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

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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.

Cambridge Pubs – Golden Hind

Golden Hind

I pass this building most days and it still manages to impress. One of the “Tolly Follies” built by the Tollemache brewery in the 1930s, a mock-baronial pub based on the design of Helmingham Hall, the Tollemache stately home in Suffolk, although sadly with a car park where the moat should be, and a beer patio instead of a deer park. It was designed by Ipswich-based architects Cautley and Barefoot, who’d previously designed the 1935 neo-Tudor south corner extension to the present Lloyds bank on Sidney Street; its twin pub, the Golden Hind in Ipswich also still survives.

The Star Brewery of Cambridge proposed to erect a pub in this area in 1928, and had the application not been turned down then, Cambridge might have lost what’s now one of its finest pubs in the process – the Elm Tree, two miles away in the centre of Cambridge!

The Cambridge News of February 1928 records:

Justices turned down an application for the removal of the licence of the Elm Tree, Orchard Street, Cambridge, to premises proposed to be erected at the junction of Milton Road and Green End Road. The Elm Tree was redundant and not necessary for the needs of the locality and there were over 100 people in favour of the new site. Large numbers of houses were being erected in that area which would be inhabited by people who would not be able to afford a wine cellar of their own and have to go to a public house for their bottle of beer. But the residents were people who’d been taken from the slums; their incomes were small and there was no margin for drink in their budget.

Golden Hind

In 1936, after having been taken over by Tollemache, the brewery applied again for the new pub, the area of Milton Road having had over 1,000 new houses built over the previous decade, with the Milton Arms pub being built half a mile south-west of the site in 1930. This time the brewery offered to surrender the licences for the Racehorse on Newmarket Road (since demolished and replaced by a McDonald’s) and Plume of Feathers (stood the near the Maypole until it was demolished in 1953), but instead the Bowling Green in Chesterton (the building still exists, near the Haymakers) was the unfortunate pub whose license was transferred. The license was granted despite the Women’s Total Abstinence Union surprising everyone by opposing it.

Golden Hind

The original interior must have been impressive too; although now much altered, it still retains the leaded and stained glass skylight above the bar. There are many areas on multiple levels, and there’s plenty of natural light thanks to the skylight and large windows, and it generally does good trade – there were plenty of people of all ages in there at 5pm, and at lunchtimes I’ve joined large queues for food on occasions. There are TV screens for sport (actually on all the time regardless), a pool table and table football.

Despite having up to 8 real ales, on previous visits four of these were from Cottage Brewery, but as that brewery closed earlier this year, I was interested to see what would have replaced them. It was a pleasant surprise to find an improved selection, including two from Lacons, of which I had an excellent pint of Falcon for £3.50, alongside Milestone Honey Porter, Penine Howzat, Navigation New Dawn, Bootleg Twisted Groove, a beer called Starry Night with a flashing pump clip and no mention of the brewery, the obligatory Doom Bar, while Keg beers included Meantime Yakima Red.

It’s a decent pub in an area that lost the Jenny Wren estate pub earlier this year, and one I’m likely to visit a little more frequently if Lacons turns out to regular.

Golden Hind

Sources:
Cambridge CAMRA
Cambridge News articles
Mike Petty – Looking Back

Cambridge Pubs – Carlton Arms

With wind in our sails, triumphant after splicing the mainbrace at the Ship, myself and able seaman fellow pubman Martin headed for the calmer waters of Arbury – specifically, the safe haven of “South Arbury” as the sign notes; no borders with King’s Hedges here!

Carlton Arms sign

Again, there are the obligatory three-old-boys-at-the-bar one finds in a lunchtime estate pub, impeccably observing the etiquette of gathering at one end so others can order drinks. We take pints of Oakham JHB, served from the tap room, to a high table by the front windows, and agree the beer is worthy of NBSS 4 – and for someone well-versed in lunchtime tipples, Martin’s opinion carries weight with me. I think I’ve had JHB each time I’ve visited since the pub was taken on by Jethro and Terri in 2003, and they have of course been at the Cambridge Blue for the last ten years, so it’s interesting to note the beer’s sustained popularity under successive owners. ‘Taken on’ is a significant phrase too – the pub was regarded as troublesome until they tackled the clientele and gave the pub the reputation as the welcoming place for real ale it still has under the present ownership. So marked was the improvement, it won branch POtY in 2004. It has since won cider POtY in 2014, and we note the large selection on the chalkboard.

Carlton Arms

Before long the bar is busy with lunchtime trade, more so than I’ve generally witnessed on a Monday, and at one point an elderly gent approaches us with a fresh pint of JHB – “I ordered this by mistake, but I notice you’re both drinking it” he says as he places it on our table. We gratefully top up our glasses and continue drinking, pausing to acknowledge The Spinners ‘It’s A Shame’ as it’s piped over the speakers, before Martin proves his pub quiz credentials by naming the precise year and UK chart placing of Jocelyn Brown’s ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’ as it plays.

An estate pub from 1959, when it was owned and run by two breweries, Wells and Winch and Whitbread’s, surviving despite a fire in 2011. The public bar has separate areas for pool and darts, and although the Northamptonshire Skittles table isn’t visible, the locals are quick to point out it’s still brought out when visiting teams come for games, the league starting again in October. They even offer to go and get it if we want to play, and then ask if we want to join the team. It’s that kind of a welcoming place.

All too soon we depart, stepping outside but then briefly sticking our heads in the lounge bar, for which there seems no passage from within the pub, but which was originally separated from the public bar by a Bolton Gate. There’s no food on Monday’s so the room is empty – “this is where I serve my Sunday roasts” says the landlady, encouraging a return visit.

We leave, passing a fine wooden whisky barrel by the door…

“I only got that this morning”, she says.
“You should put it in the bar – I’d happily pull a stool up and rest my drink on that” I comment.
“I just might do that” she replies.
“Me too”, I think to myself.

Carlton Arms

* The Carlton Arms is, so far as I know, the only pub in the branch to retain its skittles table, but the following clubs are also in the league and must also have tables – Bar Hill Social Club, Fulbourn SSC, Girton SSC, Newnham Croft, Rathmore Club. Previous teams that are no longer in the league include the now demolished Osborne Arms, and the Romsey labour club, currently closed with redevelopment looming – I wonder if their tables were passed on to the current league teams?

Sources:
Cambridge News – various articles
Cambridge CAMRA

Cambridge Pubs – The Ship

Ship

The Ship is the only pub in Cambridge whose name provokes sharp intakes of breath, generally followed by anecdotes of physical harm or the ever-present threat of violence. For a city with no really rough pubs (the now demolished Duke of Argyle is widely regarded to have been the last truly rough pub) it’s the closest thing Cambridge has – an estate pub in Arbury (it’s now technically in the adjoining Kings Hedges ward), considered by many to be the wrong part of town. Shiver me timbers.

Ship

The three* old men at the bar when I visited certainly didn’t seem to be kind of characters to attack people, or even make one feel unwelcome (contrary to the tales I’d been told, a search of local news stories reveals the Ship is actually the place victims generally seek refuge). Perhaps the most amusing and truthful tale I’d been told about the Ship came from a former landlord of a nearby pub. The landlord of the Ship at that time invited him to come and visit, and one day he decided to take him up on the offer. On entering the pub, everyone turned round and stared at him, and he recognised every face – he’d banned them all from his own pub! The landlord swiftly invited him behind the bar, through to an exit at the rear of the pub, and he scarpered.

Ship

The Ship isn’t likely to get in the Good Beer Guide, principally because it doesn’t have four or more pumps; the one real ale is Charles Wells Eagle at £3.60 a pint (keg Eagle Smooth also available), surprisingly okay considering I was the only one who appeared to be drinking it. But I didn’t come here to marvel at beer selections, my visit was to finally tick off the only Cambridge pub I’d never visited before, and find out for myself what it was really like. It’s the well looked after, functional community pub it should be. I suspect it’s different in the day than it can be at night, but then the same could be said of the city centre Spoons.

A one-bar pub, which originally had an off-sales shop accessible from the adjoining side road, it cost £63,000 to build according to articles from the Cambridge News at the time. There are even two ‘real grass’ beer gardens, one overlooked by the main bar and occupied by a less-than-real lamb. The interior has dark wooden chairs and tables, bench seating, large carpeted areas, and a layout that was designed to provide smaller individual areas within the main space; one with a pool table, while at the far end of the bar a raised darts area is now used as a stage for live entertainment, which the ‘Shipping Forecast’ noticeboard suggests will next be occupied by none other than Biggsy.

Ship

Oddly for a landlocked city there are pubs called the Ship and the Golden Hind just a mile apart. The Ship is so named because its license originates from a pub of that name that used to stand on Quayside, no doubt appealing to trade from the visiting boatmen there. That license and name moved to Coronation Street, and when that pub was demolished to make way for housing, Charles Well hung on to the license until it was transferred to the current pub.

Ship

It was the last of the 20th century estate pubs to be built, outliving the nearby Snowcat and Jenny Wren opened in 1959 and 1965 respectively. If anything seals its fate it will be the unnecessarily large car park (why did estate pubs need such large car parks if trade was from the surrounding estate?), ripe for redevelopment just as it was for the Jenny Wren. In 2012 the owners Charles Wells did indeed suggest the site could become available for redevelopment “within 6 to 10 years”, a timeframe now perilously close. Worryingly, the council said that so long as any redevelopment included a replacement pub, it would be “the right way forward” and they couldn’t see any problem with that approach.

While the Ship’s seaworthiness hangs in the balance, another estate pub a mile away still survives and seems to have plenty of life left in it yet (smaller car park, you see). That was our next port of call..

Ship

Advertising the Ship’s opening in Cambridge News 1974

* I say there were three other drinkers in there, but in truth there was a fourth, none other than fellow beer blogger Retired Martin. It turns out he’s spent his entire adult life drinking in the Ship, from where he concocts fantasy stories of his imaginary travels around the country ticking off Good Beer Guide pubs; in truth he never leaves the corner of the Ship’s bar, and only drinks Guinness. Martin told me the other three men at the bar were the same “old boys enjoying a lunchtime pint in front of the TV news” as when he blogged about the Ship last year.