It used to be named the Fort St George In England, but dropped the ending, and as a result tourists who ask for directions to a riverside pub in Cambridge often find themselves in Madras.
People who love orderly queues will love this pub, because you can choose to join the queue to the bar or sit outside on the courtyard and watch as it grows, stretching outside and down the side of the building. Until the 1830s the pub stood on an island in the river, with locks on one side, but this limited the length the queue could grow to so the locks were filled in and it was joined to the mainland – the bridge over the river was built to extend the queue to Chesterton.
Needless to say I queued orderly, in single file, for my beer here, but it was worth it to glimpse the elusive Greene King London Glory, a beer rarely seen outside the capital, along with brother Abbot and the style-defining IPA. Drawing on all my strength of willpower, I resisted the cask offerings and had the Pilsner Urquell, one of a range of continental lagers representing the Czech Republic, Italy, and the Netherlands. On each occasion I eventually made it to the bar, the girl who poured the drink couldn’t reach the pint glasses and one of the locals was encouraged to come over and get one down. It’s the kind of intimated obligation that must make the locals feel useful and keep them coming back – other pubs with glassware more easily to hand, take note!
Returning for another drink, the queue became less than orderly when an irate woman called out a couple of lads for attempting to get a drink by the usual means of going to the bar. “Theres a system, don’t you know?!”. And of course, they didn’t know, since this is THE ONLY PUB IN THE WORLD where there’s a queuing system. Later, she spotted some people open a box of crackers at a table outside – naturally, she quickly reported this to a member of the bar staff, who was obliged to tell the group they had to clear up their ‘picnic’ or leave. You’ve got to have rules! Still, you can’t blame them for bringing their own food, it can take an age for food orders to arrive.
The pub itself still retains some of its 16th century charm, timber-framed with tiled floor and roof, a snug with herringbone parquet floors, oak beams and an open fire, and some of the most envious views of any Cambridge pub; on one side the river, on the other the large open space of Midsummer Common, giving the impression of an extensive beer garden. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had a meal here during their first official visit to Cambridge in 2012, following which a framed picture commemorating the occasion was hung above their table, with a plaque reserving a seat for Prince George, should he ever want a Balmoral Chicken or a Dirty Burger. But the biggest draw is the phenomenon of the organically-forming, serpentine, orderly/disorderly, single file queue. Join it.