In the period 1880-1910 a unique breed of luxurious Pubs were built. This coincided with major changes to the city including the demolition of buildings such as The Turf Hotel and The Bridge Hotel which stood where Waverley Station stands today. Curiously, and perhaps as a reaction to it, pubs like The Guildford Arms were built during the height of the temperance movement. Their opulent character was in marked contrast to the dark and dingy bars of Edinburgh where ceilings were often not beyond the reach of a man’s arm. Without the pressure of the anti-drink lobby it seems probable that publicans would not have spent the vast sums of money needed to build pubs like The Guildford Arms, which remains today one of the few elaborately designed and ornamented bars to have survived from what has come to be known as the ‘Golden Age’ of Scottish pub design.
The Guildford Arms was designed by Robert Macfarlane Cameron and established in 1896. Its construction involved the demolition and subsequent reconstruction of both the ground and second floors of the tenement which previously housed The Guildford Arms Hotel. The new Guildford Arms boasted a lofty ground floor bar with island counter which was removed in alterations in 1940, and a mezzanine incorporating two sitting rooms on both levels.The imposing frontage consists of large wide arched windows, alternating fluted pilasters and frosted glass screens bearing the legend ‘Guildford Arms’. Access to the public bar is through revolving doors set within an entrance framed by an elaborate freestone pediment supported by granite columns.
The principal reminder of the Guildford’s late Victorian opulence is the magnificent Jacobean style ceiling which dominates the public bar. The centrepiece of the bar fitment is the bank of ten traditional real ale fonts with their blue porcelain handles bearing the company logo of D. M. Stewart Ltd. Above the angular bar counter a canopy incorporating a glass shelf is supported by four columns. Spirits are displayed in an arched, mirrored gantry set against the rear walls. A grand old Thorne Brothers mirror hangs at the end of the bar.
Just below cornice height, wood panelling conceals a hidden room, which legend has was used to store spirits and other liquor that was pumped up to the room from street level. A narrow walkway leads from this room around the inner walls to the Gallery Restaurant. This gallery provides an ideal spot for diners to marvel at the superbly decorated ceiling and gaze down at the busy Public Bar.
The lounge area underwent major refurbishment in 1970 at which time arches, booths and alcoves replaced existing partitions opening up access from the public bar. In 1987 the booths were removed to create a split level dining area. Diners may enter through a side door from Gabriel’s Lane.
The bar has an excellent reputation for its range of quality real ales. Lack of any brewery tie has allowed quality beers from the smaller independent Scottish Breweries such as Stewart Brewing and Harviestoun to come to the fore and sell on their merit. Ten fonts dispense ales from up to 8 different Scottish Breweries. Two annual Beer festivals feature beers from a particular region or theme with over 50 different beers available during these 10 day events. We also hold, throughout the year, 15 smaller mini beer fests featuring 4 beers from a single brewery at a fixed price.
Lunch & Dinner menus are served in the Gallery Restaurant using the best fresh Scottish produce and offer good quality and value for money. Lunches are also served in the ground floor lounge and bar areas. Bar snacks are available all day.
Every year since 1995 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, The Guildford Arms has been transformed into a live music venue and plays host to ‘Caledonian Folk at The Guildford’. This event is anchored by the local folk band Yard of Ale, with different guest acts featured each night and follows our Dixieland Jazz Festival, both providing free music throughout the Fringe Festival.
The Guildford Arms has been owned and operated by the Stewart Family since 1896. It is the city’s most successful Free House. Regulars at the Guildford come from various walks of life; civil servants and bankers, students, locals and tourists. It is this melting pot which has always contributed to the friendly atmosphere of the pub which, unlike many modern themed bars, has not fallen foul of any particular ‘clique’ or gimmick.
Over the years The Guildford Arms has won numerous awards and a policy of employing good, friendly staff has greatly enhanced the bar’s reputation as one of Edinburgh’s finest drinking institutions.
The Guildford Arms is the flagship of the D. M. Stewart group of Public Houses.