The Athletic Arms, Edinburgh, pub review

File photo dated 01/12/06 of a man drinking a pint of beer as Chancellor George Osborne is to deliver his first post-election Budget. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday July 8, 2015
Credit: Johnny Green/PA

My arrival at the Athletic Arms is greeted by a sharp intake of breath. From me. It’s not the punchline of a joke that’s just been delivered in the far corner (“Would you mind if I kept the dog?”) that triggers my inhalation, but the out-and-out sparkle of an immaculate and impressive pub.

Sunlight streams through stained glass to illuminate beautiful tiled flooring, red upholstery, a deeply corniced ceiling, oak bar fittings, and a marble-topped counter. The late 19th-century Athletic Arms – better known as The Diggers for its historic associations with thirsty gravediggers at nearby cemeteries – is west of Edinburgh city centre between the deceased McEwans Fountainbridge Brewery and the very much alive-and-kicking Caledonian.

It is also close to Tynecastle stadium, home of Heart of Midlothian FC, and Scottish rugby’s international headquarters, Murrayfield, so it’s fair to say it gets busy. Locals will tell you The Diggers – classically handsome though it appears – is not what it was, having had partitions removed in recent memory and some original features replaced.

This is the best view in any pub: it means you're on the inside looking out

I take my hoppy, pale, gently biscuit-sweet Caledonian Golden XPA and a macaroni pie to one of the narrow tables that’s just big enough to hold three pints and a Scottish short crust delicacy. Here is the best view from any pub anywhere; the scene that means you’re inside looking out. The stained glass reads ELA ELAP AIDNI; to my right it’s NAWECM.MW.

Caledonian’s Deuchars IPA, Stewart Brewing Diggers 80/- and Edinbrew Little Monster are tapped from tall brass dispensers (Aitken fonts), a Scottish system that previously used hydraulics engines to push beer from the cellar. Other local ales are Alechemy Photon IPA and Our Beer from brew-it-yourself Krafty Brew Co. Forty whiskies are also highlighted on the pub windows – STLAM 04, as the runes on the glass would have it.

Another shaggy dog story has begun in the “jug”, and the four drinkers cackle. Sadly it’s not the one that ends “so would you mind if I left the pie?” 

1-3 Angle Park Terrace, Edinburgh EH11 2JX

0131 337 3822