It must have been a night of mixed emotions for the Irish on Saturday, winning a game of rugby but losing a bar. For, after 20 years providing Cambridge with a rare outlet for Guinness and the traditional Gaelic pub games of karaoke and table football, Quinns closed down at the weekend.
We joined the closing down sale (25% off drinks – so only £7.10 for a pint and a half of Guinness, which by my reckoning means a pint would usually cost an Irish-eye-watering £6.30) and what a weird experience that was. All the tables and chairs had been moved to the sides, leaving a large empty floor looking like it was waiting for a disco to break out, complete with lazer lights and the LOUDEST, LOUSIEST music I’ve heard for a long time (I Shazzamed a couple of tracks before my phone pleaded with me to stop – ‘Sexual’ by Neiked, and the fitting ‘All Time Low’ by Jon Bellion give an idea of what we had to put up with).
It had only just opened for the evening but there was a group of people sat awkwardly on the leather chairs against the wall facing the bar, trying to hold conversations over the noise. At the end of EVERY track, some kind of advert started loudly playing and a member of the bar staff would go over and cycle through his playlist until he found another track to torture us with. I can only imagine the bemused customers had wandered down from the adjacent Hilton Hotel, assuming this was the hotel bar (it isn’t). “Nobody here will stay for a second drink” I said, and sure enough the large group of people left soon after. That left us, here only to check it out one last time before it closed (it must have been the full 20 years since I last came here), and a family of four who came to the upstairs gallery trying in vain to escape the racket.
Even the use of the space is strange, the downstairs snug piled up with a coat rack and chairs they’d bizarrely removed from the bar, obscuring the faux fireplace, while the various nooks leading off from the gallery are just bare, empty spaces. If ever a venue in Cambridge had untapped potential then this is it, because beyond the Vegas-Palladian frontage and tired fixtures and fittings is a bar space that could surely do well in the right hands (I’m looking at you, Brewdog).
There were bottles of Punk IPA in the fridge, but otherwise it was Guinness, Guinness Extra Cold, Stella, Boddingtons, or Becks Vier. At one time it did at least try harder on the beer front, with real ale from City of Cambridge and Wolf brewery on draught, but the hand pumps had gone by 2004, and when it recently reduced its opening hours to just Friday and Saturday 6pm-12pm, it was hardly likely to see them return. Nor would we, even if it wasn’t the last night.
After a good look round we hastily finished our drinks and went to leave, noticing the American accents of the only other customers as we passed them, and spontaneously stopping to urge these visitors to Cambridge, who’d unknowingly found themselves in Quinns because it happened to be the nearest place they’d found after leaving the car park, to go to ANY other nearby bar – the Pint Shop, the Eagle even (come on, they loved its potted history, what with its RAF bar and associations with American airmen), anywhere but here.
Come all without, come all within
You’ll not see nothing like a night in Quinns