Cambridge Pubs – The Waterman (revisited)

Waterman

When I first visited the Waterman in January, I appreciated the unfussy, lived-in charm of the place, and wished I hadn’t waited so long to finally go for a drink there. It was the kind of pub I hoped I’d discover as I visited every pub in Cambridge this year, a simple boozer with a good atmosphere and, especially welcome on a cold January evening, an open fire. So it was a bit of a bombshell when the barman told me it was about to close, having been taken over by City Pub Co East. I had mixed feelings about that; on the one hand, they’ve done a fine job of refurbishing/upgrading the pubs they’ve been hoovering up at an increasing rate (the Mill in 2012, the former Bun Shop/Jolly Scholar, now the Brew House, in 2013, and so far this year the former White Hart, latterly the Backstreet Bistro, now the Petersfield, along with the Waterman, and the Red Lion in Histon, not to mention opening the Old Bicycle Shop and the Punt Yard last year in premises which hadn’t previously been pubs), some of which now rank amongst the best pubs in Cambridge and have a much improved choice of beer. On the other hand, City Pub Co is acquiring these pubs to build up a portfolio which will provide an attractive return for investors; from late 2020 they will consider an exit strategy which could include a trade sale, something Clive Watson and David Bruce, part of the management team, have previous experience of, selling former venture Capital Pub Company to Greene King for £93m (“Greene King is an excellent cultural fit and will be a good home for both the business and our staff”, said Clive Watson at the time). I think it’s fair to express concern at that, without taking anything away from the pubs as they are today, and the refurbished Waterman turns out to be another good addition.

Waterman

Almost six months after closing, the Waterman reopens under the new ownership tomorrow. I happened to be there last night because a friend had booked it for a birthday party, no doubt an opportunity for the business to ‘soft launch’ and stress-test the bar and kitchen. Disclosure – this being a private party, the food was free, but I will say the Padrón peppers (one of the best snacks to accompany a beer, in my humble opinion) and massive veggie burger (sweetcorn fritter style) were top nosh. The full beer range wasn’t on, but the likes of Cloudwater, Beavertown and Thornbridge for less than £6 a pint makes a mockery of nearby pub the Old Spring charging £6 for a pint of Punk IPA. The two other pubs nearby might also be bracing themselves; the Portland Arms opposite has picked an unfortunate time to give itself a refurb, closing from August 7th to the 22nd, giving the Waterman the opportunity to pull away and gain open water.

Waterman

As for the refurbishment, it’s similar to the Petersfield, one of its many sister pubs, with soft furnishings, art covering all available wall space, and a high density of wood – the bar is about the size of a cross section of giant redwood, and sticks its chest out into the room such that the room feels smaller than it did prior to the refurbishment. At the rear, the outdoor paved area has been extended, and the outbuildings will eventually get used for private functions, while there’s a row of picnic benches at the front for those who prefer a view of the Mitcham’s Corner gyratory system (I’m relieved to see the logo for the defunct Star Brewery, former owners of the pub, has been preserved on the front gable). Good to see the Waterman get a new lease of life, I only hope it has the same appeal beyond 2020…

Cambridge Pubs – Revolution

Revolution

Formerly the Rat & Parrot, which opened in December 1999 in what had been the Cambridge Building Society, in 2007 it was refurbished and reopened as Revolution bar. We’d been waiting for a suitably sunny day to visit and enjoy the roof terrace, refurbished last October and sensibly fitted with a retractable roof, and it turns out it’s a really nice space to enjoy a drink, even if the beer list is unexciting, and one of the few roof terraces for drinking in Cambridge; Novi and the River Bar/Varsity Hotel (no draught beer so not on list) are the only others I can think of.

It was 2-for-1 on cocktails when we arrived, so after some strawberry flavoured alcoholic drink, a spritz or a Woo Woo or something, that I knocked back like it was beer, I did the right thing and ordered an actual beer. Ordering a beer (table service) was, not for the first time (I’m looking at you, Architect), reminiscent of Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch:

Me: Can I have a pint of Honkers Ale please?
She: I’m afraid we’ve sold out of that.
Me: No problem, I’ll have a Budvar instead then.
She: Erm, it’s not tasting very nice at the moment. Can I recommend a bottle of Camden Pale; a lot of people really like that.
Me: Sure, I’ll have a bottle of that.
Disappears for a moment to retrieve bottle from downstairs bar
She: It turns out we don’t have any Camden Pale left…

Thankfully, there was at least one beer that hadn’t been eaten by the cat, and I ended up with a pint of Amstel, along with some halloumi fries, better described as halloumi chips, a top-notch bar snack.

Revoultion

I noted I could’ve combined the pleasures of beer and cocktails and had a boilermaker; at least one other Cambridge bar, Smokeworks, has these on the menu – is this the start of a trend?

The downstairs bar didn’t have quite the same appeal as the roof terrace, although it did have Air Con set to ‘walk-in fridge’ level, and the clubroom only “comes alive” at night apparently, although there was piped music on the terrace at almost club volume, with the likes of Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Alicia Keys on repeat. Still, it was a friendly place, and I’d probably visit the roof terrace more often if they replaced one of the handful of lagers with something a bit more exciting (“Real Ale is NOT Available” says whatpub – you have been warned!)

Revolution

Pubs in St Ives, Cornwall

St Ives Boilers

We’ve spent a week in St Ives most summers the past 15 years, and over the last few years it’s become more interesting for beer drinkers, with the Hub Bar, Rum and Crab Shack, and Bird and Beer catering for the less traditional tastes, and the Spoons and Pilchard Press micro pub offering perhaps the best selections of real ales from local breweries. We’ve visited every open pub and bar, but each year have also located a few more of the closed pubs, until we’ve reached a point we’d have to live locally and conduct more intensive research to find any more. So here’s a round up of the pubs of St Ives, past and present.

Beer & Bird

Beer and Bird

The most recent addition to the beer scene in St Ives, next door to the Castle Inn, Beer and Bird is a restaurant and bar run by the owners of Johns off license further along Fore Street, and only opened a couple of months ago.

Beer and Bird

It has easily the most extensive bottle and can list of any of the St Ives pubs, but also a decent selection of draught, with three cask and five keg when visited – we had good pints of Firebrand Equinot and Black Flag Simcoe Amarillo Pale.

Beer and Bird

Castle Inn

Castle Inn
The Castle Inn is our favourite of the traditional pubs in St Ives and probably the one most often in the Good Beer Guide. Dimly lit, with a low ceiling, black beams, slate floor, barrels and maritime items dotted about, and tables with cast iron stands. On the most recent visit, beers were Skinner’s GTA, Sharp’s Own, Greene King Abbot Ale, and Brains SA on cask, with another from Brains served by gravity.

Castle Inn

While waiting at the bar, I observed an American order two halves of Fosters then leave a tip, a generous one judging by the pleasantly surprised look on the barman’s face. Three German women, seeing this exchange, ordered cream teas and then they too left a tip on the bar. I leaned forward to see what riches the barman had been gifted this time. Ten pence.

Golden Lion

Golden Lion
The Golden Lion is an 18th century pub, rebuilt c.1899. Old photos show the penthouse projecting from the front of the previous building, there for the benefit of fish-hawkers.

Golden Lion penthouse

In a directory for 1823, one Samuel May is listed at the Golden Lion. By 1830 he was at the Union Inn and by 1844 at the Castle Inn where he remained until at least 1856. In 1881 a John Reynolds was at the Golden Lion – a couple of years later he too had made the move along Fore Street to the Castle.

These days it’s a traditional two-bar pub, the front bar the much busier of the two, with a small but well kept courtyard garden at the rear. Skinner’s Betty Stogs and Wells Bombardier Gold seem to be regular, with Bath Gem and Young’s Special on guest.

Hain Line

Hain Line

The Hain Line is the first Wetherspoon pub in St Ives, opening in 2012 in what was formerly the location of Isobar (previously Elbow Room), a cocktail bar and club. Good selection from local breweries (Tintagel, Cornish Crown etc) alongside the obvious Spoons regulars. Small secluded courtyard at the back.

Hain Line

Hub

Hub Bar

The Hub bar has become the place we tend to visit first and most often for drinks in St Ives, and we’ve had some some of the best beers here from breweries like Black Flag and Wild Beer Co. On the most recent visit though, every beer was from Harbour Brewery, with the exception of one cask from St Austell’s small batch range. Now, we like Harbour’s beers, and the Hub’s house beers have always been brewed by Harbour, but it would be a shame if the choice was limited to only their beers (this may have been a one-off). The upstairs balcony offers some of the best views over the harbour, and the large portions of food (good veggie burgers and fries) have left us satisfyingly overfilled on each occasion.

Johns Wine & Spirits Specialists (off license)

Johns

Always a decent place for Cornish beer, over the past few years it has increased its range and embraced craft beers from all over the world. Still, most interesting are the range of cans from Cornwall’s more progressive breweries like Black Flag and Verdant.

Kettle N Wink

Kettle n Wink Bar

The Kettle N Wink is the bar of the Western Hotel, a building listed as C18-19, formerly the White Horse before becoming a St Austell Brewery hotel in the mid-19th century. St Austell brewery own another hotel in St Ives, the nearby Queen’s Head, but the Kettle & Wink feels more like a pub than a hotel bar, separated as it is from the main hotel, below street level. It has live music every night, and seems to always have Tribute and Proper Job plus another guest.

Kettle n Wink

Lifeboat Inn

Lifeboat Inn
The Lifeboat Inn is the largest of the pubs, and the one most geared towards serving food to families. Originally a fish cellar and salt house, it was converted into the Harbour Sale Auction Room in 1883 eventually becoming a pub when the lease was bought by St Austell Brewery in 1963. It was extended into an adjoining restaurant in 1998, a year after the brewery bought the freehold. Generally very busy, especially on Sunday lunchtimes or when sport is being shown on the big screens. Beers on were Tribute, Trelawny and HSD, with Korev on keg. Some of the tables at the front offer good views over the harbour, but failing that there are now a couple of seats outside the front door, although you have to have your beer in plastic to sit there.

Pilchard Press Alehouse

Pilchard Press

Opened in June last year, in what used to be a pilchard press but more recently was converted to office space. On opening it could claim to be Cornwall’s only micro-pub, but will have to settle for being Cornwall’s first micro-pub after others opened in Redruth and Newquay shortly after. It’s not easy to find – down a narrow alley renamed Alehouse Yard just along from the Lifeboat – and there’s not much room to sit, so it pays to get there early.

Pilchard Press

Initially with limited opening hours, it’s since extended them, but still sometimes closes “when the beer runs out” on Sundays. We visited on a Friday, a day after six new beers had been put on, but were disappointed the Black Flag Fang, one of my favourite beers, and the Harbour IPA had already run out. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the Cornish Crown Helter Skelter, and St Ives XPA and Harbourside, served from the cask on a stillage consisting of an old wooden beam running behind the length of the bar.

Queens Head

Queens
A granite faced, listed building, the Queen’s Head Hotel, or ‘Queens’ as it now seems to be named, has been owned by St Austell Brewery since 1966. It recently seems to have changed its name from the Queen’s Head Hotel to ‘Queens’, discarding the pictorial inn sign for something more bland, and claims to be “St Ives’s only gastropub”. I’ve not eaten here, so couldn’t comment on the food, but for a drinker this could be the dullest pub to spend time in as the bar is food oriented and lacks character, even if the beers, Tribute and HSD, are okay.

Rum & Crab Shack

Rum and Crab Shack

The Rum & Crab Shack opened in March 2013 above a shop that used to be the Copper Kettle cafe and Wimpy bar; the menu sign was salvaged and hangs in the gents, showing Wimpy’s classic Cornish dishes such as Shanty Salad and Cheese-egg Bender.

Rum and Crab Shack Wimpy

Most of the L-shaped room is a restaurant, but the bar area is a nice enough place, with good views and a small selection of cask and keg, on this occasion a decent Cornish Crown Helter Skelter and a Dortmunder Union pils. Unfortunately I was caught out by the Portland Craft Beer Co. American Ale, an insipid beer that turns out not to be brewed in Portland USA by an American brewery, but in Manchester by Molson Coors. Fortunately, there are some good cans in the fridge including Verdant and Cloudwater.

Sloop Inn

Sloop Inn
The Sloop Inn claims to be one of Cornwall’s oldest inns, dating from 1312, although I’ve yet to come across the source for that date, and the present building is listed as C17-18, with a date stone of 1645 incorporated into a late 19th century element of the building. Inside can be quite atmospheric on the rare occasions it’s not busy, with its low beamed ceiling and slate floor, always quite dark inside, with only small windows giving views out to the harbour. Despite the unexciting range of drinks – most of the bar given over to cider with Doom Bar and 2 guests, Ghost Ship and Dartmoor Jail Ale, the only real ales – it’s still the best place for sitting outside at the front and watching the world go by (where the ‘world’ mostly consists of a stream of cars inching their way along the harbour front, the narrow street packed with unsuspecting holidaymakers presenting pasties and ice creams to sustained attacks from the incessant Herring Gulls).

St Ives Brewery Cafe

St Ives brewery cafe

Opened in March 2016, the new home of the St Ives brewery has a cafe with panoramic views over St Ives Bay, and a brewery gift shop. It’s at the top of the long, steep hill that leads from the “1000 space” car park down to the seafront. No draught beer, but bottles can be enjoyed on the terrace area overlooking the town.

Three Ferrets

Three Ferrets
The Three Ferrets, formerly the ‘Grub Pub’, is often referred to as the local’s pub in St Ives, a rough & ready drinkers pub, but that’s its unique selling point. If visitors are looking for somewhere to take the family for a meal and some local beer, this isn’t the pub – it doesn’t serve food, although you can bring your own in, and it’s not most people’s idea of a family friendly pub, but also tellingly it’s the only one of the pubs where I’ve not seen Cornish beer served; for the past few years that I’ve made notes, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Fuller’s London Pride have been the two real ales.

Three Ferrets

We popped in at 6pm for a pint of TT Landlord, and sat on the upholstered bench seating around the edge, watching some of the already well oiled locals totter around the one-room bar in circuits, one showing off the flashing soles of her light-up trainers to anyone whose attention she could get, a chap attempting to play pool but missing sitters, another enthusiastically greeting his friends with the traditional Cornish welcome “Alright my lover”.

Union Inn

Union Inn
The Union Inn is listed as mid C19, while the street directories show a succession of members of the Johns family from at least 1831-1873 – John Johns, followed by Joseph Johns and finally Mrs. Mary Johns. Regular live music, and there are plenty of old photos of St Ives on the walls. Beer was Doom Bar and Betty Stogs.

St Ives Museum

The St Ives Museum at Wheal Dream has some photos of the old pubs, and a display case with bottles of Newquay Steam Beer.

Closed pubs:

A couple of pubs have closed in St Ives over the past few years. The Penbeagle Croft has been converted back into a house and there is a planning application to turn the Sheaf of Wheat into flats. Going further back, there is a long list of pubs and hotels that have existed in St Ives – West Penwith Resources has the most comprehensive list; I’ve only found mention of one former St Ives pub that isn’t on that list, the Old Bear Tavern:

At St Ives in October 1753, after John Stephens had been installed as mayor, an entertainment and handsome dinner were given at the Old Bear Tavern (Douch, 1966).

On the Wharf, The Sloop Inn was previously flanked by two other pubs – The Globe to the left and the White Hart to the right.

Globe

Globe

The former Globe was still a Wimpy until as recently as 15 years ago, but is now Pels café/takeaway. At the front is Doble’s Wall, erected in late C18 by Mr. Doble, then licensee of the Globe to protect the property from the sea, as it is partly below ground level. A watercolour by James Abbott Whistler, ‘Penthouse of the Public House, St Ives, Cornwall‘ c.1883/4 shows men on the wall outside the inn. It is still there, although a gap has been cut in it.

White Hart

White Hart

The White Hart Hotel, on the other side of the Sloop, existed into the early 20th century, and although the building, like the Globe, has been much altered, some of the ornate facade still remains.

Ship Aground

Ship Aground

Further along the Wharf, the Ship Aground, also known by the wonderful name ‘Sloop on the Firesands’, may have been one of the few pubs to refer to wrecking, “this desperate trade which rarely found any commemoration on inn-signs”, and a name which was “happily succeeded by that of the Lifeboat” in St Ives (Douch, 1966). The ground floor of the former pub is now the United Fishermens Co-operative Society shop, while the upper three storeys have been converted into a holiday cottage. We looked inside the shop but couldn’t see any evidence of its former life as an inn, although apparently an old fireplace and old beams still exist, hidden by chipboard.

Nearby, is a place Matthews (1892) suggests was a “ruinous tenement which has the reputation of being the oldest house in St Ives”, Carn Glaze, which used to be an inn. It apparently fell down at the end of the 19th century, but a house of that name still exists at Carnglaze Place, although it doesn’t look particularly old, so may be a new building on the site, rather than the old house rebuilt.

Labour in Vain

Until recently this former inn, now split into two properties, of which the present Labour in Vain is one, had a reproduction of its inn sign outside. This showed “a white woman with a black boy in a bath, attempting to scrub him white” (Coal, 1957; cited in Douch, 1966). Presumably this has been removed so as to not cause offence. The property, now holiday accommodation, can be found on Victoria Place, in the maze of back streets just up from the Wharf.

Victory

Victory

Apparently also known as the fighting Victory, “from the fights which frequently occurred both inside the house and in the street”. It is now holiday accommodation, and has a plaque of a ship on the wall; its inn sign showed “a man-of-war under sail on one side and at anchor on the other” (Couch, 1966).

Britannia Inn

Britannia Inn

Possibly the former Britannia Inn

Matthews (1892) says that “nearly opposite” John Knill’s House was the Britannia Inn, “now two dwelling-houses” This could refer to several properties, but numbers 57 and 59 look most likely, and 59 has a deep cellar visible from the street.

Royal Exchange

On Fore Street “on the corner of Court Cocking”, although it’s not clear which corner building was previously the beer house of this name. “Its landlord was fined in January 1874 for selling tobacco without a license” (Douch, 1966).

George and Dragon

George and Dragon / Golden Lion

Then and now – George and Dragon with Golden Lion in background

The George and Dragon, a 15th-century inn, formerly stood on the west side of the Market Place, facing the church tower, but was demolished in 1887 to make way for new shops. It seems it was a respectable place:

Its patrons (all respectable men with no nonsense about them) often asserted that the George was not a drinking house, and never would be a drinking house… the George and Dragon inn was an institution little inferior, in the public estimation, to the parish church, or the justice-room over the Market House.

The inn is associated with a grizzly story. In 1449 during the Catholic Rebellion, John Payne, the mayor of St Ives, was captain of the rebel army. After defeat, he retreated to St Ives, which was soon visited by one of the King’s representatives, who was entertained by the mayor at the George and Dragon (although Matthews has it as “the old house which was afterwards called the George and Dragon inn”).

The story runs that a little before dinner Sir Anthony Kingston took the Mayor aside and whispered to him in the ear that an execution must be done that day in the Town, and therefore required him that a pair of gallows should be made and erected against the time the dinner should end. The Mayor was diligent to fulfil this command, and no sooner was dinner ended than he demanded of the Mayor whether the work was finished. The Mayor answered that all was ready. “I pray you,” said the Provost, “bring me to the place.” The Mayor therewith took him friendly, and beholding the gallows he asked the Mayor whether he thought them to be strong enough. “Yes,” said the Mayor, “doubtless they are.” “Well,” said the Provost, “get up speedily, for they are prepared for you.” “I hope,” answered the Mayor, “you mean not as you speak.” “In faith,” said the Provost,“ there is no remedy, for you have been a busy rebel.” So presently the Mayor was hung up.

John Payne
In 1949 on the 400th anniversary, a bronze memorial plaque was fixed to the external wall of the the Sacred Heart and St Ia church on Tregenna Hill.

Red Lion

Also facing the Market Place was the Red Lion on the corner of St Andrew’s Street, which burned down at the end of the 19th century and is now the site of a memorial garden opposite the church. There were two other pubs on St Andrew’s Street – the Star and the Blue Bell.

Star

Star

The Star was just down from the Red Lion on St Andrew’s Street. It’s possible the first building on that side of the road was the former Star, at least it appears similar to the pub on an old photograph; if not, the present building must have adjoined the Star.

Blue Bell

Blue Bell

Matthews (1892) describes the building of the former Blue Bell: “The first-floor projects somewhat over the room beneath, and is upheld, on the side fronting to the street, by two slender stone pillars with circular mouldings round the capitals”. This has to be the building further along St Andrew’s Street shown in the photo above. A house two doors down is called Bluebell, so it’s possible that was the extent of the building.

Duke of York

Duke of York

The Duke of York was on “Fore Street (High Street), later Lloyd’s Bank” according to west-penwith.org.uk. Presumably this refers to the building which was still Lloyds until recently, but has closed and remains empty.

Sheaf of Wheat

Sheaf of Wheat

A former St Austell Pub on North Terrace that has been boarded up since closing early in 2015. A planning application to convert it to flats was posted in the window last year, but this year the building still remains empty and untouched, and looking ever shabbier. Whatpub described it as a “Welcoming 2-bar pub on the edge of the town centre, popular with locals and tourists alike, the roomy public bar features a pool table and TV screen, the tastefully refurbished lounge bar/restaurant retains its access to a small beer garden”. There’s really no chance this will ever be a pub again.

Sheaf of Wheat

Croft

A former freehouse further out of town, according to Whatpub, it was a “large well-appointed pub converted from a guest house, itself converted from two cottages by a pools winner.” Also known as the Penbeagle Croft, as it was apparently built on the site of a crofter’s property on Penbeagle Hill. It closed a couple of years ago and has been converted back into residential accommodation.

Mr Peggotty’s

Peggotty's

A club from the 60s, tucked away near the Island just off Porthmeor beach, it closed in 2008 and the building has now been converted into holiday flats with no visible clues as to its former life. Beer Talk remembers going to Pegg’s in the 80s and 90s, but not anything about the beer selection, which is probably a blessing.

Shire Horse Inn

Another club Beer Talk visited to see live bands, not a bar I know anything about but sounds like the kind of place I would have visited had I been to St Ives during the rave years. On the outskirts of St Ives, it was demolished c.2015, but there’s an amusing article about it in fermented news.com.

Sources:

Badcock, W. (1896) Historical sketch of St. Ives & district
Douch, H. L. (1966) Old Cornish Inns
Matthews, J.H. (1892) A history of the parishes of St. Ives, Lelant, Towednack and Zennor in the county of Cornwall

Boak and Bailey
Patrick Carroll’s History of the Queen’s Hotel
CSUS Report, 2005
West Penwith Resources

10 Years Ago Today – Before The Smoking Ban

I took this short video clip on June 30th 2007, in the pub I lived a few doors down from, the Chequers in the South Cambridgeshire village of Orwell. It shows one of the locals and the publican at the time, smoking inside the pub on the last day before the smoking ban in England came into force, making it illegal to smoke in all enclosed work places.

The Chequers, licensed since 1815 and the last of several pubs in the village, survived the smoking ban. In 2012 the pub was put up for sale by Punch Taverns for £500k, an asking price suited to its current status as a highly-rated gastro pub, and is now in new hands. I moved back into Cambridge shortly after this video was taken, and haven’t yet been back to the village, but have often wondered what effect the ban had on Pete, the elderly local in the video; whether he continued drinking there, standing outside when he wanted a smoke, or if he started drinking from home where he could choose whether to smoke indoors. Perhaps he even gave up smoking, though that seems least likely, and in any case I doubt much thought was given to the effect on people like Pete, as the primary aim of the legislation was angled as protecting employees from second-hand smoke. In that regard, it seems inevitable beer gardens will be next in line for a ban, so if the likes of Pete did continue drinking in pubs, no doubt their enjoyment of a cigarette outside will soon be curtailed. So, while I appreciate ten years of not smelling of smoke after a visit to the pub, I doubt it’s something Pete would celebrate.

Update:

Heritage Pubs – Pot Kiln, Frilsham

Pot Kiln, Frilsham

We passed through West Berkshire and stopped off at the Pot Kiln, a pub with an historic pub interior of regional importance. The pub and much of the village were built from the tiles and red and grey “grizzle” bricks made at the Pot Kiln, which operated until 1939. The kiln was located at the top end of what is now the car park, and closed down as part of the blackout regulations, over fears it would act as a beacon for enemy bombers. Parts of the building are mid-16th century, with the remains of an older building under the beer garden, although it has probably only been a pub since the late 1800s.

Pot Kiln, Frilsham

In 1995 the West Berkshire Brewery started brewing in a 5-barrel plant in a converted building at the rear of the pub, although the brewery has since expanded and moved to a site just down the road in Yattendon. The pub serves 4 cask ales from the brewery, and a craft keg from the brewery’s “Renegade” offshoot.

Pot Kiln

Good Beer Guide 1997

As recently as twenty years ago, the pub apparently still retained four small bars, since altered and opened out, with a food offering that only extended to hot filled rolls a couple of days a week.

Pot Kiln, Frilsham

Despite now being a gastro pub, with the kitchen run by TV chef Mike Robinson, the pub somehow retains the feel of an old beerhouse, the bar facing the entrance being the old tap room.

The original pub room is reputed to be the one with the bare wood floor at the rear right, which was in use until 2007 but is now used for storage by the current food-oriented owners. They removed the wall that created a tiny tap room as you enter and the present public bar on the right. Tap room area has a red and black quarry-tiled floor, old counter and dado panelling. The public bar area has a counter possibly 30 or so years old, dado panelling of similar age, brick fireplace of similar age, some old low basic benches.

Although only a stones throw from the M4, the beer garden offers a peaceful place to watch Red Kites soaring over the surrounding fields and woodland, on the side of the fabulously named Valley of the Pang. There’s probably no finer place to enjoy a Maggs’ Magnificent Mild, although Mr Swift’s Pale Ale seemed to be the locals’ preferred tipple, and benefitted from being cooler, not being given a chance to warm in the pipes on a day when temperatures were in the mid-20s. The locals here could easily be discerned from the visiting walkers and cyclists, as they invariably arrived in obligatory Land Rovers accompanied by obligatory Labrador Retrievers, and in this privileged setting, just down the road from the family home of the Duchess of Cambridge, one stood complaining what was most wrong with this country were people on benefits who did nothing. It was enough to make one choke on one’s muntjac ragu (well, vegetarian pesto and goat cheese pinwheel in our case)

Pot Kiln, Frilsham

However, it was more than made up for by the friendliness of the bar staff, and couldn’t spoil the pleasure of drinking the Brick Kiln Bitter, brewed especially for the pub, in the grounds of a pub ranked sixth in the UK’s top 10 pubs by The Sunday Times last year and named the pub with the prettiest walks in Britain by no less an authority than the Daily Mail. Plans have been approved to replace the dining room extension, renovate and extend the kitchen, convert “dilapidated” outbuildings into guest accommodation, and renovate an adjacent cottage, and although these will no doubt be sympathetic to its surroundings, it’s probably a pub to visit now before it moves further from its origins as a kiln-workers’ beer house, and more towards its aspirations as a “country pub and game restaurant” with guest accommodation.

Sources:
Potkiln.org
CAMRA Pub Heritage
West Berkshire Council

Cambridge Pubs – Hot Numbers

Hot Numbers

Another venue just got added to the list of places to get a beer in Cambridge. Hot Numbers, an independent coffeeshop and roastery on Trumpington Street, became the latest yesterday evening when they cracked into their first keg, serving De Molen Hop & Liefde at a ‘happy hour’ price of £2.50 a half.

Hot Numbers

Drinks are ordered at the counter and brought to your table; there are a couple of tables outside at the front, and a courtyard at the back. As they only have half pint glasses, frequent trips to the counter were made to keep topped up on this great session beer, sweet caramel malt mingling with subtly spicy citrus hops – hopefully they’ll have De Molen permanently because I think the Pint Shop is the only other place in Cambridge serving their beer with any regularity.

Hot Numbers

Formerly Martin’s Coffee House, where in the booth seating such culinary delights as spaghetti in butter could be enjoyed, it closed in 2013 after a long-running dispute over the lease with Cambridge University. The following year it reopened as Hot Numbers’ second site; perhaps the original site on Gwydir Street will soon start serving keg beer to add to its current selection of bottles and cans…

Cambridge Pubs – Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

Cambridge Union beer garden

The other day we were counting how many Cambridge pubs have beer gardens with real grass, and could only come up with a handful of them*. There’s one we forgot, and it’s hidden away behind the Round Church, down an alley off Bridge Street, right in the historic centre – the beer garden to Cambridge Union’s 1815 Bar. This was a private members’ bar until 2015 when it was granted permission to open to the public, so it’s no wonder we’d overlooked it.

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

The bar is named after the founding year of the Cambridge Union, although the Victorian Gothic building it occupies wasn’t opened until 1866, and the bar is in an additional wing added two decades later in 1886. It’s a large room with wooden floors, a high ceiling with chandeliers and fairy lights, full length windows, and furnished with leather chairs and Chesterfield sofas. The walls are lined with signed photographs of famous guests; while many pubs claim tenuous links to highwaymen and embattled kings, the Union Bar has probably served some of the most famous names of the past century, no doubt witnessing late night debauchery from the likes of Stephen Hawking, ‘top’ Buzz Aldrin, and the Dalai Lama. Well, Stephen Fry at least.

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

It probably also has one of the cheapest pints of real ale in Cambridge, not counting the Wetherspoon’s and various Greene King IPA and Doom Bar promotions, with Marston’s 61 Deep Pale Ale at £2.50 a pint. We also had the Pilsner Urquell at a less reasonable £8.50 for a pint and a half (£3 for the half!).

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

There’s a surprisingly decent range of cans and bottles too.

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

It has the kind of opening hours that would keep retiredmartin suitably entertained, sometimes closing “in periods of low demand and private functions/parties, specifically during exam term”, while it “may close at 2am rather than 1am Thursday-Saturday in periods of high demand”, making it one of the classier late night drinking venues. It’s the rare ‘real-grass’ beer garden that’s the main draw for us though, well worth a visit during this equally rare prolonged spell of weather good enough to enjoy it.

* Forthcoming post will round up Cambridge’s real-grass beer gardens