A torrential downpour on a dreich day left me exposed to the elements and in urgent search of shelter.
On such a day, what you really want is somewhere warm and welcoming where you can slowly dry out while enjoying a pint.
So, caught near the Royal Mile, I somehow found myself in the Halfway House. It has been a while since I’ve ventured in – but the moment I stepped over the threshold of this eccentric little establishment, everything was reassuringly familiar.
Nothing seems to have changed in years. Predictably – despite the burgeoning ubiquity of so-called craft beer – there has been no undignified scramble here to jump on the bandwagon.
Perched halfway up – or down – the steep and narrow Fleshmarket Close, it’s squeezed into a tiny corner. It would be easy to miss – although the exterior loudly proclaims what’s on offer inside, and highlights its CAMRA accolades.
It’s a cosy little retreat. The ceiling is low and there are a few tables round the edges of the room. There are some nice quirky touches, like the wooden cabinet on the wall selling Halfway House merchandise or the vintage sign pointing “to the trains”.
In a venue this intimate, it’s almost impossible not to literally rub shoulders with other patrons – so it’s just as well the welcome is warm and genial. Good-natured banter is yelled across the bar and tourists are dealt with patiently and politely.
The selection of food and drink on offer is unfussy and unsurprising. As well as some of the usual big boys on keg, there are four cask lines which focus primarily on Scottish brewers.
I have a half of the Loch Lomond Simcoe hop trial (£1.80). It’s a thin, dark – almost black – bitter or mild with some very slight hints of the US hop which could almost suggest a black IPA if given more welly.
Then I have a half of the Strathbraan True North (also £1.80), which is a decent enough porter – toasted, roasty and full-bodied.
The beer selection – there are also offerings from An Teallach and Northumberland – isn’t going to knock your socks off.
The Halfway House doesn’t offer innovation or excitement but, somehow, it’s more than the sum of its parts. It continues to be a lovely little spot in the middle of the city to take a step back in time and unwind with a decent pint in pleasant surroundings.
The Halfway House
24 Fleshmarket Close, Edinburgh EH1 1BX