The Empress is tucked away in the backstreets off the far end of Mill Road, and therefore easy to miss.
Don’t let the understated exterior put you off; it’s a little less restrained inside.
Anyway, there we were reciting Christmas cracker jokes when suddenly there was a knock at the door…
Built in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and named after her (Empress of India, a title she’d assumed the previous year), as was the Jubilee pub which stood on the corner of the next street along until it closed in 2009, since replaced by housing. The interior of the Empress is U-shaped, with a largely open plan layout and three distinct drinking areas, the largest featuring two dartboards, pool, bar billiards and a jukebox, with another area serving up pizzas. We opted for a packet of green chilli pappadums, paying no attention to the packaging and only discovering the pot of mango chutney dip when we were half way through. Amateurs. On this occasion we didn’t venture outdoors to the beer garden, a space we’ve previously shared with resident pigs and rabbits. Instead we enjoyed excellent pints of Timothy Taylor Landlord (also on: Broadside, London Pride, Purity Pure Gold, and Crafty Beers Carpenter’s Cask) in the smaller main bar, the pub busy with locals and the Christmas-tourists, like us, the pub attracts at this time of year.
This “friendly, lively, community pub” first made it into the Good Beer Guide in 1992, and was Cambridge CAMRA’s Pub of the Year 2010, run for the past ten years or so by Dave Utting. Now every October the Christmas decorations go up and six weeks later it’s like drinking in a grotto, while this year the exterior was repainted red just just to make sure it’s Christmassy enough. A few years back, when the couple running the pub were expecting a baby, the landlord said he’d paint the pub blue if it was a boy and pink if it was a girl; much to everyone’s relief it was a boy.