Cafe Royal

Edinburgh, Scotland

Cafe Royal: Edinburgh's oldest Oyster Bar.

Discovering Café Royal

Despite its central location near Princes Street, Cafe Royal is tucked away, giving it an unassuming and exclusive edge. In light of this, its architectural and cultural significance has earned it recognition by Historic Scotland in 1997 as a Category A listed building.

Since its establishment in 1861, Cafe Royal has had several purposes. Its early years saw it become Edinburgh’s oldest oyster bar and a favoured haunt of the city’s elite, attracting renowned figures like Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for socialising and dining. Presently its is owned by Belhaven, a Scottish brewery and pub company, and exists as the place to go for a real taste of Scotland in the heart of Edinburgh. Its no wonder that is has attracted an array of A-listers from esteemed politicians and renowned authors to Hollywood celebrities and royalty.

The History of Cafe Royal in Edinburgh

The roots of Cafe Royal trace back to 1826 when it was founded by Mr. John Ambrose at 1 Register Place, initially serving as a tavern specialising in coffee, wine, and oysters. In 1861, Robert Hume acquired the properties in the area, leading to the demolition of old buildings. From the demolition the present-day structure was established across the street, by Daniel Nicols, a wine and spirit merchant.

In 1901, Cafe Royal was expanded to include a new restaurant, bar, and function rooms, solidifying its status as a prominent social venue. Despite facing potential loss in the late 1960s when an owner attempted to sell the building to Woolworths, the city intervened, preserving the establishment with the support of over 8,700 petition signatures.

Cafe Royal 6
- Judy Dean

Maintaining its Victorian and Baroque elegance, Cafe Royal remains a timeless destination, with its exquisite stained glass, late Victorian plasterwork, and priceless ceramic murals by John Eyre adorning its walls. Despite changing ownership over the years, the uniquely Victorian ambiance has been preserved, thanks in part to the listing of the building and its interior in 1970, ensuring its legacy for future generations.

Inside Cafe Royal

Embracing a traditional 19th-century Parisian ambiance, the café’s opulent interior has been a source of fascination for patrons over the years. One of the main features are the nine tiled murals by Doultons of Lambeth. Six of these murals depict famous inventors such as William Caxton, Benjamin Franklin, and Michael Faraday, at the moment of their discoveries. These portraits, based on paintings by John Eyre, were first displayed at the 1886 International Exhibition of Industry, Science, and Art, and add to the pub's grandeur.

The main Circle Bar is characterised by a a grey and white diamond-shaped marble tiled floor, panelled dado, a foliate Rococo-style frieze, and an elaborate ceiling with gilt embellishments. The inclusion of a revolving door, installed in the 1920s, adds to the nostalgic charm of the establishment.

The Oyster Bar, accessible beyond a 1901 ornately carved walnut screen, offers a more upscale dining experience. Three of the tiled murals adorn this section with scenes, of photography pioneers Louis J. M. Daguerre and Joseph Nicephore Niepce, along with maritime imagery designed by Esther Lewis. Furthermore, there are eight large stained glass windows depicting British sportsmen.

The original octagonal island serving counter, a fixture since 1901, was replaced in 1979 with an equally ornate counterpart, while a new high gantry was installed in 2002. Despite these changes, the pub has retained its original features, including a fine marble fireplace with an elaborate overmantel and leather seating areas.

Descending downstairs, patrons encounter the gents' restroom, which retains its fine original fittings and is approached by a marble staircase. Overall, Cafe Royal stands not only as a popular destination for food and drink but also as a testament to Edinburgh's rich architectural and cultural heritage.

Cafe Royal 11
- Kai Schrader

Dining at Cafe Royal

To compliment its beautiful furnishings and architectural details Cafe Royal also serves delicious food. It offers international delicacies, and a menu that extends from breakfast and brunch to afternoon tea and evening meals.

If you’re looking for traditional Scottish fare you can indulge in classics like haggis, neeps, and tatties, or Scottish salmon served with buttered leeks and creamy mash. For dessert, treat yourself to a slice of cranachan cheesecake or a steaming bowl of traditional cranachan – a combination of oats, honey, whiskey, and raspberries.

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