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July 2008 Email this to a friend

A hopping scene ’neath green hills

By Michael J. Darton

Habana, Edinburgh
Linah and Claudio at Club Habana

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NOTE: This is an archive article. For an updated and expanded Edinburgh article click DailyXtraTravel

Click on the link for a handy PDF version of our July 2008 Edinburgh travel feature!


Against a backdrop of castles and green hills, this historic world capital of art and thinking enjoys, of course, a lively gay scene.

The world would be more muggle without Edinburgh. The city nurtured the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and J.K. Rowling -- not to mention famous skeptic David Hume and economist Adam Smith. Scotland's verdant capital is the U.K.'s second biggest tourist destination after London.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival -- the largest performing arts event in the world -- is one reason. Fringe 2008 runs August 3 to 25, when the city will be chocker with edgy performers and hip audiences.

If hairy rather than hippy is your cup of tea, mark down October 3 to 5 on your calendar, for Bear Scot Fest, when bears and their admirers will take over Edinburgh for hair-raising fun.

For more conventional sightseeing, there are a host of open-top bus tours, which take you around the city to the places of interest including Palace of the Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Castle, and the Forth Bridge; see the extensive list at Edinburghtour. The "Edinburgh Pass" costs about £24 pounds and allows entry into some 30 top attractions.

Edinburgh's GLBT Centre (58a and 60 Broughton St.) is the gay community meeting space and noticeboard space for area organizations. They plan the opening of Café Nom De Plume, and have free WiFi Internet access. ScotsGay Magazine provides the internet here, and their fine publications, with news and listings for all of Scotland are also available. Word Power (43-45 W. Nicolson) is an independent radical bookshop and Bobbie's Bookstore (220 Morrison) has a good and international selection of gay magazines.


Alva House (45 Alva House; +44-845-257-1475) is Edinburgh's out and proud guesthouse for gay men. They offer a range of modern rooms with TVs. Rates are from £25 pounds, with an adjoining bathroom. There's a self-service kitchen with all you need to start you day, or for a late-night treat; who knows what -- or who -- you may find! They're a small guesthouse so book in advance, especially for weekends.

Village Apartments (5 Broughton Market; +44-131- 556-5094) sits directly next to Steamworks sauna (see below). The rooms include bath, TV, CD/DVD, and fridges -- which are magically replenished daily with yogurt, cheese, biscuits, and orange juice. Guests receive a reduced entrance to the sauna downstairs -- it's so close you can hear the jacuzzi bubbling! There's free off-street parking available in this quiet mews.

Bill is your host at Garlands Guest House (48 Pilrig Street; +44-131-554-4205), on a quiet street a short walk from the center. Rooms are ample, comfy, and homey, and there's a large reception lounge and breakfast area.

Bars, clubbing, and dining

New gay owners Tim and Mitch and flamboyant DJs help keep C.C. Bloom's (23-24 Greenside Place) packed out at weekends. Sundays bring theme nights -- I was there for Sister Act versus Sound of Music, and the bar staff were dressed as nuns. During the week upstairs is open as a bar. Look for comedy nights, strippers, and more changes ahead at this fun, no-attitude venue.

By day, Habana (18-22 Greenside Place) is a friendly laid-back drinking den; by night, a lively dancing spot where the ages mix. The night I was there everyone was dancing to music from Hairspray -- and the tunes got campier from there. Owner Gordon keeps the focus on fun.

"Social mixing with guilt-free pleasure," says owner Louise, are the watchwords at Street (2 Picardy Place), an intimate venue high on atmosphere. The large glass front looks out onto the street, there's a cozy upstairs level with booths, plus a great dance space downstairs with very glamorous toilets. Sunday Service is popular from 4 p.m., and Wednesday brings the Pub Quiz hosted by Perrier Award winner Harry Ainsworth. Manager David often enjoys dancing on the bar himself. Varied drinks and includes beers and spirits as well as special cocktails and shooters. Don't miss Louise's Big Sunday Joint -- a special home-made roast.

GHQ (4 Picardy Place) occupies a building which used to house a restaurant called Thai Me Up. The new owners have rigged out the bar and downstairs club area into a savvy, high-tech, lavish space for drinking, socializing, and dancing. White round-shaped beds line the back of the downstairs, like something out of Vegas. Some Saturdays there are tarot card readings in between drinks and dancing.

Claremont Bar & Restaurant (133-135 East Claremont Street), just a little walk from the hub of gay bars around Picardy, is a mixed bar, currently up for sale. Expect changes, but for now, there's still a warm welcome and great homemade food.

New Town Bar (26b Dublin Street) is an upstairs establishment with drinks and food -- their signature marinated herb burgers come with goat cheese and chips for just £5.95. The circular bar is busy with locals. At the weekends, the downstairs opens, with dark areas and cruising; men-only in this basement.

Planet Out (6 Baxter's Place) is an intimate spot with a mixed crowd and some seats outside. The management is currently changing, but the talk is that Planet Out will stay gay!

Club Ego (14 Picardy Place) hosts Fever dance parties each first Saturday from the people at Taste-clubs.com, and Vibe every Tuesday night, with six years of gay parties from the promotion team at Jameslongworth.com. DV8 is a fetish club with strict dress code each last Friday for all genders and sexualities at Spider's Web (Basement, 258 Morrison St.).

Regent (2 Montrose Terrace) is gay-owned and run, with a mainly gay clientele. Traditional ales, such as London Pride, compliment the pub's rustic feel, conjured by its wooden floors and historical artifacts. Their conference room is available for functions and exhibitions. There's wi-fi and tasty food. The menu ranges from artful vegetarian dishes (such as spinach and cream-cheese lasagna with olive salad) to stovies -- potatoes, meat, and drippings fused together, originally a dish concocted for servants from leftovers. The Regent recently won the accolade of "CAMRA Pub of the Year." In July, the owners will open a second venue on Broughton Street.

For a great meal at a gay venue, it's the Blue Moon (1 Barony Street), celebrating their 19th year. Busy day and night, they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Manager Craig keeps smiling even at the busiest times. Scampi and local fish dishes are specialties, but the menu is vast. On weekends, consider reservations.

Olive Branch Bistro (91 Broughton Street) also does breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with seating inside and out.

Other gay nightspots include: Pricilla's Cabaret Bar (17 Albert Pl. Leith Walk) with weekday karaoke and weekend shows; Frenchie's Bar (89 Rose Street Lane) Edinburgh's oldest gay bar still going strong with Happy Hours 6-8pm daily; and the Auld Hoose (23-25 St. Leonard's Street) an everybody kind of place serving real ale and food, daily.

Sex shop and saunas

At Q-Store (5 Barony Street), "the only licensed sex shop in Scotland," Bob offers a wide range of international magazines and book, along with art, lubes, aromas, pocket vibrators, DVDs, clothes, underwear, and party gimmicks. Bob is always up for a chat and can assist you with his wealth of local expertise.

Number 18 (18 Albert Place, Leith Walk) has an upstairs relaxation area along with its sauna, steamroom, and dark area downstairs. After 8 p.m. it's only five pounds to get in.

Steamworks (5 Broughton Market) had to overcome local controversy to open its doors. But the pioneering owner persisted to produce this large, modern, fully-equipped sauna -- with massage services, a relaxation space, and a cruising maze. There are lockers as well as large private cabins. The wet area features a communal shower, jacuzzi, sauna, and steamroom -- all with an emphasis on "large." Upstairs is a seating area for watching TV, browsing the net, eating, or drinking -- please, not all at the same time!

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