Cambridge Pubs – Waterman

It was on the cards that at some point during my endeavour to drink in each of the 80+ pubs and bars in Cambridge this year, one or more of the pubs would face closure – either to be transformed and relaunched, or to serve last orders. If I was lucky, I’d catch them before they changed or disappeared. It seems I got lucky and caught the Waterman before one such transformation.

On the 28th of this month, the Waterman in its present form will close, undergo a refit and refurbishment, and perhaps a couple months later will relaunch as… well time will tell, but for better or for worse it will change.


Of course the present Waterman has already survived several changes. The original pub was rebuilt by the now defunct Star brewery of Cambridge in the early 1930s, and since then the interior has been opened out so the separate public bar and lounge now form one large room.

For me, this was a first visit. I’ve somehow gone over 20 years without setting foot in the place before, despite having visited the nearby pubs – the Boathouse, Portland Arms, Old Spring and the boarded up former ‘Spoons pub the Tivoli – on many occasions. And it turns out to be a nice pub and a pleasant surprise to find there’s an open fire that I can stare into on this freezing January evening. There are only two other customers in apart from us, plus the barman and a young kid who appears to live here – one corner of the room is like a living room, and he sits there gaming on his laptop with his back to the bar, seemingly oblivious to us. A TV above the fire replays Spurs 2-0 win over Chelsea, and to the side of the fireplace is a large aquarium – something else to gaze into.


The couple (“I’m 50 and my wife’s 17 years younger” he beams – they could both be in their 60s) chat to the barman, and I catch some priceless pub “facts”:

Him: “Do you know there are more catholics in London than in the whole of Ireland, eh? Did you know the Vatican owns two thirds of all the land in Ireland? I bet you didn’t know that did you?”
Barman: “I didn’t know that”

The piped music is inoffensive background music – until the Proclaimers “500 Miles” comes on and the volume is inexplicably turned up loud. We were about to leave anyway, but we’re a bit sad that the next time we’ll come here the place won’t look this lived in – the aquarium will be gone, that corner won’t look like someone’s living room, the floorboards will be polished and the paint fresh, the young barman will have been replaced (“they’re bringing their own staff in – still, a change is good”), and the pub sign will have been replaced by something that looks less like a low-resolution enlarged photo, and another small patch of the city will have been gentrified. Then a few years later, when the investors “exit”, as they intend to, one can only guess what will become of the site once known as the Jolly Waterman.


Staropramen Pravha, Sharps Atlantic and Doom Bar, Guinness, Stella, Carlsberg, Heineken


2 responses to “Cambridge Pubs – Waterman

  1. I’m enjoying your series a lot, will comment on the other pubs. Despite passing it on foot a million times, the Waterman is one of the least heralded pubs in Cambridge but one you always look in to see people having fun. Ten years ago it had an interesting food offer/ franchise which seemed to die quickly. Still a small B&B business of course, good to see foreign visitors seeing a real pub.

  2. Thanks Martin. Yes it appears to have had a few attempts to revitalise it, including the present owners introducing a Chinese night and specials, and turning the courtyard at the rear into a pleasant outdoor seating area. Apparently just not enough custom to keep it viable. No doubt the new owners will target the young, affluent professionals it might need to keep it open, but I expect another “real pub” will be lost in the process. I only wish I’d visited it sooner

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