The Canny Man’s: A Historic Morningside Free House

For this week’s article, we stop for a bite of lunch at one of Edinburgh’s most famous public houses- the Canny Man’s. We try to support local businesses as much as possible, but we are especially cognizant for the need to do so now as we try to navigate our way through the current COVID-19 crisis. Like the Canny Man's, we are also a family-run business and understand all too well how difficult it has been (and continues to be) for many businesses here in Edinburgh. Therefore, our goal was to be supportive while enjoying a nice lunch. Fortunately, the ambience, food, and quirky character of this fabulous pub did not disappoint!

The Canny Man’s is a public house located in the lovely Edinburgh neighbourhood of Morningside. It is important to further clarify that it is a free house. For those of you who may not know, that means it is owned independently of the breweries that supply it. Nowadays, many of the local pubs have direct connections to breweries and are limited in what they can sell. After reading a bit of the history from their informational pamphlet, The Man’s Fax (which they will give you a copy of if you ask), as well as exploring this famous pub- it is certainly correct to state that Canny Man’s values its independence.



The history of a public house on this spot dates to around 1860. It was founded by James Kerr who originally gave it the name, The Volunteer’s Rest. Upon James’ passing, his son, John, took over the business and renamed it The Volunteer Arms. John eventually got the nickname ‘the Canny Man’ which means 'the cautious man' and thus explains the pub’s current moniker. The Kerr family continues to run the pub today- now that’s staying power!

We’ve previously written about other famous pubs in the area (The Sheep Heid Inn , The Ensign Ewart, and The Conan Doyle in our article on the iconic writer), but the Canny Man’s has a personality that is unique, among others. For example, it is chock full of history and memorabilia. Talk about your nooks and crannies to explore! I’ve previously written about Edinburgh’s Cabinet of Curiosities, but the Canny Man’s sure gives them a run for their money for that title.


From the moment you walk in the door, you realise that you are in for a visual sensory overload. There is so much to take in and it’s tempting to want to know the story behind every item. While that isn’t realistic, I can provide you with a bit of information (with the assistance of the previously mentioned pamphlet, The Man’s Fax) on some of the rooms, the memorabilia, and their history.

'The Stage Door'- entry way to The Canny Man's

For example, the entrance is known as ‘The Stage Door’. According to The Man’s Fax, ‘In the 1920s to 1950s the Inn was used as a base for artists performing in local theatres The Silver Slipper, The King’s, etc. Some even lodged above the Inn and if you look around the lobby at eye level you will see sketches by artists, scribbled words by entertainers, some now famous and some not’. And that’s just the entry way! The history continues…


For those interested in a bit of WWII history, look no further than The Churchill Room. It took on this name during the WWII-era as service men would stop by the Canny Man’s and preferred this room (many of the artefacts found throughout the room were given by the servicemen). The Man’s Fax point out some fascinating history when it discusses the ‘practising of Sabrage’ by the soldiers inside the Churchill room both during and after the War. Apparently, ‘wild parties were held by recuperating officers behind the closed curtains. Sabrage was a popular sport with officers. It involved holding a bottle of Champagne in the left hand with cork in and cutting the top off with the sabre held in the right. It obviously became more dangerous as the party wore on’. I’m glad those days are done as it is all a bit wild and dangerous for my comfort level. In fact, the practice was banned in 1948 after an accident.

The Churchill Room

We ate in The Smokeroom- right below a copy of the original Inn sign (pictured below), commissioned by John Kerr in 1872 and painted by his friend, Sam Bough. Many of Bough's works are now part of the National Galleries Scotland collection.



Of course, the history is only part of the experience at the Canny Man’s. We were also there for the food and were eager to try their famous SMØRREBRØD sandwiches. Served in the traditional Danish open-faced sandwich style, they have a wide selection from which to choose. Knowing that they receive daily deliveries from Eddie’s local seafood market- it wasn’t too hard for me to make my decision. Well, actually, I narrowed it down to three seafood options, but finally went with the ‘Olivia’s One Smile’. Not only was it a delicious open-faced sandwich comprised of smoked salmon, poached salmon, and prawns (on top of tasty soda bread)- but a donation of £1 is given to Olivia Giles’ ‘One Smile’ charity every time someone chooses this sandwich. Giles' African clinics help to supply prosthetic limbs for those in need. Food for a good cause- such an excellent idea that I was happy to get behind!



Here are a few more photos from our visit for you to scroll through:



The Canny Man’s is a perfect place to fuel up after an afternoon exploring the Edinburgh city centre with Sami (our human tour guide) and Sawyer (our Golden Retriever tour guide) on one of our Wee Golden Walks. They are a true local pub with real character, history, good food and drinks. They are unapologetic for the fact that they are who they are and don’t try to pretend to be anything else. That is why they are popular with locals- because they stay true to who they are and don’t get caught up with trends. If that sounds like your thing (and it is for us)- be sure to check out their website for more food and drink options.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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