Cambridge Pubs – The Granta

“Just the place to moor your puntful of glittering people and nip up for a quick Pimms what ho! Very drinkable beer nonetheless” opined a student guide in the 1970s. Back then it was a “formica and plastic wood job, definitely bijou” with a small public bar and a slightly more comfortable smoke room with a small corner bar (I’m guessing one of those bars may have been where the present toilets are on the left as you enter via the main steps, as at that time the pub still had “primitive” outside toilets).

Granta

It probably has the best views of any Cambridge pub, overlooking Sheep’s Green and the more picturesque of the mill ponds, facing the former mill building (now Millworks restaurant) and the former Jolly Millers pub (latterly an Indian restaurant, still closed after recent fire damage). Although the beer range is GK and guests, they’re well-kept and on a previous occasion ales included TT Landlord and a surprisingly good “limited edition”(!) GK beer called Starry Night, the flashing pump clip pre-empting the much-anticipated appearance of Rocking Rudolph. Anyway, there’s always the Pilsner Urquell. It’s a pub I enjoy visiting and generally find a seat even when nearby riverside pubs are packed out – for me, perhaps one of the most underrated pubs in the city.

The present pub is much altered, opened out into a single bar, with the extension perhaps dating from 1975 including a bar cantilevered out over the mill pond. The outdoor terrace at the rear is the site of the former brewery and is a very pleasant place for a drink. In 1991 it had a “spanking new interior, in traditional style”. Now there are plans for another refurbishment, with improvements to the outdoor area including a new free standing awning to replace the existing jumbrellas, a lick of paint and plenty of new signage, thankfully retaining a pictorial inn sign.

Granta

A mid-nineteenth century inn with the adjoining Granta Brewery opening in 1865, since demolished. By 1890 one Herbert Tebbutt and a business partner had taken over the brewery, and in 1897 he dissolved that partnership and formed a new one with H.B. Bailey, transferring the business to the newly acquired Panton Brewery on Panton Street (see Panton Arms). In 1925 the Panton Brewery and its 48 public houses were bought by Greene King and Son, giving them a foothold in Cambridge, and the rest is history.

Sources:

R.J. Flood (1987), Cambridge Breweries

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Cambridge Pubs – Royal Standard

Royal Standard

With a few exceptions, most notably the Mill Road Triangle, that cluster of pubs in the terraced streets off Mill Road featuring the likes of the Cambridge Blue, Devonshire Arms, Kingston Arms and Live & Let Live, most pubs beyond the city centre serve only the local community. “Let’s walk out to the Brook – there’s a chance they’ll have Old Golden Hen on” isn’t something you’re likely to hear, but the Royal Standard is a suburban Cambridge pub worth the effort venturing out to. Its USP is draught Belgian beers, with a regular trio from Duvel Moortgat – Duvel, Liefmans Fruitesse, Vedett Extra White – joined on this occassion by Kasteel Rouge. Now that might not lead to empty seats on the Eurostar to Bruges, but it does exert enough of a pull to draw me from regular haunts to occasionally cross the tracks to an area not over-burdened by good beer.

Royal Standard Cambridge

Boasting six real ales when it reopened a couple of years ago, that number had been sensibly reduced to a couple of offerings, the dependable Ghost Ship joined by Colchester Freak Show on this visit. Despite all that, I plumped for a pint of Schneider Weisse Original and relaxed admiring the brown tiled-effect bar, and the bicycle seats on the wall looking like plague doctor masks.

Royal Standard

A fine Victorian pub built in 1881, when Mill Road was suddenly expanding over the railway bridge and across the open fields to the east, it stands on the corner of Malta Road, a side street which like many off that end of Mill Road had not yet been completed when the pub was built. Seemingly lost for good when it was converted to an Indian Restaurant in 2007, and when that closed in 2011, serving as a charity shop while awaiting its likely fate of redevelopment for housing, within a year of reopening as a pub it was awarded the local CAMRA branch Most Improved City Pub, and seems in good health two years on.

Royal Standard fomer menu

From former Indian and Thai restaurant

I’ve not eaten here, and the vegetarian choice of a penne pasta for around £14 raised my eyebrows, but I’ve heard good reviews of the food, although those who remember its time as an Indian and Thai restaurant may be disappointed the mystery “golden bags” on the menu haven’t survived.

Cambridge Pubs – The Anchor

Anchor

This photo includes the best and the worst of the Anchor. The best, an enviable location with outdoor seating overlooking the Mill Pond. The worst, a pint of lifeless cask for £4.70 a pint.

Anchor

The roped off upstairs bar, unburdened by customers

I used to consider the Anchor the better of the two pubs overlooking this mill pond; prior to the Mill’s refurbishment under new owners City Pub Co in 2012, the beer and food was poor, while the Anchor at least had decent Flowers IPA and Original (yes, really) we’d take out to Laundress Green on sunny days when the terrace is generally packed out. At other times the upstairs bar offered some of the best views from any Cambridge pub if you could bag a seat by the bay windows. In the 1950s the upstairs bar became ‘The Coffee Anchor’, the first licensed coffee bar in Cambridge, dispensing hot coffee from the “flourishing swish of the magic machine”, before the room was reclaimed as a bar in the 70s. It was roped off when I visited, and nowadays seems reserved for diners only. That’s your lot as a drinker there these days.

Anchor

The downstairs bar at least has some booth seating and memorials to a shirtless Syd Barrett, who would no doubt fall foul of acceptable dress codes now.

Anchor

In the 70s the Anchor was described as an “overpriced local… if you come from Queens or Queensland”, the “upstairs bar not always open, putting more burden on the downstairs bar”. How times change.

Cambridge Pubs – CUC Wine Bar

CUC Wine Bar

CUC Wine Bar (main) with the Mill (left, with hanging baskets) and the Anchor (far left)

Just along from the two pubs overlooking the mill pond, the Anchor and the Mill, Cambridge University Centre Wine Bar is another venue added to the list of pubs and bars in Cambridge. It’s almost a year since Cambridge Wine Merchants began operating the ground floor bar of the Cambridge University Centre, previously only open to UC members, but until my first visit this weekend I had no idea they served draught beer, as the sample drinks menu only lists cans and bottles.

CUC Wine Bar

There was one real ale, Elgood’s Cambridge Bitter, and three keg beers – Elgood’s IPA, Becks Vier and Bitburger, the latter of which was decent enough for a couple of pints. I didn’t pay attention to what beers were in the fridge, but their stores have a good selection to draw from, so I presume there are some good picks.

CUC Wine Bar

The building that houses the bar was opened in 1967 to provide more facilities for graduates. The brutalist design features four four-storey pavilions, clad in bolted-on Portland stone slabs with open joins. I can just about live with the natural textures of the Portland stone, but the concrete staircase towers are hideous and the building dominates the view of the weir from Laundress Green, a local nature reserve still grazed by cows, and the unofficial beer garden for the Mill pub.

University Centre

Still, it wasn’t the first or last incongruous piece of architecture in Cambridge, and it could have been worse – the architectural partnership of Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis also designed Blundell Court accommodation block for Sidney Sussex College. At least from inside the University Centre the view of the river and mill pond is rather more pleasant.

CUC Wine Bar

Without more interesting draught beer I’m probably only likely to return for one of the events, which includes live music – I was there to see Luna Falls – but presumably the 10% discount available for CU students and holders of valid UC cards sees them return more often.

CUC Wine Bar

Cambridge Pubs – Six Bells

Six Bells, Cambridge

I assumed the ‘Six Bells’ would have been named after the number of bells in a nearby church, but so far as I can tell the pub predates many of the nearby churches, none of which seem to have had six bells, and churches in the city centre that do have are unlikely to be commemorated by a pub in the backstreets off Mill Road. Perhaps there’s a tenuous link to the church at what was once Barnwell Priory; the site of the Six Bells pub was once part of the Barnwell parish, and the Abbey church apparently once had six bells. Most likely the name isn’t linked to any specific church, and instead was intended to encourage handbell ringers to come to the pub to practice, which must have been a more appealing place than any cold church on a winter evening.

Six Bells

A pub since at least the 1830s, when the publican was one Israel Haggis, a surname that might sound familiar to current co-licensee of the Live and Live pub less than 200 metres away. Hopefully he’ll have better luck than Israel Haggis, who after short spells at other Cambridge pubs found himself a prisoner in the Cambridge County Gaol by 1847.

Six Bells 1912

Six Bells 1912, Cambridge News

The landlord of the pub in 1912 was retired policeman George William Scott, pictured above outside the pub with his daughter Emily. She was there for sixty years, working in the pub and then taking over running the pub in 1949 after her mother died, eventually pulling her last pint there in 1972 before retiring to a bungalow owned by the Licensed Victuallers Association in Norwich – no doubt such provisions are still made for retiring publicans.

Six Bells website

Six Bells website via archive.org

In the early 1990s tenant Mike Paliczka-Telford renovated the pub, which became the first in Cambridge (if not the country?) to “join the internet” when Cambridge Cable and tech firm Cityscape, based in a building opposite, helped provide a free public internet access point in April 1995. Customers could read about the impressive range of whiskies available at the bar. The internet access point is sadly no longer there, and neither are the Cityscape offices or cable company, but the web pages for the Six Bells are thankfully preserved and well worth a look to remind oneself what a pub website looked like over twenty years ago (“try clicking on these blue words” it says pointing to the links!).

Six Bells

Despite that flirtation with technology, it has the feel of an untouched backstreet community pub, competing with the nearby Live and Let Live for the highest density of wood in a Cambridge pub – such that in the event of a biblical flood, this part of Cambridge would probably remain bouyant. I’ve visited the Six Bells quite a few times but seem to pick a quiet afternoon/early evening each time, and get the feeling I leave before it’s at its best, which would probably be one of the frequent evenings live music is hosted. There’s a separate conservatory, pool room and an outdoor patio, the door to which was locked (either that or I didn’t give it enough welly).

Six Bells

On this occasion I had a pint of Betty Stogs from the choice of five cask ales that included GK IPA, Landlord’s Choice (surely another of GK’s IPA clones) and Golden Hen. A man at the bar tried to engage the girl behind the bar in conversation:

This used to be my local. They called me ‘Peanut Man’ because when I gave up smoking I’d get through about three packs of them for every pint of beer I had

The girl didn’t respond. Two students in the corner sniggered and made snide comments. The man finished his drink and went, at least getting a ‘cheers’ from the girl as he left.

It’s a friendly pub, and I doubt the students meant for him to feel dejected, but it was a poignant moment; seeing someone return to a place they once called their local, where they knew people and people knew them and were fond of their foibles, but where they were now anonymous. I reflected how one day I might leave and later revisit pubs I now think of as my locals, and might not recognise anyone, and be just a stranger nobody knows what drink to pour without asking.

Later, I overheard a snippet of the students’ conversation:

It would be sad to be in a famous band and yet nobody knows your name” suggested one, “I mean, everyone knows Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but who can name the others?” he continued, with perhaps not the best example to support his proposition.

Well, I don’t know those students from Charlie and Ronnie, but I will remember Peanut Man.

Sources:

Cambridge CAMRA
Cambridge News
Mike Petty – Looking Back

Cambridge Pubs – The Alex

Alex

There’s literally one man and his dog in the Alex when we arrive on a Sunday afternoon, and by the time we have our drinks even they’ve gone. Just as we’re wishing there was a bit more atmosphere, a group of blokes on a pub crawl burst in and bustle around the bar with loud banter. Be careful what you wish for.

The Alex is a pub that’s had a bit of an identity crisis over the past decade or so, going from untouched ‘old man’s pub’ (as some people describe the kind of pubs I seem to prefer) the Alexandra Arms, to ‘The Alex’ gastropub complete with pale wood, soft furnishings, pastel colours and spotlights. About five years ago it was lovingly restored as a traditional pub, returning the dark wood while improving the overall layout and decor, making features out of small snug areas, putting old photos and maps of the area on the walls, the whole place feeling like it had finally found its personality. Bizarrely, this didn’t last long before new owners decided they preferred its gastropub look, replacing the wonderful dark wood bar with one apparently constructed of wooden pallets and crates, removing the snug, replacing some of the old maps and photos with filing cabinet wallpaper (yes you read that right – wallpaper with a filing cabinet design), bearing a new tagline of “Beers, Brews, Banter”. Unsurprisingly that venture didn’t last long either.

Alex

It’s now in the care of landlords that know a thing or two about running traditional pubs, being licensees of the Hopbine and Portland Arms. They haven’t reversed all of the gastropub refurbishments but the pub has improved, and hosts the excellent ‘Alexfest’, the one annual live music event some neighbours can’t even bring themselves to tolerate, in the smart outdoor patio with covered seating/stage area. Further improvements are planned – there’s currently an application to change the layout of the premises, adding a garden room and an external bar to the beer garden area, and increasing the size of the kitchen.

I won’t repeat the history of the Alexandra Arms I previously wrote (the pub dates from c.1870; the slightly earlier Prince of Wales pub nearby on the corner of Norfolk Street closed by 1963; as Alexandra the princess outlived her older husband Edward, so the Alexandra Arms pub outlived the Prince of Wales, etc) but as then, it’s still worth a visit – the Oakham Inferno was good – as the blokes on the pub crawl would no doubt have loudly agreed.

Cambridge Pubs – Salisbury Arms

Salisbury Arms

Cambridge News 1976

The Salisbury Hotel, first licensed in 1886, closed in 1973 with owners Whitbread securing planning permission to convert it to three separate dwellings. When the pub and its license were put up for sale the following year, it was bought for £22,000 by CAMRA Investments, a sister organisation to the campaign itself, whose objective was to acquire and run a chain of traditional pubs serving traditional beer. Prior to reopening in 1976 only three breweries provided real ale in Cambridge, but this increased to ten under its new ownership, including the likes of Sam Smiths and Batemans, 180 gallons from each being served in the first few days, no doubt helped by the first 1,000 pints being free (for comparison the Pint Shop recently offered 50 free pints at their reopening, although to be fair costs were probably similar), alongside Adnams, Bass, Charles Wells, Elgood’s, Greene King, Hannan, Marston’s and Ruddles, and “possibly the largest selection in the country of bottle-conditioned English and Belgian beers”.

Salisbury advert 1970s

Fast forward forty years and the Salisbury Arms, under present owners Charles Wells, had only two of four pumps in action when visited, giving a choice of Directors or Young’s Bitter, although at least among the eight keg usual suspects was Young’s London Stout, a decent drink and my default choice in most Wells pubs. The Directors was good enough for a pint. And they say CAMRA’s battle has been won.

Salisbury Arms

‘Real ale men’ might have found their haven back then, but a student guide at the time offered this review of the Salisbury:

“CAMRA pub, which means exquisite beer, and cohorts of bearded, pot-bellied beer bores. Don’t try to rip off the glasses. CAMRA know social parasites when they see them”

Salisbury Arms

Two years on from the most recent refurb, the interior is beginning to look more naturally worn rather than intentionally distressed. The high-ceiling of the lounge, achieved by the removal of a complete floor of the former hotel, and lower floor level gives the pub a spacious feel, the large room opened out to the former public bar on the low-ceilinged upper level, apparently once only accessible by going outside the building and back inside through another door almost side by side. A small side room leads to an outdoor courtyard where a wonderful old mirror sits exposed to the elements.

Salisbury Arms

Thankfully, the beer festival posters and ring the bull have survived successive refurbishments. Surprisingly, there’s nothing to commemorate the Salisbury being the place where in 1908 Cambridge City FC was born

Salisbury Arms

The most recent refurbishment branded it as one of Charles Wells ‘Pizza Pots & Pints’ concepts based around wood-fired pizzas, one-pot meals (aka mac n cheese) and “an excellent range of local beers”, which stretches the definition of local beyond CAMRAs ‘Locale’ definition, the Bedford brewer of Young’s Bitter and Directors located over 30 miles away by “the shortest driving distance”. Then manager Sam Adams (yes) has since moved to roll out the brand at Peterborough’s Queen’s Head. Meanwhile, after opening a fourth Pizza Pots & Pints in Hitchin’s Radcliffe Arms, Charles Wells are continuing to expand the brand after acquiring another site in Cambridge… sometime early next year (tbc), the Carpenters Arms on Victoria Road will see its current menu of wood-fired pizzas replaced with a new menu of wood-fired pizzas. Progress is unstoppable.