  14. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 8:12 am

    Nah, just returned yesterday. Bummer!

  15. sibelian Says:
    October 14th, 2006 at 4:56 am

    Thorougly excellent to see you again, my dear, albeit so briefly and only for 2 short seperated days… 🙂

  16. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 8:13 am

    Absolutely, and I'm so pleased that our interests cross-over so well, even across so many miles. Let's keep in touch on both accounts and see what becomes of your projects! See you again in the summer…

  17. melp0mene Says:
    October 14th, 2006 at 8:01 am

    🙂 Jolly Judge is brilliant. I always remember being there at Christmas time and standing round the corner with a pint by the square with the single lamp post. I remember thinking it was a bit like being in narnia. Not that i have been there, or that it was, I had probably just had one too many!

  18. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 8:15 am

    Hah! I can see this perfectly. It's all about the lamp post. That courtyard is just delightful!

  19. scothen_krau Says:
    October 14th, 2006 at 9:25 am

    Do you have any idea how jealous I am right now?

  20. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 8:16 am

    You'd be less jealous if you were drunk there right now. Let's make it so. Go! Go!

  21. gf_ripper Says:
    October 17th, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Looks like you had a great time, I am Jealous. I would love to go to scotland. Did you meet the Lochness monster? If so, did you remind it that it owes me 100 bucks. Seesh I knew I shouldn't have trusted a monster. But a bet is a bet. Anyway I hope that was a good beer. Glad you are back. What camera do you got, those pictures are fantastic and crystal clear.

  22. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 18th, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Re: awesome
    Didn't look for Nessie, but my friend Danny was absolutely obsessie. We had to take him to lochside in the middle of a rain storm so he could look for bobbing dinosaur heads in the water. You should absolutely go when you're able; just save up a little bit and head out for two weeks. It's not as hard as it seems.
    As for the camera, it's an old Nikon CoolPix, which is fine but not great. It loses color contrast and has no sense of scale whatsoever. But I'm no skilled photographer, so much of the onus is on me. Glad you liked, regardless.

  23. spiffington Says:
    October 18th, 2006 at 6:54 am

    Heya 🙂
    Just thought I'd offer another fruity hug as you're back over there now.
    So wonderful to see you again D, I can't wait for your return 🙂
    Me and Pudgie will be waiting 😉

  24. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 18th, 2006 at 9:46 am

    It was marvelous to see you again, Helen. Thanks for your warm welcome and for taking the time to come out and play amidst your busy schedule. So looking forward to next summer, when I'll insist that your work give you some adventure time, lest I show up unexpectedly and stuff you in a bag right under their noses!

  25. spiffington Says:
    October 25th, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Hahaha, well I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time they had seen such behaviour!
    But yes that would be grand to spend some DAYtime with you. You let me know when you've a better idea and I can a plan away 🙂

Leave a Reply