This picturesque pub is named after one of Edinburgh's most famous sons – William Brodie – who was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
It's popular with tourists and locals alike, and it's gained a reputation for serving good food and an impressive selection of ales, wines and spirits.
Deacon Brodie's Tavern — Photo courtesy of Deacon Brodie's Tavern
William Brodie was, at first glance, a fine and upstanding member of Edinburgh society. As deacon (president) of the Incorporation of Wrights (cabinetmakers) and a member of the town council, he mixed with the cream of high society, socializing with luminaries such as the poet Robert Burns and the painter Sir Henry Raeburn.
He held a position of trust, installing and repairing the locks and cabinets of the wealthy citizens of the city.
However, by night, he used his knowledge of the security measures of wealthy patrons and employed wax keys he surreptitiously made to their locks to rob them blind. He spent his ill-gotten gains to fund his secret life with two mistresses, five illegitimate children and an expensive gambling habit.
His crime spree began in 1768, and by 1786, he had his own small gang of criminals working in the city.
His duplicity was uncovered when he organized a failed armed raid against the Excise Office in the Canongate, a customs office. The very same evening, he had sneakily tried to claim a King's Pardon offered for an earlier robbery by giving the names of two members of his gang to the authorities.
Realizing that the game was up, he attempted to flee to the Netherlands, but he was arrested in Amsterdam and sent back to Edinburgh for trial.
Brodie was eventually hanged at the Tolbooth in the High Street in 1788, but the story does not end there. One tale asserts that he wore a steel collar and bribed the hangman in order to survive his hanging. And although officials recorded that he was buried in an unmarked grave in the Buccleuch Churchyard in Chapel Street, there were rumors that he had in fact escaped to Paris.
Another popular myth states that Deacon Brodie actually built the Tolbooth gallows (the first of its kind in Edinburgh) only to become their first victim!
Whatever the facts of the case, the contrast between Brodie's respectable facade and his depraved secret life inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to create one of the more enduring and fascinating literary characters.
Deacon Brodie's Tavern clearly revels in the tale, with numerous references to the double life of William Brodie. However, it's not a tacky themed pub, but rather a comfortable and welcoming traditional alehouse that's also popular with residents of the city.
The interior is snug and inviting, and the ambience lively.
The bar stocks an impressive selection of real ales (including 25 guest ales), and they pride themselves on the wide range of botanicals, wines and spirits on offer.
They also serve very good pub food either in the bar area or in their dedicated dining area.
Deacon Brodie's is a great place to relax and soak up the atmosphere of the Old Town.