Dark wood low stools with red upholstery – you only get those in proper pubs. Pubs where the closest you get to ‘craft beer’ is a handmade pump clip. Pubs with a dartboard and framed photos of sportsmen in action with mud and/or blood on them. Pubs like the Alma.
“To someone, somewhere, oh yeah, Alma matters” sang Morrissey, who would no doubt have had the Linda McCartney veggie burger with chunky chips and a side salad, had he visited. The Alma clearly does matter to many, it was so packed I couldn’t even see the bar on the Friday night I attempted to visit the other week, so I turned and left. I’d rather that than an empty pub (I had to return at a quiet time to reach the bar and take these photos, quiet time being 4pm on a Monday – I’ve yet to find a pub busy at that time, when they’re open at all). Rugby matters to the Alma, the inflatable Guinness goal posts around the door were a giveaway. Music matters too, it’s been a live music venue for decades, and now has one of Cambridge’s best open mics, the Sunday Songsmith Sessions, run by a songwriter called Ezio who’s so good they named a band after him.
It was originally the brewery tap to the Alma Brewery, which brewed from 1835, becoming the Alma Brewery after the battle in 1854 during the Crimean War, and in 1880 was brewing a XX ale and a Best. Brewing seems to have ceased by 1909 but the pub took the name Alma Brewery, a name it carried into the 90s, after being extended and restyled in 1972, reopening with footballing landlord Jackie McGugan, ex-Cambridge City captain (I know at least one other ex-City player went on to run a pub in Cambridge, but that’s for a later post). The pub had previously been extended in 1937 when two adjoining terraced houses were incorporated into it. In 1982 it had another extensive refit, reopening as a free house under the control of CAMRA investments (a short-lived venture that also took on the Salisbury Arms) with landlord Nick Winnington at the helm, a chap perhaps best known as the Monster Raving Loony candidate when landlord of the Cambridge Blue.
This being a “rugby and real ale pub”, visited during the 6 nations, the pub had a couple of themed beers on – their own Alma badged ‘Try’ (presumably brewed by Greene King?), and Greene King Grubber – along with the ubiquitous Greene King IPA and other beers I can’t recall but which included Moorhouse’s Premier Bitter, of which I had an acceptable pint. There are also the usual lagers and of course Guinness.
I remember at one time there was an old red telephone box in the middle of the pub, used as an aquarium for a solitary fat fish, both sadly gone. Nevertheless, despite successive refurbs, the interior of the pub doesn’t appear to have changed much over the twenty or so years I’ve known it, perhaps it’s largely as it was since the refurb in 1990 after it was damaged by fire – wooden floorboards, low ceiling, old photos and a sign from former owners Ridley’s on the wall, dartboard on a raised area to one side of the bar, red pleated bench seats, dark wood low stools with red upholstery. It’s been kept in good shape but escaped sanitisation. It’s also the only Cambridge pub I’ve had flyers from, pushed through the letterbox on several occasions over the past few years, and I live almost a mile away, but it matters to the Alma.