The Hopbine on Fair Street has been here since at least the 1830s and was previously known as the Hopbine and Barley Ear (an early sign for the pub, painted by Richard Hopkins Leach c.1843, is on display in the Museum of Cambridge). It stands opposite Willow Walk, down which the Willow Tree pub once stood, and alongside Salmon Lane, once home of the Salmon pub – perhaps the colour of the paintwork on the Hopbine is in memory of it, seasoned with a good handful of paprika. The Hopbine closed for a few months in 2011 when it was sold by Admiral Taverns, reopening as a freehouse in the hands of the landlords of the Portland Arms, who’ve since taken on a third pub, the Alex.
In the five and a half years since, not much has really changed – even the paintwork is still as vivid – apart from the beer selection which seems to keep getting better. The pint of Grain Brewery Weizen on keg was superb, the Bishop Nick ‘Ridley’s Rite’ pretty good, and although the Stod Fold Equinox on cask was a bit rough round the edges, not many Cambridge pubs have 6% ABV saisons on a Monday. This is surely the only pub in Cambridge that serves Löwenbräu on draught, which as always tasted fine to me, so presumably it gets some throughput. Also on, Crafty Beers Carpenter’s Cask and Mild Mannered.
This visit was on a Monday, when the food menu has two for one on burgers – so we had 2 x veggie burger & chips for £8 – even Wetherspoon can’t match that.
The Hopbine generally has the best piped music of any Cambridge pub. There’s no longer a jukebox, but the mix tapes one of the bar staff puts together are always top notch – in his absence tonight we nevertheless enjoyed lesser-played Bob Marley (by which I mean nothing from ‘Legend’ in over an hour of listening).
Quite wonderfully, each year in a front garden a few doors down from the pub, hop bines still grow, perhaps remnants of the brewing industry that once existed in this area.