I’m now a quarter of the way through my challenge of visiting and writing about all the pubs and bars in Cambridge this year, and at last a pub that makes me ask myself “Why do I not drink here more often?”. And then, after a couple of drinks, “Why do I not drink here all the time”. I’ll endeavour not to use this phrase again, but it really is a gem of a pub.
A former coaching inn called the Rose and Crown, dating back to at least the 1840s when there was a wheelwright’s yard, a brewery, and stables which still exist and have been converted into “the barn”. The Rose & Crown retained that name until it went through several name changes from the early 1990s, becoming first the Town and Gown, then by 2003 the Rope & Twine, the Sino Tap the following year, eventually settling on the Punter, its name since 2007.
In its present incarnation it’s one of those rare pubs that manages to gain a reputation for good food without alienating drinkers or losing its pubbiness (that’s a word, right?). It looks larger on the outside than it feels inside, despite the original two-bar layout having been opened out to a single space, but the multi-level arrangement offers plenty of snug areas to settle in. The walls are crossed with black painted beams, covered with pictures, the back wall in William Morris wallpaper, and there’s a hotchpotch of furniture where no two chairs look the same and candles are on every surface. The fairy-lit courtyard leads to the converted stable block “the barn”, a separate room for group bookings, swish enough for weddings and the like. I was expecting Adnams Broadside to be on the bar as it always has on previous visits, but was pleasantly surprised to find local brewery Turpin’s Cambridge Black, alongside Oakham Punter (Citra in disguise), both excellent, plus Ghost Ship and Doom Bar.
This pub features in my walking tour of the past and present pubs of Castle End, and if you step outside you can see several former pubs and get an idea of just how well served this area once was – the Merton Arms was directly opposite until 1988, next to that the Oyster Tavern (now the Chop House), across the yard the Borough Boy, and so on. The Punter itself would have closed in the early 1900s when it was still the Rose and Crown, had the quick-witted landlord of the time not successfully argued for the renewal of the license. He kept it open and ran it for a further forty years. So when visiting the Punter, raise a glass to David Henry Salisbury, who played his part in making sure it’s still here to enjoy.