A Wetherspoon by day, on the evenings of Wednesday, Friday and Saturday it loudly announces “Tonight Matthew I’m going to be a Lloyd’s No.1 Bar”, a cue for bouncers, police and paramedics to set up temporary camp on the pavement outside. I’ve only ever been inside during daylight hours, when there are plenty of families dining and groups of old men drawn here by affordable beer (£2.19 for GK IPA, £2.79 for John Smiths), but I’ve walked past (on the opposite side of the road of course) and witnessed its transformation on a Friday night. Considering how presentable St Andrew’s Street looks each morning, it must be the most jet-washed piece of pavement in Cambridge.
Once claiming to be Europe’s largest pub, it probably now has to settle with merely being the largest in Cambridge, despite the Radegund’s refurb, but anyway it’s large, as large as a cinema, which it once was. Opened in 1937 as the Regal cinema and theatre, complete with Compton organ, it closed in 1997, reopening as a Wetherspoon pub in 2000, with the Arts Picturehouse above. The Beatles performed at The Regal twice in 1963 (19/03 & 26/11), the Rolling Stones in 1965 (15/10). The acts that are more likely to be performed here now are of an entirely different nature. It shares part of the site of the former Ye Olde Castel Inn (the present Castle Bar is on the other part) which burnt down in 1934. This is now the only Wetherspoon in Cambridge, since the Tivoli also burnt down.
I’ve been here a handful of times this year and on each occasion the beer selection has been disappointingly dull – Doom Bar, GK IPA, rebranded Ruddles and the like – but it’s beer festival time so I’m spoiled for choice and end up having five different beers, only one of which turns out to be part of the beer fest. My last two choices are well below par so I return to the bar for Oakham’s Green Devil on keg, only to find the tap handle is a facade and it’s apparently now only available in bottles, which I decline. Nothing else remarkable happens, but then it’s still just about light outside – you have to go to Royston for lunchtime riots in Wetherspoons. At this point piped music suddenly booms out and I realise Jeckyll is transforming into Hyde and make a swift exit. I pass a large women who is loudly declaring she “likes men with big muscles” as she squeezes the muscles of a man who is evidently not so keen on women with high BMI. The ‘craft’ fridge glows seductively in the entrance, but the Blue Moon and Carlsberg’s Baltika 7 will have to wait for another time.