“It will ruin the character of a quiet neighbourhood” complained the naysayers, what with all those “customers making merry outdoors beside neighbours’ gardens”, “diners carousing”, and “the ‘nightmare’ of clattering pots and pans, clanking dishes, slamming pantry doors and whooshing dish-washers – all to the sound of toilets flushing”. You’d think a soup kitchen for the incontinent was being proposed for the grounds of a Benedictine monastery. Instead, the plans were simply to turn a former backstreet pub back into a pub. Heaven forbid!
The White Hart and the rest of Sturton Street existed by at least 1874, around the time the Corn Exchange was built, with one Richard Fuller probably the first publican, also listed as a grocer, there for about five years before it first changed hands. Over a century later, It closed in 2003 and reopened the following year as the Backstreet Bistro, primarily a restaurant but with a couple of handpumps. Last night, after 13 years as a bistro, it opened its doors as a pub again. Five handpumps state the intent to be a pub first and foremost – Adnams Ghost Ship, Nene Valley Big Bang, Tring Hummingbird, along with Cambridge Brewhouse Night Porter and King’s “fair play” Parade – with Beavertown Neck Oil, Adnams Mosaic, Lagunitas and Cambridge Brewhouse Pale and Dry Stout on keg along with a couple of lagers. That said, no doubt food will be a draw, and although the menu wasn’t yet being served, some tasty hors d’oeuvres were handed out.
It’s a classy place, pitched at the kind of locals who can afford to own property here rather than the railwaymen, carpenters and bricklayers who once populated these terraced streets, but no doubt some “carousing diners” will see it gets a few knocks and spillages and soon develops a more lived-in feel. The fine wooden fixtures and plush furnishings, large L-shaped bar, wine bottle ceiling and complete overhaul of the layout suggest it’s seen significant investment.
Nice to see plenty of old Cambridge photos on the walls, and some breweriana from Dales Brewery which once brewed on nearby Gwydir Street. As for the worry of acoustic nuisance, the impeccable taste in music – Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Canned Heat – couldn’t be heard outside the pub, and on leaving only a murmur of conversation was audible – earlier I stood in the courtyard and the conversation was punctuated by the sound of passing trains, so it’s not quite the “quiet neighbourhood” some residents claimed.
Now I’m not without sympathy for the concerned residents, even those that moved in nearby when the premises was a pub and were now complaining they didn’t want to live near a pub. Nobody wants the potential for “nuisance incidents… accompanied by other nuisances” on their doorstep. But if they were interested enough to visit last night, they might not be weeping and gnashing their teeth so much today. The feared nuisance and “BIGNESS“, as one anxious resident put it, weren’t evident at all. What the residents have on their doorstep now is one of the most impressive refits of a pub I’ve seen. Perhaps they’ll even come to like it.