When Americans think about the UK in general, we usually come up with the stereotype of old men sitting around in a pub, being loud and drinking the night away. In all honesty, that’s not very far from the truth. Many people in Britain, especially in smaller towns, have a ‘local’ – their regular pub that they go to.
But the whole village turning up to have a drink is a bit different from your grandpa sitting in a dark bar somewhere off the highway. British people often say that a good pub is like an extra living room; it’s a place where people meet to socialize and have some fun with good friends. It just so happens that Brits – Scots in particular – are much less squeamish about alcohol than most Americans are (it helps that most people can walk to their local and don’t have to worry about designating a driver).
If you live in Scotland for any length of time, you’d better have a local. Otherwise you’ll be lonely. I had two that I frequented while I was living in Edinburgh: Doctors, which was conveniently located on my walk home from downtown and has a good, friendly, traditional pub vibe; and the Potting Shed, which was just off campus, a bit more hipster-y (craft beer, anyone?), and good for school-organized drink sessions with the professor.
Everywhere I went in Scotland, there was a little pub somewhere in town where you could cozy up with a local brew and watch the town come together. I would not be surprised if Scottish people thought it was a sin of some sort to not have a pub. To be sure, there are your regular bars where people go to get hammered and be rowdy, and there are chain restaurants that claim to be pubs but lack the charm (just like chains in the States). But I didn’t meet a single person in Scotland who didn’t enjoy going to a good pub.
Pub owners would be remiss if they didn’t offer some sort of entertainment for their guests – just like you when you have people come over to your house – and there are frequently trivia nights, sports games shown, live music, and specially-organized events. The university offered a drinks social for the graduate school the week before classes, held in an awesome pub in the Cowgate called The Caves, which is an actual cave built into the support for George IV Bridge.
In McKay’s Pub in Pitlochry, my mom and I got a true local pub experience. There was live music in the hotel pub that evening, so we went down for a beer, and the band was setting up at a table in the middle of the room. There was a bagpipe, a guitar, a fiddle, a keyboard, and a soloist. When they got themselves all set up (complete with a round of drinks), they sang and played some traditional Scottish pub songs, along with a few which I think they had written (one was about how everyone was welcome in Caledonia, regardless of where they were from or what they were running away from), as well as a few well-loved chart-toppers – the Beatles made everyone get up and sing.
One thing that made the live music in Pitlochry great – aside from the fact that everyone in the pub was clearly very good friends with each other – was that everyone stopped what they were doing to listen to the music. People sung along, tapped their toes in time with the beat, drank their drinks, and paid attention to their neighbors as they sang their songs. The band took requests, and I have no idea how long this went on, because Mom and I were tired puppies and went up to our room around 10:30.
Bottom line: When you go to Scotland, find yourself a local pub to sit in for a spell.