For all the innovation and convenience of digital music, nothing can match the experience of handling a gatefold album cover, sliding a vinyl record out, with a pull of static from the sleeve, carefully placing it on the turntable then clumsily dropping the needle on the groove, the expectant hiss and crackle before a note has even played. To me the Live and Let Live is like a classic vinyl LP in a gatefold sleeve; an experience unmatched by MP3 gastropubs and streamed modern bars, but one I don’t get around to often enough.
As unassuming as the Beatles White Album from the outside, as characterful, rewarding and often entertaining as the music inside, it harks back to a time of worn wood over brushed steel, quality over quantity, conversation over wi-fi connection. A wet-led backstreet beerhouse, almost 150 years old, with a few pieces of breweriana, railway memorabilia and defunct gas lights on the walls, locals at the bar, smokers in the terraced street outside, and amongst the five real ales and three ciders, the best-kept Oakham Citra and Green Devil anywhere.
A seemingly changeless pub that has of course changed a lot over time, originally a smaller beerhouse that expanded into a neighbouring property and extended into the yard, the snug once a storage space, only becoming a free house in the late 1980s. Visitors now might struggle to picture the pub in the 70s, described as having an “unspectacular interior.. not the sort of room one can feel very at home in”, sporting “an original collection of China heads on the wall”, and including “café-like furniture… a particularly boring selection of piped music… and a temperamental fruit machine”; more recognisable is the description of how, “on the way to the toilets, one is confronted by a bewildering array of doors”! Likewise, it’s hard to imagine how in the 80s one drawback called out was its “sometimes high yuppie quota among the customers”, although more familiar might be the description of the plentiful use of wood “giving something of the atmosphere of a large log cabin” (someone once suggested it’s like drinking in a ‘Finnish sauna’, but I wouldn’t know)
The pub sign is based on a sign for The Man Loaded with Mischief, a pub which stood out of town on Madingley Road – that sign, inspired by one attributed to Hogarth, was painted in the 1830s by local artist and inn sign painter Richard Hopkins Leach, and can be seen in the former White Horse Inn, now the Cambridge Museum on Castle Street.
Whenever someone finishes their drink and heads for the door, the barman, one of the two licensees – no transient bar staff here – breaks his conversation to say “cheers”. On a previous occasion, I mentioned I was visiting all 90 or so pubs and bars in Cambridge this year and he looked puzzled, suggesting a better plan would have been 90 or more visits to the Live and Let Live. He’s not wrong.