Cambridge Pubs – The Empress

The Empress is tucked away in the backstreets off the far end of Mill Road, and therefore easy to miss.

Empress

Don’t let the understated exterior put you off; it’s a little less restrained inside.

Empress

Anyway, there we were reciting Christmas cracker jokes when suddenly there was a knock at the door…

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Irish stew…

Empress

Built in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and named after her (Empress of India, a title she’d assumed the previous year), as was the Jubilee pub which stood on the corner of the next street along until it closed in 2009, since replaced by housing. The interior of the Empress is U-shaped, with a largely open plan layout and three distinct drinking areas, the largest featuring two dartboards, pool, bar billiards and a jukebox, with another area serving up pizzas. We opted for a packet of green chilli pappadums, paying no attention to the packaging and only discovering the pot of mango chutney dip when we were half way through. Amateurs. On this occasion we didn’t venture outdoors to the beer garden, a space we’ve previously shared with resident pigs and rabbits. Instead we enjoyed excellent pints of Timothy Taylor Landlord (also on: Broadside, London Pride, Purity Pure Gold, and Crafty Beers Carpenter’s Cask) in the smaller main bar, the pub busy with locals and the Christmas-tourists, like us, the pub attracts at this time of year.

Empress

This “friendly, lively, community pub” first made it into the Good Beer Guide in 1992, and was Cambridge CAMRA’s Pub of the Year 2010, run for the past ten years or so by Dave Utting. Now every October the Christmas decorations go up and six weeks later it’s like drinking in a grotto, while this year the exterior was repainted red just just to make sure it’s Christmassy enough. A few years back, when the couple running the pub were expecting a baby, the landlord said he’d paint the pub blue if it was a boy and pink if it was a girl; much to everyone’s relief it was a boy.

Empress WhatPub entry

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Cambridge Pubs – St John’s Chop House

St John's Chop House

I’ve included this particular restaurant, despite acknowledging that it has been known to turn away drinkers in order to accommodate diners, only because it’s located in a former pub of sorts, the Oyster Tavern. Originally four cottages built in 1729 as almshouses for widows of Church of England ministers, remaining so until after the First World War, it only became a pub as recently as 1975 with the opening of the Oyster Tavern, primarily a restaurant but including a bar with a wide selection of real ale; at the time a free house serving the likes of Bass, Batemans, Charles Wells, Greene King, Tolly and the only outlet for Ruddle’s in the city.

St John's Chop House

The Oyster Tavern lasted only a few years until by 1983 the building was home to a wine bar, and over the following years a series of restaurants. Now as the Chop House it’s still primarily a restaurant, although it does serve real ale straight from the cask (plus Schiehallion lager on keg, and bottles of Nethergate Old Growler), and will allow drinkers when it’s not busy.

St John's Chop House

The small bar area has padded leather stools near the fire, leather-backed seating in one corner, and low beamed ceilings. It would make a good pub.

St John's Chop House

On this occasion, eschewing the mulled wine, I had a decent pint of Nethergate Five Rifles in a dimpled mug, and sat at the bar warming by the wood stove, while Baby It’s Cold Outside played. Behind the bar, the obligatory swan skeleton. Eh, what?

St John's Chop House

Cambridge Pubs – The Emperor

Emperor

After a change of hands and another refurbishment, the Emperor reopened in January 2016 as a “Latin tapas bar” with “a Latino atmosphere”, achieved with a menu of Latin tapas and a colourfully tiled bar. Presumably Latinos know to never do anything by halves, as two half pints of keg Freedom IPA came to £6.60; hold the chillies, my eyes are already watering!

Emperor

It wasn’t always so. Formerly the Globe, just over twenty years ago it had six beers on handpump and three on gravity, an Easter Beer Festival offering pints of mild or bitter for £1.60, while £2 could get an Owd Rodger, Robinson’s Old Tom, or Exmoor Beast. It was in the 1997 Good Beer Guide, which described “the living room effect of the carpeted upper split-level”, since removed, “off-set by the cafe-style bare boards and rugs of the lower level”. In 2010 it was taken over by the landlord of the Empress and renamed the Emperor, delighting situationists by revealing a beach beer garden with real sand, ropes, netting, buoys, and real plastic seagulls. Sadly the tides of change washed it away and by 2013 the beach was back under the paving stones. Likewise, the round (yes) pool table, bar billiards and darts still listed on the stencilled window were nowhere to be seen, downstairs at least (I’ve never been up to the function room).

Emperor

Now wearing a coat of the lively latino colour black, it’s a place I’ve passed often without trying out, never quite sure if it was still a pub, or had become a restaurant where I’d be obliged to order food. Well it’s still a pub of sorts, with most people only drinking when I visited, and the trade quite transient, presumably people on their way to or from the Station (the owners believe the clientele is about 30% regulars, with the majority of people attracted by bachata and salsa classes). But after paying £6.60 for two halves (only £6.20 for a pint, mind), and having previously had an excellent pint of Brewsters Hophead for £3 at the Smokeworks just along the road, the price of the Emperor’s new clothes was laid bare.

Sources

Cambridge CAMRA
Evans, J. (1997), Good Beer Guide (CAMRA)

Cambridge Pubs – Smokeworks

£3* for an excellent** pint of Brewsters Hophead, one of two real ales, must be just about the best value for a pint I’ve had in Cambridge this year. Two well-kept, reasonably priced real ales? It’ll never catch on. But if the most recently opened bar in Cambridge can do it…

Smokeworks

Formerly the Great Northern Hotel, named after the railway company that started operating between Cambridge and King’s Cross in 1866. In the 1970s it was a live jazz pub and one of the only live music venues in the city for a period, until it too lost its license in 1982, owing to complaints about noise levels when rock bands started playing there. I only knew it from the early 90s when it was City Limits, one of several identities and name changes in recent years, including Chambers, Bar Moosh, and Sauce, before reverting back to the Great Northern. When that closed, I doubted I’d be drinking there again.

Great Northern

Great Northern prior to reopening as Smokeworks

Now it’s home to the most recent venture from Cambs Cuisine, the second ‘Smokeworks’, which opened in June this year. Unlike their other sites in the city, which have been known to turn away drinkers when the restaurants are full, this one has a separate bar, and the service was friendly and welcoming. The interior design is ‘steampunk’ inspired, meaning craft credentials are high; filament lightbulbs, exposed pipes, the bar covered in burnished aluminium panels held together by round head rivets, steam train wheels on the wall.

Smokeworks

This wheel’s on fire

Depending on your point of view, Cambridge is either lucky or unlucky that BrewDog seems to be chasing its tail when it comes to hunting a suitable bar here, as the site ticked just about every box of BrewDog’s requirements; 2,000 – 4,000 square feet in size (it’s 2,371), ground floor location, prominent frontages with lots of windows, corner site. Regardless, I doubt they’d be serving £3 pints of real ale.

* During “happy hour” (3-7pm Mon-Fri, 12-7pm weekends), otherwise £3.80
** NBSS 4

Sources

Cambridge CAMRA
Mike Petty – Looking Back
Smokeworks

Lantern Tankard

I gratefully received a 10-sided Lantern Tankard from Stockport based Stephensons, apparently a faithful reproduction of the version originally produced by The Crystal Glass Company of Knottingley, West Yorkshire.

Lantern

Half-and-half

I tried to choose a suitable beer to christen the glass, eventually settling on an Anspach & Hobday Porter for being a beer from the past “reinvented for today”, but that hardly highlighted the “visibility afforded by the ten refined panels” of the lantern, so I followed it with an Old Empire for its claims to be an “authentic recreation”. I doubt either beer was contemporary to the lantern tankard, and in any case I’ll leave the history of the glass (and of beers for that matter) to Martyn Cornell, who covered the return of Lantern Tankard in Zythophile.

I have a nostalgic affection for dimpled mugs, but I can’t say I particularly enjoy drinking from them, whereas the lantern tankard feels good in the hand and surprisingly light, although it’s apparently heavier than a dimpled mug. I have cupboards full of glassware, but tend to favour the same few old faithfuls, depending on the beer. Maybe it’s simply a case of last in, first out, but so far the lantern has joined the old faithfuls as a glass I frequently reach for.

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

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.