After visiting the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh one day last May we walked a block up George IV Bridge to have a late afternoon lunch at the Elephant House Cafe. It was probably the best time of day to come to this place which is extremely busy during normal eating hours. People from all over the world flock to the cafe to see where Harry Potter was born and sometimes the queue is around the block and you’re awfully lucky if you can find a table in the back room. We were awfully lucky.
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You probably know the story by now. A young single parent took her baby in a stroller to the cafe every day. There she would order a cup of coffee and then while her baby slept she would proceed to write another chapter of her story which when it was published in 1998 was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US).
The single parent’s name was Joanne Rowling. Her publishers told her to use initials so that her readers would not know that she was a woman. So she came up with the pen-name J.K. Rowling.
Rowling conceived the idea of Harry Potter on a train ride from Manchester to London when she was working for Amnesty International. And she wrote the first three chapters of her first Harry Potter book in Portugal where she lived with her first husband before they separated and she moved to Edinburgh. So the Elephant House Cafe was not really the birthplace of Harry Potter. Rowling actually frequented another cafe called Nicholson’s nearby many times, too, but this restaurant went out of business several years ago and a Chinese restaurant is located there now.
Ever wonder how writers of fiction come up with the names for their characters? Well, apparently Rowling didn’t stay in the Elephant House Cafe all day long. She must have strolled with her baby among the graves in the Greyfriars Kirkyard a block away a few times. The cemetery is full of centuries-old tombstones and if you look closely you will find that some of the names on the headstones match some of the names of Rowling’s characters in the Harry Potter novels!
I didn’t have my camera with me when I went to the cafe’s restroom the day of our lunch. So I could not record the graffiti that covered the walls and fixtures in the restroom. Some people even climbed to the ceiling to leave their marks! The cafe’s staff used to wash and repaint every now and then but the walls would be covered again in less than a day. So they gave up long ago. You’ll just have to come to Edinburgh and see for your self. But beware: some of the remarks are outrageous.
Each of us had a light lunch at the cafe. I had a sandwich and a beer and my wife had a salad and a cup of tea. The food was OK and the service was satisfactory and I really liked the view of Edinburgh Castle from that back window!