For years I only really thought of the Portland Arms as a music venue. I’d grab a pint and head straight to the music room at the back without really paying attention to the bar areas on the way. Then on one occasion I arrived at the pub early with some time to kill before the band came on, and only then sat long enough to soak up the atmosphere and have a good look round. There are wooden seating bays along the front from where you can admire the original 1930s wood panelled walls and bar counter, and the stone fireplace. The saloon bar and seperate public bar are worthy enough to be regarded as an historic pub interior of some regional importance (some?).
The building itself dates from the 1930s, replacing the Scales Hotel (which itself was previously named the Portland Arms), and was designed by the architect Basil Oliver, whose other works in Cambridgeshire include the former Rose and Crown on the corner of Newmarket Road and East Road (still standing but no longer a pub), and the Red Lion in Grantchester. It’s only a few years ago that Greene King were set to allow developers to knock the Portland Arms down to accommodate the redevelopment of the area into flats, generously offering a replacement pub which would fit nicely into the new block of flats and provide “a much higher level of modern facilities“. Ungrateful campaigners influenced the rejection the plans, denying the rest of us the pleasure of drinking in a block of flats with all those “modern facilities” we could have been enjoying, whatever they are (no doubt the same campaigning killjoys who have so far succeeded in preventing developers from bulldozing the Flying Pig and giving us the office block we’d prefer to be not drinking in – luckily the developers caught them off guard by demolishing the neighbouring Osborne Arms before cleverly claiming they were ‘unaware of the need for conservation area consent’).
Anyway, back to the Portland… as well as the music venue at the rear, there’s a nice courtyard with some covered seating, or as the pub’s website describes it, a “courtyard garden with a Tiki theme, it features an African hut” – now geography isn’t my strong point, but Tiki… African..?
Worth mentioning that Greene King XX Mild wasn’t on and is no longer permanent here (apparently it still appears regularly on rotation) – the Free Press is the only Cambridge pub that always has it, so far as I know. There were a few GK beers including Uncle Sam and Belhaven Smoke Stack Stout, but I ended up having Leffe Blond.