Cambridge Pubs in the Good Beer Guide – Part 2: 1980-1984

Over a third of all the pubs that featured in the Good Beer Guide during the 1980s have since closed, and the decade began with two new entries, one of which hasn’t survived.

1980

Hat and Feathers: A “friendly, interesting”, “three-bar pub popular with students”, the Hat and Feathers made four consecutive appearances in the guide then dropped out. I fondly remember this pub as I used to live in the block of flats behind it, for which it was a very convenient local. The walls of one of the rooms had old photos of the pub, there was a games room, and a large, secluded outdoor seating area down one side. It always seemed busy, especially with the aforementioned students, but was closed by Punch Taverns in 2009 and converted to housing.

Hat and Feathers

Maypole: A “friendly, recently redecorated” pub making its first appearance in the guide in 1980, over the next there decades it would make only one further appearance, hard to believe for a pub now regarded as one of the best pubs in the city; in the hands of the Castiglione family since 1982, they went from tenants to owners in 2009 and it’s been in every guide since 2011.

Meanwhile, “large, lively village pub” the Grapevine in Comberton made it into the guide serving Adnams Bitter and GK IPA; it closed in 2003 leaving the Three Horseshoes as the only remaining pub in a village which had at least four a century before.

1981

Another two new entries this year.

Coach and Horses: Trumpington: An 18th century “fine coaching inn”, with timber frames and stone fireplaces. At that time serving Adnams Bitter, Greene King IPA and Abbot, and Tolly Cobbold Original, it’s now a Wok ‘n’ Grill restaurant where you can at least still get pints with your meal, albeit John Smiths and Carlsberg.

Jolly Waterman: A “pleasant local’s pub” making its sole appearance in the guide; although if my visits to the recently refurbished Waterman are anything to go by, it surely won’t be long before it’s back in.

1982

A handful of new entries, of which only one would go on to have more than two subsequent appearances.

Fort St. George in England: The “popular, picturesque riverside pub” made its first appearance in 1982 and its last the following year. Its popularity these days just leads to long queues at the understaffed bar; perhaps back then the beer was worth waiting for.

Oak: The first of a hat trick of entries for the “comfortable pub with good atmosphere” and Tolly ales. It is now a bistro, which doesn’t sound nearly as comfortable, and no longer has draught beer.

Osborne Arms: A sole appearance in the guide for the “unpretentious, friendly one-bar pub” with Tolly Ales. Having visited it in the 90s and 2000s, I’m not surprised it wasn’t a regular in the guide. Still, it didn’t deserve to be demolished without consent by property developers in 2012. Over five years later and the site has become nothing more than a few more spaces to the adjoining car park; no doubt an unpretentious, friendly car park.

Osborne Arms

Portland Arms: First appearance for the “pleasant pub, centre for many city clubs”, it didn’t get in again until 1994, by which time there was apparently “a strong nautical flavour in the lounge” (which makes it sound like it was flooded), and it took until the 2000s to manage an extended run.

Sir Isaac Newton: Like the Fort St. George, the Sir Isaac Newton made its first appearance in 1982 and its last the following year. Back then it was a ‘snug’ and ‘cosy’ pub, only a third of the size it has since been extended too

Meanwhile, “”boisterous local” John Barleycorn in Coton was in the guide, with its Greene King Mild, IPA and Abbot. But, as surely as John Barleycorn must die, the pub didn’t make it to the next millennium and is now used as a house.

1983

While the Bakers Arms and the Granta were each making their last of eight consecutive appearances before dropping out of the guide, five pubs were making debuts.

Bath Hotel: Described as “specialising in ciders” (though only Bulmer is listed), it wasn’t special enough to prevent it disappearing from the guide thereafter.

County Arms: “Broadly appealing three-room pub” making the first of five in a row, appearing for the last time in 1990, it has since been opened out and renamed the Architect.

Fleur de Lys: Another pub about to achieve five years in a row, the Fleur was a “pleasant local” serving Tolly ales. I lived a few doors down from it for a year in the 90s, at which time it seemed every Saturday night it would host MJ Trayner’s tribute to Elvis. The “convivial pub with a real local’s feel” saw a little less conversation when it turned Heartbreak Hotel in 2009 and closed, before the inevitable steamroller blues and redevelopment as flats.

Mitre: “One of the better central pubs” back then, no doubt owing to the Benskins, Ind Coope and Burton ales, it nevertheless failed to appear again until 1999, proving that even then most of the best pubs were away from the centre.

Zebra: A “friendly pub with excellent food”, which is just how I remember it two decades later when I worked in nearby offices and it became our Friday lunch venue of choice owing to the excellent pizzas. It was always busy and well regarded, so it was a bit of a shock when it was closed in 2011, deemed unviable as a pub by Greene King, with plans approved to convert it to housing; more recent plans seek to demolish the building entirely.

Zebra

The Zebra – named after the crossing, obviously.

Meanwhile, “popular local” the Queen’s Head in the village of Balsham was in the guide. Less than ten year’s later, in 1991 it was converted into a house now called Town End House, recently on the market for £750,000, which is a lot of pints.

Former Queen's Head, Balsham

Former Queen’s Head, Balsham (image courtesy of G. Oogle)

1984

Two new entries, one of which would go on to make 20 appearances to date, while the other hasn’t yet made the guide again.

Kingston Arms: A “busy backstreet pub” with the obligatory “friendly atmosphere”, the Kingston then served Greene King XX, IPA, Abbot and Rayment BBA. Nowadays offering twelve handpumps, including permanent classics like Crouch Vale Brewers Gold, Hop Back Summer Lightning, Oakham JHB, Thornbridge Jaipur and Timothy Taylor Landlord, with Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde providing the mild, all at some of the most reasonable prices outside of Spoons. Hard to see this pub dropping out of the guide again any time soon, surely?

Old Spring: The sole appearance for what was an “extensively de-modernised pub, complete with sawdust on floor”; something it could do with now, to soak up all the beer that gets spat out when people find out how much their pint cost.

In part two, more “excellent old pubs” make the guide and have since been carelessly lost…

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Mild Out

Isn’t it.

There are very few pubs which have a mild on permanently in Cambridge and nearby pubs, but when they’re as good as the XX at the Free Press, or the Oscar Wilde at the Kingston Arms, I find they’re worth seeking out.

Here’s a list of all the Cambridgeshire pubs I’m aware of that have mild permanently, and some which are a good bet. Updates welcome.

Permanent
Duke of Wellington, Willingham Greene King XX
Flying Pig, Cambridge Rudgate Ruby Mild
Free Press, Cambridge Greene King XX
Kingston Arms, Cambridge Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde
Prince Albert, Ely Greene King XX
Waggon and Horses, Milton Elgood’s Black Dog
Usually/often
Elm Tree, Cambridge One from B&T (Black Squirrel, Shefford Mild, Plum Mild etc)
Red Lion, Histon Guest mild
Worth a look
Cambridge Blue, Cambridge Guest mild
Haymakers/Queen Edith/Devonshire Arms, Cambridge One from Milton (Medusa, Minotaur etc)
Hopbine, Cambridge Guest mild
Live and Let Live, Cambridge Guest mild

Free Press XX Mild

Cambridge Pubs in the Good Beer Guide – Part 1: The 1970s

The Good Beer Guide was first published in 1972, the year following the founding of CAMRA, to help drinkers find pubs serving real draught ale, “because the majority of Britain’s brewers have been pursuing a policy of robbing the public of its already limited choice”. That first issue was just 18 pages stapled together, a provisional list put together by a small number of volunteers prior to the commercial publication of a much more comprehensive guide, and as a result only featured one Cambridge pub, the Cambridge Arms. There was no guide in 1973, but the printed guide arrived in 1974 and has been updated every year since. This is the first part of a series of posts looking at the Cambridge city pubs that featured in the guides across the decades, how they were described and what became of them, beginning with a look at those in the 1970s editions.

Good Beer Guide 1972

1972

The Cambridge Arms, the only Cambridge pub in the first Good Beer Guide, was to have a remarkable run, featuring in the first 14 consecutive editions before dropping out never to return. The entry in the 1974 edition is probably my favourite, noting that landlord John Perry, a CAMRA member himself, was “a fervent anti-keg man who believes firmly in traditional methods of dispensation”! A Greene King pub, it served their bitter and mild; a member from those early days once explained to me that at the time “if you walked into a pub that had Greene King beers, you thought you’d reached the promised land”. It dropped out of the guide after the mid-80s, and subsequent rebrands as The Brewery and the Rattle and Hum threw out the collection of breweriana and any traces of the former Cambridge Brewery. Now d’Arry’s restaurant and bar, although primarily a restaurant it does welcome drinkers and offers a single real ale, named George Scales Best Bitter as a link to its brewing past.

Greene King 1977

The only other branch pub in that provisional list was the Wheatsheaf in Duxford. Sadly, this “classic village pub” then serving Abbot, Rayment’s Mild and Bitter, closed as a pub in December 2017.

1974

The first printed guide contained a further five Cambridge pubs alongside the Cambridge Arms.

Ancient Druids: A Charles Wells pub on Fitzroy Street that appeared in the guide twice, in 1974 and 1975, but was demolished in 1981 to make way for the Grafton shopping centre development. A new pub of that name was later built on nearby Napier Street – more on that when it comes to the 1980s guides.

Bun Shop: The 1974 guide contained the sole entry for this pub which once stood on St Andrew’s Hill Street, off Downing Street roughly where the back of John Lewis is now. Described as a “workingman’s pub”, it was demolished later that decade for the development of the Lion Yard shopping centre. The Bun Shop name reappeared on King Street by the early 90s when the King’s Arms was renamed, with the sign apparently showing a picture of the old pub on it initially, in the building now known as the Cambridge Brew House.

Cricketer’s: 1974 saw the sole appearance of this pub in over 45 editions of the guide. Unlike others, it escaped demolition and closure, and now serves arguably the best Thai food in Cambridge alongside up to three real ales.

Elm Tree: In the first three Good Beer Guides in the 1970s, my 1976 copy has a poignant amendment – a line through the name of the pub, which in that year suffered a tragic fire from which landlord Peter Gowing didn’t escape. Reopened by the following year, it would be 1985 before its next appearance in the guide, though it’s the pub with the third most appearances, including the current 2018 edition.

Elm Tree GBG 1976

Mill: Appearing twice in the 70s, it then went over a decade before reappearing in the guide renamed as the Tap and Spile. The Mill has been in the past five guides, including the current edition, since reopening as the first of the City Pub Co venues in Cambridge in 2012.

1975

Green Dragon: The first of six new entries in the 1975 guide, described as a “beer drinkers’ pub with strong local support”, it had a run of eleven consecutive appearances before dropping out in the mid-80s, since when it’s made only four further appearances.

Panton Arms: Described as an “excellent pub” in 1975 and as an “attractively modernised Victorian pub” in 77, nevertheless it’s only made five appearances in the guide overall, and none in the last 25 years.

Red Lion, Cherry Hinton: A lovely old 16th-century timber-framed building, complete with large inglenook fireplace and low beamed ceilings. Appeared five times between 1975 and 1985, but somehow hasn’t made it back in over 35 years since, although I enjoyed a great pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord on my visit.

Snowcat An estate pub that opened at the end of 1959, named after the tracked vehicles used in the expedition that completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica in 1958. Noted for its unusual method of dispense from a “cellar” in the first floor via transparent pipes to taps on a bar that was over 40ft in length, it was later renamed the Grove but eventually closed, becoming the Cambridge Gurdwara Sikh community centre in 2013.

Snowcat

Snowcat (from Cambridge New Architecture, Nicholas Taylor, 1964)

Unicorn: Cherry Hinton: A “down-to-earth” pub making its first of eight appearances, serving “the best mild in Cambridge” according to the 1984 guide, sadly by 2011 it was closed and boarded up, deemed unviable by Greene King and facing redevelopment. However, though no longer a pub, the building survived and is currently occupied by a “coffee house, eatery, bakery, grocery” called Cofifteen.

The former Unicorn pub in Cherry Hinton

Weathervane: Opened in November 1959 just a few weeks before the Snowcat, the estate pub now known as the Med made its first and only appearance in the guide in 1975. Currently an outlet for Turpin’s Brewery, the award winning local brewery based in Pampisford, perhaps its chances of making the guide again have never been better.

1976

Bakers Arms: One of three new entries, the “friendly and cheerful” Bakers Arms made eight consecutive appearances before it dropped out, and hasn’t appeared in the past 35 years. After several refurbishments in recent times, including the bizarre and short-lived boxing themed “Noble Art’, it was renamed the Duke of Cambridge in 2014.

Dew Drop: The first entry in the guide for the “local’s town pub” that has since made more appearances than any other Cambridge pub, appearing in 36 of the 46 guides, and has enjoyed the longest consecutive run by appearing in every single guide from 1990 to the current edition, including all but one year since 1987 when it was renamed the Cambridge Blue.

Granta: The “pub in a picturesque setting” surprisingly hasn’t been back in the guide since its run of eight appearances in a row ended after 1983.

Meanwhile, village pubs the Pemberton Arms in Harston, “excellent locals’ pub” the Fox and Hounds in Weston Colville, and the Hoops in Great Eversden, a pub described by Roger Protz in 1987 as “the epitome of a thriving village local”, all featured in the guide; none have survived as pubs.

Eversden Hoops Sign

1977

Cross Keys: One of only two new entries in 1977, the “small, friendly” split-level pub made the last of its seven appearances in 1986 before closing as a pub in 2009; it’s currently the Japas sushi restaurant. I remember the landlord in the early 2000s had what you might call a challenging sense of humour; a newly-wed friend of mine moved to a nearby street and went to the pub for the first time, proudly asking for a pint for himself and a half for the woman who had just become his wife. “Well” the landlord is claimed to have said as he looked her up and down, “if that‘s what you ended up with you can have these on me”!

Cross Keys

Salisbury Arms. After being closed for a few years, it had reopened the previous year as one of the short-lived CAMRA Investments pubs. According to the guide “prior to reopening in 1976 only three breweries provided real ale in Cambridge, but this increased to ten under its new ownership”, with the likes of Samuel Smith, Bateman, Adnams, Bass, Elgood, Hannan, Marston’s and Ruddle’s available, complimented by “possibly the largest selection in the country of bottle-conditioned English and Belgian beers”. Despite increasing the number of breweries available to twelve by 1979, it failed to appear in that year’s guide(!) and has only appeared in five of the past thirty-four.

1978

While there were no new entries for the city in 1978, “popular village local” the Jolly Brewers in Haslingfield, an “excellent local with lots of atmosphere” was in the guide for the second of four consecutive appearances. In 1980 Jack and Ivy Wallwork retired after 29 years at the pub, and it was closed for good by the following decade.

1979

There were five new entries for Cambridge city pubs in the 1979 guide:

Free Press: The first appearance for the pub which has since had the second most entries overall, appearing in 33 of the 46 guides. The pub was closed and the interior gutted at the end of 1975 as it awaited demolition as part of the area’s slum clearances. Thankfully it was decided the pub could be retained after all, and after a period of renovation it reopened in February 1978, serving Greene King XX Mild, Abbot and IPA, as it still does; perhaps the only pub in Cambridge that still has the mild on permanent, and it is worth seeking out.

Jolly Millers: A once “lively pub overlooking the river” at the mill pond facing the Granta pub, the Jolly Millers closed as a pub in 1981. Latterly an Indian restaurant, it has been closed since it suffered fire damage in August 2016; sad to see a former Good Beer Guide pub in a prime location standing empty.

Jolly Millers

Queen Edith: The youngest of the three estate pubs to appear in the 70s guides, the Queen Edith opened at the end of 1961. It made two appearances, then dropped out of the guide until a new build pub of that name was built on the car park of the previous pub; that pub, Milton Brewery’s third in the city, has already featured in the guide twice since it reopened in April 2015.

Royal Standard: A “Lively, friendly town local” making the first of nine appearances, “with ‘real’ sandwiches and jellied eels” in 1980! A pub that hasn’t been in the guide since 1988 and which looked lost for good when it was converted to an Indian Restaurant in 2007; when that closed in 2011, it served as a charity shop while awaiting its likely fate of redevelopment for housing. However, it reopened in 2015 and it’s surely only a matter of time before it makes the guide again.

Spade and Becket: A “modernised pub with a pleasant riverside garden”, making the first of seven appearances over an eight year period. The name refers to Fenland peat cutting tools; peat was sent to the nearby quayside and stored in a riverside building called Sedge Hall, which stood there until 1924. Peat was used as fuel by the Cambridge Colleges and by bakers to heat their brick ovens (Enid Porter, Fenland Peat, 1969). Formerly the George and Dragon, the Spade and Becket became the Rat and Parrot, before the handsome building in an enviable location closed in 2004 to become La Mimosa restaurant.

Spade and Becket

Meanwhile, “excellent village local” the Tree in Stapleford was in the guide. The pub closed in 2013 and there has been a fight to prevent it being turned into housing, with a group campaigning to turn the Tree into a community hub.

A total of 22 different Cambridge city pubs appeared in the guide in the 1970s, and 15 of them are still open in some form and serve real ale, albeit in a new building on the same site in the case of the Queen Edith. The next post will walk through the GBG pubs in the 1980s, which saw nine Cambridge pubs make their only appearance, while over a third of all the pubs that featured in the guide during that decade have since closed…

Cambridge Pubs – Free Press

Free Press

“Probably Cambridge’s most celebrated ale house, a hearty little building with wall settles and panelled walls,” enthused Roger Protz in 1989, “that was saved from dereliction in the late 1970s”. This refers to the slum clearances in the area that led to the building of the nearby Grafton Centre. On 22nd October 1964 the pub was purchased from Greene King and Sons Ltd by Cambridge City Council as part of the slum clearance area. The adjoining cottages were demolished but the house was leased back to Greene King to trade as a pub until required for demolition. It was eventually closed at the end of 1975, but was thankfully reprieved when it was decided the pub could be retained after all. It was repurchased by Greene King in June 1977 and was renovated for reopening on 16th February 1978.

Free Press

The renovation involved painstakingly reassembling the original interior, now listed as an important historic interior:

Practically all the fittings – bar counter, bar back, dado panelling with fixed seating attached and the fireplaces are 1970s direct replacements for the original ones, including those in the snug but some original material survives including the set of handpumps which date back to the 1940s, but not in their original position. The layout changes include the removal of a wall that created the off sales alongside the snug – go outside and you can see the door has been blocked up – however, the two original swing seats still remain attached to the partition to the snug. Other changes include the amalgamation of the small right hand bar, which is served via a hatch, with the private sitting room behind which doubles the size of the room; and the creation of an opening between the two bars – the entrance to the right hand bar is no longer used. However, the outside toilets remain, albeit there is now a covered walkway between the pub and them.

Free Press XX Mild

This must have been a fairly faithful reproduction of the original pub, as it still appears remarkably similar to a description of the pub just before it was gutted in 1975, which described it as “a very small pub with exceptional character; the lounge interestingly hung with theatrical personalities who were wont to patronise this house while playing at the New Theatre, the small public bar is bright and warm and centres around a coal fire, the snug bar is almost dolls house scale”. It went straight into the 1979 Good Beer Guide, which described it as excellently renovated, retaining the original atmosphere and snug. It served Greene King XX Mild, Abbot and IPA, which it still does – perhaps the only pub in Cambridge that still has the mild on permanent; a wonderful drink when it’s kept this well.

Free Press

The Free Press has subsequently featured in more Good Beer Guides than every other Cambridge pub apart from the Dewdrop/Cambridge Blue, and has been variously described as “hearty, friendly and busy”, and an “unspoilt backstreet gem” with “exceptional food”, all still accurate, although the “sun-trapped patio garden where the rabbits roam” no longer contains the “furry beasties”! The walls feature various framed newspapers, typesetting trays customers are encouraged to fill with their own curios, while in the main bar hangs the bow of the Cambridge boat destroyed by hitting a barge at the start of the 1984 Boat Race. The framed printing memorabilia is there because the pub’s name is supposedly a tongue-in-cheek reference to a temperance newspaper:

The title is facetious. It was first licensed in 1834 when a home brewer, Sarah Horne (sic), turned her cottage into a commercial outlet for her brews. Just as she was setting up business, the local temperance movement launched a paper called the Free Press to rail against the iniquities of the demon drink. It folded after just one issue. (Protz, 1989)

Now I’m not one to spoil a good story, but I’m not convinced of its accuracy; the newspaper most likely to be the one in question, the Cambridge Free Press and Moral and Social Reformer, was first published in February 1880, whereas the beerhouse was already named the Free Press by at least 1861. Other sources suggest part of the building was a printing press which circulated a free Cambridge newspaper that unfortunately lasted one issue. I can’t find any 19th century Cambridge newspaper that only lasted one issue, but it seems to have become a pub around 1846, under John Horn who died that year when he was about 45 years old (see comments below – the 1847 Kelly Directory names him, but he had died the previous year, presumably between being recorded and the directory being published). Baptism records for his children apparently record John as a printer, so it’s possible the pub was named to commemorate his association with printing (there was a newspaper named the ‘Cambridge Advertiser and Free Press’ that ran from around 1839 to 1850, so perhaps there was a connection).

Free Press

Photo courtesy of freepresskitchen

The building dates from around 1825, but seems to have first become a pub under John Horn, briefly, succeeded by his widow Sarah Horn. Sarah was born in 1793 in Charlbury, Oxfordshire. She had two sons and one daughter with John Horn between 1828 and 1839; one of those sons, Henry John Horn, returned to take on the Free Press by the late 1860s, Sarah moving a few doors along to 15 Prospect Row (since demolished). Sarah Horn died in Cambridge on 7 August 1877 having lived to the ripe old age of 84. Her son Henry died just a few years later in 1881; like his father before him, he was just 45 years old.

At this point the pub’s long connection with the Horn family ended. However, that was not the last time the pub enjoyed long associations with families, there having been just four regimes in the past 90 years. For nearly 48 years, between 1926 and 1973, the licensee was Mr Geoffrey Nichols. He was succeeded by his daughter Miss Brenda M. Nichols, who was licensee until her retirement at the end of 1975. Miss Nichols reopened the pub in 1978 by pulling the first pint. The licensees then were Chris & Debbie Lloyd, who stayed for over twenty years. The license then passed to Donna and Martin Thornton, and a couple of years later was handed on to their daughter Jenna and husband Craig, who still hold the reins. They’ve since brought many innovations to the pub – occasional beer festivals, pop-up food carts, lined pint glasses for a while; Craig is currently keen to bring in a new range of drinking vessels:

Free Press

But none of the above really captures what this pub is all about; despite serving excellent homemade food (the Scotch Eggs are legendary; the recipe features in the Cambridgeshire Cook Book which is on sale at the bar), it is still very much a traditional backstreet pub, with welcoming locals, a convivial atmosphere and an emphasis on conversation, aided by up to 6 well-kept ales and up to two well-kept fires.

How do you make mulled cider then?”
Throw a load of muck in and boil it up

What’s that beer like?”
It’s like somebody dropped a Werther’s Original in your pint

It’s all Babylon

Free Press

But if you’re put off by the thought of banter at the bar, don’t be – this is the kind of considerate place where a scantily clad pump clip is given more appropriate clothing by the thoughtful bar staff.

Free Press

It also passes the Cambridge pub equivalent of the Waiter Rule – the Disco Kenny Rule. If one’s true character can be gleaned from how one treats waiters, then Cambridge pubs can be judged by how well they treat local legend Disco Kenny. At the Free Press he is welcomed and spoken to like the gentleman he is.

Disco Kenny Claus

Simply, one of my favourite pubs anywhere.

Sources

Bruning, T (2009) Cambridgeshire’s Best Pubs
Cambridge CAMRA
Cambridgeshire Collection
Evans, J., Gillies, A., Hanson, N., Protz, R. CAMRA Good Beer Guides
Protz, R. (1989), The Best Pubs in East Anglia
Petty, M. Looking Back

Cambridge Pubs – Elm Tree

One of my favourite pubs and amongst the most frequently visited over the past twenty-five years in Cambridge, during which time it’s gone through several changes, though its many incarnations remind me of John Peel’s description of The Fall as being “always different, always the same”.

Elm Tree

Never in better health than it is now, the Elm Tree specialises in bottled Belgian beer, the menu updated with a selection of the best Christmas beers each winter. No Rocking Rudolph or Wherry Christmas here then, but up to ten cask ales regularly feature the likes of Edwin Taylor’s Extra Stout, and all that lacks is a flashing pump clip.

Elm Tree GBG 1976 The Elm Tree was in the first three Good Beer Guides in the 1970s, but my 1976 copy has a poignant amendment – a line through the name of the pub, which in that year suffered a tragic fire from which the landlord didn’t escape. The book Firefighters of Cambridge (David Bennett, 2009) dedicates a chapter to the event, and records in detail the pub and landlord as it was before the fire, describing the “open fireplace and Britannia tables, round, three-legged cast iron tables with wooden tops, often a century old”, capturing a comment that landlord Peter Gowing, “fond of the vod”, must have “gone up like a torch, all that alcohol inside him”.

Elm Tree

At that point in the 70s, the nearby Free Press was boarded up awaiting demolition; hard now to imagine that for a time just over forty years ago, those two cherished pubs were closed and completely gutted. Thankfully, the Elm reopened after a refurbishment, the Free Press a couple of years later. A student guide from 1977 mentions the Elm Tree “recently reopened after inferno tragedy”, suggesting it’s “worth going to if only to admire the threatened beauties of the Kite”, while others suggests the “somewhat gentrified” Elm Tree had become “a shadow of its former self.”

Elm Tree

Nevertheless a resilient pub, having already survived the 1928 application for the removal of its licence so it might be replaced by a new build out of town on Milton Road (which later opened as the Golden Hind). Reopened after the fire, 1970s guides refer to the small one-room pub as bisected by a well-used darts range, and managing also to include a piano, fruit machines, and walls adorned with a glut of cigarette machines. In the early 90s I remember it accommodated a bar billiards table and a fish tank, and hosted thrice-weekly live modern jazz, and it somehow still manages to squeeze entire bands, including drum kits, on the small raised area at the front of the pub used for frequent live music. It’s also the pub the Cambridge Ukulele group bring their more appropriately sized instruments for their fortnightly meet on Sunday afternoons.

Elm Tree

The pub even had its inn sign returned after it was stolen during a refurb in 2006, discovered shortly afterwards in a nearby alley. As for the name, perhaps it was in honour of a large elm tree that stood less than 300 metres away on the pavement near the junction of Drummer Street and Emmanuel Road. That particular specimen must have been an impressive local landmark, estimated to be at least 250 years old, over 70 feet in height and sixteen feet in circumference, when in the 1950s it began rotting away and was removed. Some young branches were apparently grafted onto elms at the Botanic Garden, but the entire elm collection was felled in the 1970s when it became infected by Dutch elm disease.

Elm Tree

But perhaps the most important event in the pub’s recent history occurred almost ten years ago, when owners Charles Wells let it to the B&T Brewery of Shefford, Bedfordshire, who tempted manager Rob Wain from the Hobgoblin pub in Reading. The pub has since become one of the most laid back places I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking, with plenty of breweriana and miscellanea covering the walls and ceiling of the one long but cosy room – witches hats, bats and other decorations surviving Halloween, candles on the tables, books and board games lying about, and the kind of laid back locals a pub like this would attract. The tables down the side alley are a favourite place for summer drinking too. A pub that makes running pubs seem easy; no fruit machines, food or fuss, just good beer and a relaxing atmosphere. The Elm Tree – one of the best in the branch (sorry).

Cambridge Bars

When I set out to visit every pub in Cambridge, I first had to define a ‘pub’, and settled on a definition which included bars – basically, anywhere that served draught beer to non-diners and non-members and was primarily there for refreshment. This seemed a reasonable definition; if Cambridge had a Brewdog bar for example, it would seem daft not to include it on the grounds it wasn’t a ‘pub’, or not to visit The Old Bicycle Shop because it was a new venue and didn’t have low beamed ceilings on which Dick Turpin carved his signature, so the definition seemed to work. This criteria also ruled out restaurants and hotel bars and WT’s (thank god). However, it did unfortunately include places like the ‘Green Room’ bar at the Light Cinema, places I never intended to have to visit, but had to include because, well, them’s the rules. If I’ve missed any other such places then I care not; it was the pubs and obvious bars I intended to visit, and I have. So here’s a round up of some of the ‘bars’ included in the list, that nevertheless didn’t seem ‘pubby’ enough to warrant a blog post each.

2648

2648

The one draught lager here is Estrella Damm, but this place is really a cocktail bar (although there are some craft cans) so I played along and had a dark & stormy (contains ginger beer, so it’s allowed). Apparently “named after the Street Address of the original Motown Building – Hitsville USA, which was at 2648 West Grand Boulevard”, hence the bar covered in vinyl records and the “old valve radios, vintage radiograms and old iconic gig posters on the walls”. The last time I visited this was the Vaults, and I came to watch Luna Falls play in a room now hidden behind a bookshelf and guarded by a fox. There are a number of different spaces to drink, in near darkness; trying to read the menu reminded me of being in a BrewDog bar, but without the choice of beers. Hey ho.

ADC Bar

ADC bar

A bar that only opens during performances at the theatre, which might explain why out of the two Milton Brewery real ales, the Nike I had was a bit, shall we say, under-utilised. I left after a few sips; there’s no reason to be here other than for the theatre. Hey ho.

Alpine Bar (pop-up bar)

Alpine Bar

A pop-up bar for the ‘North Pole’ ice rink on Parker’s Piece from the end of November to mid-January. I’m including this because it has Hobgoblin straight from the cask (calm down, ale enthusiasts), as well as keg Warsteiner, Carlsberg and Fosters, and what could be more alpine than that? I visited on the 20th of December; the Hobgoblin tasted like it may well have been sat there since it opened in mid-November, and I left after one sip. Hey ho ho ho.

Arts Picturehouse Bar

Picturehouse bar

The one real ale pump clip, Milton Minerva, was turned round, so I had a Punk IPA. Not a bad bar really, with nice views over Emmanuel College, and other people seemed to be here despite, rather than because, it’s a cinema bar.

Browns

Browns

Packed with groups probably waiting for a table, judging by the number of Christmas parties dining, which is surely the primary reason people use this recently refurbished bar. The keg Adnams Mosaic was good, with Camden Hells the only other beer of interest.

Cambridge Chop House

Chop House

Sister restaurant to St John’s Chop House, with trademark skeleton behind the bar, this is where retiredmartin spends Valentines day; he must do, as he commented that this is where “some CAMRA members would delight at tipping up on Valentines Day for a half and being turned away, declaring it “not a pub”, which is, err, exactly what I did a couple of years ago! It’s only out of guilt and a wish to remedy that faux par that I returned to the Chop House. Nevertheless, we asked for a drink and were tentatively allocated a table, and offered a food menu, and disappointed the waiter by only having beer. The Tydd Steam Polar Beer straight from the cask was good, it’s a pleasant place, and King’s College isn’t a bad view, but Valentine’s Day is over and this is still “not a pub”.

Green Room Bar

Green Room

There’s a sign by the entrance to the bar that says something along the lines of “only for patrons of the cinema”. There’s really no need for that sign, because it’s unlikely anyone would find themselves there unless they were killing time waiting to see a film. Indeed, everybody else in there seemed to be doing just that. The Meantime Lager was fine. I drank it quickly and left, because there was no reason for me to be there.

Las Iguanas

Las Iguanas

Formerly one of the Henry’s Café Bar chain venues, then primarily a restaurant with cocktails and wines, now primarily a restaurant with cocktails and one draught keg beer – Brahma. Still, Las Iguanas does have a decent vegetarian/vegan menu and good views of the river.

Thirsty

Thirsty

A beer shop on Chesterton Road where you sit and drink your purchases, with food carts outside at times. This year their pop-up bar popped up on Riverside in the grounds of the Museum of Technology, providing card-only craft beer and more food carts in their take on a German-style biergarten. It really came into its own this winter when they provided fairy lit, fire pit warmed teepees (which in truth could benefit from being warmer). You never got all those extras with Threshers.

That leaves just two more pubs to write about now – the Elm Tree and the Free Press

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