From Halfway House to pop up pub, proud Leith bar dreads naught
The Halfway House pub, on the corner of North Fort Street, Leith, was a typical old-fashioned boozer back in the Seventies, the sort of place where ordering ‘a nip and a hauf’ was the norm.
If there was a snug or lounge where ladies were welcome - there may well have been, memory fails, but there remains a second entrance, just up from the main door - it's unlikely to have been very large. The Halfway House was very definitely a man's bar, frequented by locals many of whom worked shifts across the road at Henry Robb's Shipbuilders or elsewhere in the docks.
It was known for being a bit rough, but then wasn’t everywhere in Leith back then. In truth it was probably just a typical working class watering hole with straight talking punters unafraid to stand up for themselves. I’d hear the odd punch up spill into the street from the tenement I grew up in a couple of doors away.
North Fort Street itself, with the Fort housing scheme at its heart - a place that would become notorious in the late-70s and early-80s as heroin flooded Edinburgh - was not a particularly affluent area but what it lacked in wealth it made up for in community spirit.
I remembered all this at the weekend when I stepped inside the The Halfway House for the first time ever. Not that it's called that now. Today, the pub is The Dreadnought, although last week, for one week only, it had been renamed ‘Gayz Onley’, after having those same words spray-painted across its facade by local vandals – you know what they say about those who protest too much.
The idea of visiting what owners Toby and Roisin described as a 'pop up Pride bar' in the street where I was raised was too good an opportunity to miss. A long overdue return, it gave me a chance to wander streets that remained familiar yet so different. I was taken aback to remember how many local shops there had been, mostly now converted to flats.
From Bowman's newsagent to Miss Dick's haberdashery, where the old lady bought her wool, and Mary and Addie's general grocers where we queued for the daily delivery of hot pies from Mason's bakery and where you never paid at the time of buying – your weekly tally was 'marked down' in a big register and settled on pay day.
Then there was Mrs Beaton's fish and chip shop, where you dropped off your old newspapers to become wrapping for suppers and redeemed old glass juice bottles for a couple of pennies each, and Kenny the barber, boy could he talk. The memories came flooding back.
The highlight, however, was stepping into ‘Gayz Onley’ aka The Dreadnought, with its ornate wooden bar, once the altar-piece of a long gone church, and original cornices still in place.
Friendly and with a welcoming community feel, as I sat with my pint of light, drinkable Table Beer, brewed in Leith by Newbarns, I couldn't help imaging the reaction of the Halfway House clientele were they to walk into their local at that moment... though some of them, I'm sure, would have loved it.