And The Cold Shall Have No Dominion
St Andrews Pubs That Cure Winter Blues
Before I moved to Scotland, my mother offered to buy me a Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp for those long winter days of no sunlight. I profusely declined, because somehow artificial sunlight seems infinitely sadder than no sunlight at all. I figured it was better to embrace the void of British winter than turn my room into a lizard terrarium.
Here’s where Aikman’s, the Criterion, and all the other beloved pubs of St Andrews come into play. It is wholly appropriate to start drinking once the sun goes down - which in St Andrews is usually around 3pm. And, technically, it isn’t drinking if it’s something medicinal, such as a hot toddy. Settling down in a pub with a book, coursework, or friends makes the winters seem festive and warm all season. In light of this, I compiled a guide to my favourite pubs in St Andrews and their distinct charms.
Let’s start off with a classic. Aikman’s is unique in that its upstairs and downstairs bars have distinct vibes. If you want an intellectual discussion with a couple of bearded, bespeckled postgraduates or a competitive match of Trivial Pursuit, the hallowed, yellow walls of Upper Aikman’s are a solid bet. Downstairs; however, is the Wild West. Glasses break frequently and the toilets are covered in frantic, scrawled messages of who shagged whom and who slayed in 2022. In fact, you are almost encouraged to get wildly drunk and spill pints over your friends. Aikman’s leads, all of us should follow.
One of the oldest pubs in St Andrews, the Cri has stuck around for a reason. Maybe it’s the delicate little vines over the entrance, or perhaps it’s the iconic pies served all day, but the Criterion is the spot for a wholesome chat with friends. The quaint, red booths are extremely hard to obtain, but once you snag one, never let it go. Curled up with a pint, a pie, and a view of the dreary streets outside is the perfect cure for the cold. My one question: what is going on with that random cherry tomato I find in every single pie?
As I write this, I’m now realising that it’s called the Central because the bar is in the centre of the room. This is a fun layout and allows easy access to drinks from anywhere in the pub. The Central has become one of my favourite spots due to the spritzes they have, but also because it is the perfect temperature inside. The old photographs of St Andrews in the 1800s give it an additional layer of charm that makes the Central another quality choice for cosying up with a pint.
This is THE place for watching sports. Good luck trying to get in there when any football match is on. Belhaven Pubs, its parent company, claims the pub has a place in local mythology as a hotspot for fairies. Not quite sure where they would’ve gotten that information from, but Molly Malones does not need woodland sprites to give its customers a joyful experience. There’s plenty of live music nights and Guinness to make it an essential destination on any winter night.
Do not be fooled by the name, this is not a vegan establishment. I know this because I’ve seen some delectable beef burgers come out of that kitchen. I’ve also seen people studying here so many times and I’m very curious as to how they accomplish anything when it’s so loud. The wind on that side of North Street is exceptionally bitter in the winter, so for visitors to the Dunny, staying for a long spell is highly encouraged. Their playlist of classic Dad rock makes for a very American experience, especially considering the hordes of Ohio golf bros that frequent the pub. Maybe it reminds you of home, but either way it’s worth a visit.
Such a hike. Yet so worth it. They have darts in there which many pubs in St Andrews severely lack, making Whey Pat an instant hit in terms of traditional pub activities. Apparently, the land it stands on has been the site of a tavern since the late sixteenth century and the “Pat” in question was a giant “pot” they served up porridge in, at least according to the Inapub database. It’s probably a good thing they’re not cooking up gruel in the back anymore, but the history gives it a seal of cosy approval.
Did I transgress an unwritten rule of the Keys being for local residents and not students? Yes, a couple times. Go in there and you will get strange looks. But if you can befriend a regular, or prove that you’re wise beyond your years, maybe you can earn a spot. Not for the faint of heart.
The Thistly Cross here will hit you when you least expect it. The fairy lights and fireplace in here make it one of the ultimate pubs, and the best part is that you can usually get a spot in here since there’s so much space. I met a regular patron here once who was actually a pug, so this proves BrewCo is an establishment for all creatures, great and small.
Photo: Fiona Golden