The History of The Café Royal

The first Café Royal in Edinburgh was founded by Mr John Ambrose and opened in 1826 at 1 Register Place, across the road from the present building. It previously was a tavern, serving coffee and wine, as well as beer and spirits and equipped with ample dining rooms which specialised in oysters. In 1861 all the properties in the area were sold to Robert Hume, a plumber, who then proceeded to demolish all the old, original buildings.

Work started on the present building in 1861. It was originally built to be a showroom for the latest in gas and sanitary fittings, but it is doubtful that it ever accommodated any baths or sinks!

On 8th July 1863 the Café Royal moved to its new location in this stylish Parisian building, which was designed by local architect Robert Paterson.

A glorious example of Victorian and Baroque, little has changed since then. Entering the Café Royal is like taking a step back in time. Elegant stained glass and fine late Victorian plasterwork dominate the building. Irreplaceable Doulton ceramic murals, painted by John Eyre, adorn the walls in both the restaurant and bar. These were purchased by an early licensee J. McIntyre Henry from the 1886 International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art, which was held on Edinburgh’s meadows.

Since opening, the Café Royal has passed through the hands of many owners, although none have threatened the uniquely Victorian atmosphere. None, that is with the exception of Grand Metropolitan Hotels, who took over in 1965 and agreed, four years later, to sell the building to Woolworths, wishing to extend their Princes Street store. Fortunately the city Planning Officer disagreed, and aided by a petition of 8700 signatures, he ensured that planning permission was denied. On 27th February 1970 the whole building and its interior were listed, thus preserving it for future generations.