One of Edinburgh's best and most attractive pubs is also one of its most difficult to find. The Cafe Royal Bar occupies one side of the superb building that also houses the Cafe Royal Restaurant. The best way to find it is via the pedestrian crossing across Princes Street in front of the Balmoral Hotel near Waverley Station. Cut up the side of Burger King and past the Guildford Arms and you find yourself outside the Cafe Royal Bar.
Internally the spectacular ceiling and large island bar are attractive in themselves. But an especially beautiful feature are six pictures on the wall of the bar. These were painted by John Eyre and manufactured as tiles by Doultons. All show inventors, each at the moment of their discovery.
The pictures were first shown at an exhibition held on the Meadows in Edinburgh in 1886 and purchased as tiles by the licensee of the day, J. McIntyre Henry. They have graced the wall of the Cafe Royal Bar ever since. The four in the picture below depict William Caxton, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Peel and Michael Faraday.
The Cafe Royal was founded by a Mr John Ambrose in 1817 and opened across the road from the building you find today. The area was redeveloped in the 1860s and the Cafe Royal moved into its current premises on 8 July 1863. These had been built two years earlier as a showroom for gas and bathroom fittings, but never seem to have been used as such. Much of the interior is as magnificent today as it was at the end of the 1800s, though there have been changes: the island bar was sympathetically replaced in 1979, and the gantry only dates back to 2002.
It was almost very different. Grand Metropolitan Hotels took over the bar in 1965, and four years later agreed to sell the building to allow Woolworths to expand their Princes Street store. A public outcry led to the refusal of planning permission and the building and its interior were listed in 1970, securing its magnificence for enjoyment by future generations.
Today's Cafe Royal offers a good choice of well kept real ales, and plently of options for whisky drinkers. The bar menu is excellent, and there is also the option of the restaurant next door.