Claiming to be the oldest pub in Cambridge, or even older, dating back to the days when Cambridge had a church for every ‘Pub of the Year’, it was originally called Ye Olde Tessco Expresse. Legend has it that Jesus of Nasareth (near Caernarfon) himself drank here when he met Oliver Cromwell and Dick Turpin to plan the defeat of Henry VIII at the battle for the bridge over the river at Quy.
I enter and make my way past tables covered with the detritus of the day’s trade – empty glassware, including a yard of ale, ‘multipack not to be sold separately’ crisp packets, a copy of CAMRA newsletter ‘Talk on the Mild Side’ and one from a craft splinter group called ‘The Joy of Kegs’. The walls of the pub are covered with old adverts, photos of the locals, breweriana and some horse brasses which were polished in 1983 so the pub could announce a ‘refurbishment’. I get a few suspicious looks, probably on account of being the only one in here that wasn’t also in yesterday and every day before that, and make my way tentatively to the bar, above which the dartboard has been thoughtfully placed.
There are 26 real ales on, which a sign proudly declares are “changed weekly – even when they don’t need it”. To make ordering easier, they’ve each been assigned a word from the phonetic alphabet. To the uninitiated this can be confusing, but errors are forgiven with a friendly tut and shake of the head. One of the locals, a master of the system, orders before me:
“Hello Charlie, I’ll have half a Alpha, a pint of Whisky, one of those Yankee Indias, and Mike wants a Tango. How’s Papa?”
“Fine thanks Victor, he’s having a round of Golf with Juliet before he goes for his X-ray”
A tray of drinks is produced.
I order a pint of ‘Old Wet Dog’ (by pointing to the clip), which comes served in a dimpled drinking horn and is so tired I can hear a deep snoring sound coming from the cellar. I politely comment on it:
“This tastes a bit off”
“Well nobody else has complained”
“Well nobody else is drinking it”
“Of course they’re not – it’s gone off”
An elderly man in the corner keeps nodding off, his angry looking terrier taking the opportunities to get his paws on the table and lap up beer from his glass. I offer the dog a sip of mine but he turns his nose up at it. I sit back and catch up on the latest brewery news.
Having gone to the beer garden to politely pour the beer away, I leave and consider popping into neighbouring pub the Tooth ‘n’ Ale, but can see the draught line-up in there reads like a verse from Born Slippy – there’s a lager, a lager, another lager, and two more lagers. A couple of youths suddenly fall out onto the pavement fighting – this has been awarded the local CAMRA branch’s Fighting Pub of the Year annually since 1977 on account of it being the only nominee, and owing to threats from a succession of landlords.
Rumour has it that these pubs, along with every house in the street, have been taken over by Metropolis Pubco, who plan to quietly turn every building into a gastro-pub before anyone notices.