Edinburgh is dotted with quaint, odd, celebrated and niche pubs which transcend trends and age profile to retain a kind of timeless appeal. A few examples include The Oxford Bar (as favoured by fictional Inspector Rebus and his creator, Ian Rankin), the Bow Bar, the Cask and Barrel and either Mathers Bar.
But the most fantastical of the lot has got to be The Canny Man’s in Morningside. It just reeks of oddness; labyrinthine nooks and crannies; walls and shelves laden with dusty, inexplicable memorabilia; Even the hand-written doggerel from the early part of the 20th century which makes up the framed reading on the toilet walls is strange.
The management is equally … quaint. The boss always wears a full suit and tie for every sweltering shift. Longer-serving members of the team have that unusual skill of being instantly recognisable to anyone who’s been through the doors in the past 20 years. Yet they retain an air of efficient aloofness despite being on first-name terms with most of the regular-heavy crowd.
Down the years the pub has also earned a reputation for having a spurious and controversial entry policy, with rumours abounding of drinkers being turned away – or worse, booted out – for misdemeanours ranging from using mobile phones, to being English.
Indeed, the first time I ever heard of the pub was as a young hack at the Evening News when colleague David Thompson was dispatched to investigate reports that the pub had recreated a racist lynching, by hanging a black mannequin from its rafters. Thommo saw straight through the exaggeration and hype (if memory serves, it was simply some badly positioned piece of kitsch that was more interior decor crime than homage to the Klan) and loved the place in all its eccentric glory.
Eclectic and eccentric it may be, but the Canny Man’s also offers decent service, good beers and lovely grub, all of which contributes to the heady mix. However, its biggest selling point has to be the crowd. Any evening foray into the pub gives the chance to watch Edinburgh’s great and good in action: former international sportsmen, media figures, captains of industry and the legal fraternity, from shady solicitors to eminent QCs.
The Auntie representation was provided by Atholl Duncan, the man in charge of BBC Scotland’s news output, fervent Hibs fan and well-kent face on Edinburgh’s social scene. It was also a first time introduction to his better half, Emily Black, who recently opened her own classy interior design boutique in nearby Morningside Road (Click here).
Interesting to see Atholl quite so settled and content – and to get his take on the future direction of the BBC (more in-depth, hard-hitting investigative stuff on the way – and the revelation that the daily online audience clicking on the BBC website’s Scottish news section has now overtaken the daily TV audience tuning into flagship news show, Reporting Scotland. There’s a sign of the times).
And while I can’t quite rustle up Ilya Kuryakin or Napoleon Solo, Edinburgh has its very own man from UNCLE – Stephen Grant, boss of Grant and McMurtrie Private Investigations. While the bulk of work at Scotland’s biggest detective agency is investigating financial fraud and insurance rip-offs, its expert staff still get involved in sorting out the odd spot of industrial espionage. Spybusters, of sorts, if you like.
As you’d expect in his line of work, the big man doesn’t give much away – and certainly doesn’t get involved in bugging offices or the like.
But he did explain there are still big companies in Scotland which call on his expert services to have their offices swept clean of bugs and listening devices on a regular basis. He tells me the big thing in the spying world these days is “ghost phones”. A favourite trick is for a harmless looking phone to be smuggled into an office, plugged into a charger somewhere it won’t attract too much attention then left, sometimes for months at a time. Those who planted the phone simply phone it up to activate a hidden recorder. Smart yet sooo simple.
All in all the Canny Man’s has an unusual reputation which means it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (indeed read some howling reviews here). But if you want the headlines (or a report from a spy in the camp) I’d say it’s well worth a visit.