In Edinburgh, drinking is about more than just fine whiskey. It’s about community.
It’s midnight on a Tuesday. The Cowgate is filled with drunk tourists, drunker locals; the bars have emptied out, one by one, into the street that’s only recently gone dark: a function of Scotland’s northern summers. A chill disturbs the July evening. But inside, at the Royal Oak – a quintessential “old man” pub off Nicholson Street in the Old Town – everybody is warm.
It’s an “open mic” night at the Royal Oak – famous for its late license (the bar’s open until two) and for its popularity among musicians, young and old, who come to jam with like-minded friends and publicans over a whiskey after their paying gigs. Tonight, a man with the stature of Robbie Coltrane and the voice of Tom Waits booms out a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”; then an old man with a white beard performs a chords-only rendition of Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight” on an aging piano.
A second guitarist comes up to play, borrowing an instrument off the first. He sings a song in an all but unintelligible accent about growing up in Edinburgh, “copping a feel” with the girls on Leith Walk, turning to a life of crime before finding new profits – and criminality – in the life of a politician instead, all because there was “nothing on the the telly.”
It’s a little bitter, a little angry, ultimately gleefully countercultural. In other words: perfectly Edinburgh.
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