The magic brewed here

Where it all began J.K. Rowling and the now-famous The Elephant House café

Where it all began J.K. Rowling and the now-famous The Elephant House café   | Photo Credit: Photos: AFP and R. Santhanam

Here’s a bit about the The Elephant House café in Edinburgh, where the famed Harry Potter series took shape

J. K. Rowling’s latest book “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” is being lauded as “the fastest selling book of 2008.” Maybe, this is the time to talk of where it all began. It was in The Elephant House, a café in Edinburgh that the now phenomenally successful author of the Harry Potter novels began her career as a writer. Almost every interested reader knows the story of how the down-and-out single mother sought the warmth of this café to write her first novel.

On the tourist map

As you near The Elephant House, you can see tourists peering into the window or getting themselves photographed outside the building. A notice in the window says: “The Elephant House: birthplace of Harry Potter.” The “Now selling draught beers”, of course, rather spoils the effect.

But then it goes on, “Magic! Is the only way to describe The Elephant House. Experience the same atmosphere that J.K. Rowling did as she mulled over coffee writing her first Harry Potter novel. Experience the friendliness of the staff, our extensive menus and the magical view of Edinburgh Castle. Not to forget…the elephants”.

Jumbo images

Though The Elephant House looks like any other brightly painted café in the capital of Scotland, it is different and more than lives up to its name. It is crammed with images of the gentle creature after which it is named.

In wood, stone, porcelain, and from paintings and photographs, elephants by the hundreds look at you from cupboards, perches, the walls or the floor.

At the entrance, students busily type away assignments in the cosy eatery that functions as an Internet café as well. Cheerful young waitresses bustle around and it is one such teenager who smilingly produces the phone number of the partner of the café when you ask her for details of the Rowling legend.

“Feel free to call him, ma’am,” she says, and hastens away to attend to orders in the mellow interiors, where people are waiting for their tea and sandwiches.

There are quite a few newspaper write-ups of the café’s link with the celebrity author such as the one with the heading, “Rowling’s recipe for success.” “We were looking for a name and a gimmick and hit upon The Elephant House,” says David Tyler, the pleasant partner of the café. “It is my business partner who is responsible for all the elephants here. He grew up in Sarawak and has a passion for them.”

“We like to welcome writers and they seem to like coming here. Crime writer Ian Rankin is a regular and so is Alexander McCall Smith. We keep our doors open for the up-and-coming ones too. Why do writers like us? Perhaps, it’s because we are laidback and provide a very homely and relaxed atmosphere. Business is important. But life is too short — it’s not all about business,” he replies.

Did Rowling have a favourite place to sit and write in? “In all honesty, no; it was just wherever she could find a seat. At that time, we were the biggest and the busiest. Now, there is a bit of competition. It is also only in the last three or four years we have promoted the fact that she began her writing here.

“Rowling hasn’t come here for the last few years. Her last visit was for an interview some years ago,” says the cheerful Tyler.


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