When it comes to riverside pubs in Cambridge, the Mill tops the list. Its unofficial beer garden, a patch of common land called Laundress Green, is the best place to sit amongst authentic cowpats and watch the punting pandemonium in summer. The pub just happens to have some of the best beer to be found in the city, and if you can forgive your beer being served in plastics, you can take outside the likes of Northern Monk, Grain, and Adnams alongside the best of the local breweries – Three Blind Mice, Moonshine, Milton, Bexar County and Cambridge Brewing Co from sister pub the Brew House; on that note, the annual Battle of the Brewers competition is currently on at the Mill, where over the course of three weeks customers can vote for the local brewery that gets a permanent place on the bar for the next couple of months.
That commitment to local breweries is why yesterday evening it was awarded the Cambridge CAMRA LocAle Pub of the Year (City), having been runner up last year (the year before that, it was merely Pub of the Year). This is in recognition of the efforts of Lauren, Andy and the team, and follows the news that after 5 years there, Cambridge’s sweariest landlady is leaving the Mill (but will reappear later this year in another Cambridge pub – you have been warned). Lauren tells me the Mill will now be in the hands of Dylan, who’s no stranger to the pub, having worked alongside her at the Mill “forever”. Before forever, he worked at a number of Cambridge pubs – Lauren reels off the list, and then it dawns on us that every one of those she’s just mentioned has now closed. Uh oh.
I’m glad to say I’ve been back several times since (there really are few better places in Cambridge when the sun’s out) and it’s clearly in good hands. Despite its enviable ‘honeypot’ location, outside of the busy season it’s hard to tear yourself away from a bar with a record player spinning the likes of Parallel Lines, Are You Experienced and Let It Be (The Replacements). That said, during the summer months it gets so busy it’s hard to actually get to the bar, but worth the wait. It wasn’t always like this. Despite being in the first printed Good Beer Guide in 1974, one of only six Cambridge pubs to make it in, and regularly appearing throughout the 80s and 90s when it became a Tap & Spile pub, it rapidly went downhill, and after several poor experiences we were reduced to getting pints of Flowers IPA from the nearby Anchor and taking them out to the green. Its fortunes changed when it became the first Cambridge pub to be taken over by City Pub Company, a venture whose team includes David Bruce, founder of the Firkin Pub chain which previously ran the Fresher Firkin brewpub in Cambridge. Leased from owners Cambridge University, it was completely refurbished, reopening in June 2012.
A late 18th century pub formerly called the Hazard Arms, named after Henry Hazard, a merchant who leased a malting house by the wharf in the 1800s, the pub no doubt served the workers from Bishop’s Mill and King’s Mill which used to stand on the weir, and barge men stopping for refreshments before transporting the corn downriver to Lynn. By 1974, with the river trade long gone, the GBG described it simply as a “city pub used by graduates”, but these days it is, as the local CAMRA branch described it when it was POTY a couple of years ago, “one of those very rare things, a pub that attracts a very healthy tourist trade but at the same time manages to keep its identity as a typical British pub”.