Category Archives: Cambridge Pubs

Cambridge Pubs – The Haymakers

Haymakers

After being closed for a couple of years with the inevitable looming threat of redevelopment, the Haymakers was rescued and refurbished by Milton brewery, reopening in April 2013. Much improved, it bucked the trend of ‘opening out’ pub interiors, instead turning one large room into two and adding a new snug. There’s a distinct Milton style seen in their other Cambridge pubs the Devonshire Arms and the Queen Edith, with high-backed wooden bench seats, the work also uncovering an impressive beamed ceiling.

Haymakers

The Haymakers dates back to at least 1851 when Thomas Keath is listed as a beer retailer, although the pub isn’t named. By 1869 the Haymakers is named with Thomas Keath the publican and ‘hay dealer’, so it’s possible he gave the pub its name. In the 1850s the Haymakers would have stood opposite two other pubs – the Wheatsheaf on the east corner of Union Lane and the High Street, and the Bleeding Heart/Hart on the east corner of Chapel Street and the High Street. There have been many pubs on the High Street, but only the Haymakers has survived. In the late 1800s, the Haymakers publican Robert Green is listed as a “farmer and brewer”, followed in the early 1900s by Charles Green, also a “farmer and brewer”, so it’s possible they supplied their own beer for the pub, although by the 1930s the Haymakers was owned and supplied by Cambridge’s Star Brewery.

Though I’ve covered the history of the Haymakers before, I think these anecdotes are worth repeating. An 83 year old former resident of Chesterton told me:

“The Haymakers was the centre of entertainment in Chesterton. There was music and dancing. Jack Mays would be thumping it out on his accordian, there’d be shouting and balling. It was a rough and rowdy pub. If women were seen going in there, people would turn their noses up at them! It was more gentlemanly in the Wheatsheaf opposite. There was a little island outside the Haymakers at the entrance to Chapel Street, which used to have a Police Box on it.

During the war, it was the hangout of the American Servicemen from G23 Camp (where the Science/Business Parks now stand). There’d often be fights between black and white Americans – they had separate nights for a time. The Military Police would go in and sort them out when there was trouble and they’d ban them. After D-Day, the Americans vanished overnight. When I was in the Army Cadet Forces, we’d come out of the drill hall on East Road on Wednesday evenings and walk home past the Haymakers. Sometimes one of us would open the door and throw in a thunderflash. Then there’d be a commotion!”

“It was a rough pub in the sixties too!” another former resident of Chesterton said. “We hardly came in here, we used to go to the Prince Albert just along the road” (the Prince Albert stood on the same side of the High Street, the next pub west of the Haymakers, it was demolished in the 1970s).

The roughest thing about the Haymakers now is the improvised Medusa pump clip.

Haymakers Milton Medusa

From the choice of 6 real ales – 5 from Milton plus Isle of Purbeck IPA – I took a half of the Milton Apollo, a strong blonde previously encountered at last year’s Cambridge Beer Festival, and Milton’s craft keg offshoot Beach Brewery Waikiki, which sits alongside Moravka’s fine keg lager, out to the ‘real grass’ beer garden – and there aren’t many of those left in Cambridge.

Haymakers beer garden

The Haymakers is by far the best pub in this area (Chesterton) of Cambridge, and would no doubt make my top ten Cambridge pubs (I’m bracing myself, having just been asked by the local rag) if I lived nearby. I don’t, so I’ll just have to appreciate these too infrequent visits, and accept I’m missing out.

Cambridge Pubs – The Geldart

Well kept. There’s my two-word review of the Geldart. For three words, I’ll add “extremely well kept”, which happens to also be the opinion from a review of the pub in the 1970s; a case of the pub self-regulating its appearance over the decades, maybe?

Geldart

Well kept beer; in the Good Beer Guide since it was taken over by Elvis 9 years ago, where Tribute and Deuchars were joined by Titanic Plum Porter, Dark Star Festival, Lancaster Bomber, Oakham Citra, and St Austell Liquid Sunshine (I could have done much better using the words tribute and Elvis in the same sentence, as anyone who witnessed MJ Trayner at the Fleur De Lys in the 90s would agree). I only noticed the keg Tiny Rebel (Fubar?) on the way out, or I’d have had that over the Citra, fine though that was.

Well kept beer garden; either it’s a coincidence and each time I visit they’ve just deadheaded the flowers, or they generally take great care maintaining the courtyard at the rear, where we managed to catch the last of the sun before it dropped behind the rooftops of the terraced streets, noting the covered seating for the other 364 days of the year when it’s too wet to sit outside. I defended the contentious choice of a 1970s Ford Cortina as the focal point of the courtyard – it’s a thing of beauty! (similarly, the garages by Calverley’s Brewery, around the corner on Hooper Street, shelter an awesome hot rod barely recognisable as a car that began life as a humble Morris Minor).

Geldart

The pub itself is an 1870s backstreet corner pub, named after landowner James William Geldart, former Fellow and Vice-Master of Trinity Hall and, like his father before him, rector of Kirk Deighton in Yorkshire. It’s split into three rooms; the main bar, with a real fire in the winter, to the left as you walk in, a large room to the right more for diners, and a small room between the two with a grand piano as a table, accompanied by a record player and a pristine jukebox. The whole pub seems music themed, even the menus are on vinyl, and there’s regular live music from some of the best local bands. Mention must also be made of the toilets, because they are immaculate! Gents might think they’ve mistakenly walked into the ladies, the cleanliness is so unexpected.

The Geldart must rank as one of Cambridge’s best pubs, and one I should visit more often. It is indeed “extremely well kept”.

Sources:
Gray, R. (2000) Cambridge Street-Names: Their Origins and Associations

Cambridge Pubs – The Green Dragon

Not for the first time, we were sat in the packed Thirsty ‘biergarten’ on a Sunday afternoon wondering what made it so popular. We’d walked 15 minutes from the city centre to get there, mostly to get some photos so I could finish the blog post about it I’d started after our last visit, but what drew so many other customers? Providing a temporary place to drink beer within sight of a river was bound to appeal, but is it really as ‘revolutionary’ as Thirsty believe? I mean, less than half a mile (650 metres precisely) downriver, the Green Dragon has a beer garden on the river bank, but I’ll have bet that wouldn’t be nearly as busy. Good beer helps, sure – the Green Dragon won’t have ‘craft’ beer from the likes of Howling Hops and Lost and Grounded, but of the three beers on at Thirsty at the time, two were lagers and the other a pale ale, surely not the deciding factor. Maybe it’s not the beer at all, and the food is what separates them, pop up vs. pub grub; but again, the van at Thirsty on this particular day was offering cheese toasties, which unless I’m missing something, isn’t too far off the cheesy garlic ciabatta any Greene King pub could throw together.

Thirsty riverside

Thirsty riverside biergarten

Looking around, it was hard to see the commonalities in a mixed crowd that was perhaps predominantly young but spanned a wide age range. Affluence was probably the defining characteristic, especially at Thirty’s card-only ‘cashless’ bar, yet there are plenty of traditional pubs in Cambridge frequented by the flush, and the nearby Haymakers on the same side of the river as the Green Dragon does good trade from the tech companies around the Science Park. The only shared attribute seemed to be that everyone was relaxed. About to order another drink, we thought instead we’d wander along to the Green Dragon to compare and contrast. That was our mistake.

Green Dragon

The Green Dragon is one of Cambridge’s oldest inns, a timber-framed, crooked-roofed building listed as 16th century, and described as “an ancient victualling house” even by 1630 when a license was granted (Enid Porter, Old Cambridge Inns). It was a regular in the Good Beer Guide until it dropped out a few years back, described then as serving “excellent food” and offering “friendly company”. The interior walls featured various local artefacts, including a display which told of an old local who left the pub one evening to row home, with a collection of the possessions found on him when his body was recovered from the river the following morning.

Naturally, just the kind of characterful, ancient pub that needed a ‘Flame Grill” refurb. So in 2012, out went the local history (I was told the local’s last possessions had been “thrown in the skip” when I enquired), the old pictorial sign to be replaced by a bland branded one until the outcry forced them to reconsider.

Green Dragon

It wasn’t all bad though – they hadn’t removed the timber frames or bricked up the inglenook fireplace, and the beer garden got re-turfed a couple of years later and looked in good shape.

Green Dragon 2014

The Green Dragon was, it’s worth remembering, the only pub in this part of Chesterton at that point; the former Dog and Pheasant having been demolished, the Penny Ferry awaiting the same fate, and the Haymakers yet to reopen. In 2013 the Haymakers did reopen, and I know anecdotally that a fair few people, feeling the post-refurb Green Dragon lacked atmosphere and the food was increasingly disappointing, made the Haymakers their default destination and never returned. In contrast, the Green Dragon became the pub of choice for patrons from the nearby traveller’s site, who had previously frequented the Penny Ferry.

Now before I go on, I’ll make my position clear. I’ve no time for pub snobbery, and while not every pub is going to meet my tastes, I wouldn’t expect or want them to. The Green Dragon clearly offers an environment some people appreciate enough to keep going back to; for plenty of people this is their local, and I’m glad there are still pubs in Cambridge that haven’t been gentrified or raised their prices such that some people might be priced out of having somewhere to drink – it’s a long walk to a Hungry Horse or Wetherspoon from this part of town. But for me, it turned out to be the worst experience I’ve had in any of the 80+ pubs I’ve visited in Cambridge this year, and although that’s just my opinion, it perhaps goes some way to explaining why many people who might feel welcome at the packed Thirsty biergarten, might not feel so relaxed in the almost empty beer garden of the Green Dragon.

Green Dragon

We stood at the bar next to a couple of sweary gents, so drunk they’d probably have fallen on their faces if the bar wasn’t there to prop them up. Fine with me, it’s a pub after all. I was shouldered out of the way while waiting to be served, but that’s not a first, and it’s a pub after all. A woman sat scowling at me while I waited for my Amstel – perhaps she objected to me asking again for Amstel when the barman, having misheard me, presented me with two glasses of Aspall. Fine with me, etc. After further shouldering, I grabbed the drinks and made a swift exit to the beer garden. Outside a couple of young lads who I’m pretty certain were from a local caravan site that might not be Caravan Club certified, tried starting a fight with an old man who had the audacity to be using the same pavement, but when he failed to react to their taunts their attention turned to a single female walking on the opposite side of the street. Their charming chat up line “Oi, get over here. Oi you, get over here” failed to elicit the desired response, so they went back in the pub. That’s not fine with me, it’s not acceptable outside a pub or anywhere, and I’ll take all the ‘snowflake’ taunts you can throw at me if you disagree.

The Amstel was proof even keg beer isn’t indestructible, and fearing the lads might return and look for other targets for their aggression, we decided to leave the drinks and get away from the area. It was actually a relief to cross the bridge and be away from the place, and this was 5 o’clock in the afternoon, good luck with a Friday night there. I cycle past it several times a week and it’s not the first time I’ve seen aggressive behaviour. Whatpub has this marked as ‘family friendly’, make of that what you will. Again, I’m not holding the pub responsible for customer’s behaviour, and we weren’t threatened, just intimidated. Different strokes for different folks, and all that. But I’m guessing this is why the pub and the beer garden were half empty, with an air of aggression hanging over it, while just along the river the biergarten was packed with people happily chatting and enjoying the sun. I won’t be going back to the Green Dragon any time soon, and no doubt that will suit me, the pub and the locals just fine.

UPDATE: It seems I’m not the only one who has found it a less than welcoming place recently:

Cambridge Pubs – The Waterman (revisited)

Waterman

When I first visited the Waterman in January, I appreciated the unfussy, lived-in charm of the place, and wished I hadn’t waited so long to finally go for a drink there. It was the kind of pub I hoped I’d discover as I visited every pub in Cambridge this year, a simple boozer with a good atmosphere and, especially welcome on a cold January evening, an open fire. So it was a bit of a bombshell when the barman told me it was about to close, having been taken over by City Pub Co East. I had mixed feelings about that; on the one hand, they’ve done a fine job of refurbishing/upgrading the pubs they’ve been hoovering up at an increasing rate (the Mill in 2012, the former Bun Shop/Jolly Scholar, now the Brew House, in 2013, and so far this year the former White Hart, latterly the Backstreet Bistro, now the Petersfield, along with the Waterman, and the Red Lion in Histon, not to mention opening the Old Bicycle Shop and the Punt Yard last year in premises which hadn’t previously been pubs), some of which now rank amongst the best pubs in Cambridge and have a much improved choice of beer. On the other hand, City Pub Co is acquiring these pubs to build up a portfolio which will provide an attractive return for investors; from late 2020 they will consider an exit strategy which could include a trade sale, something Clive Watson and David Bruce, part of the management team, have previous experience of, selling former venture Capital Pub Company to Greene King for £93m (“Greene King is an excellent cultural fit and will be a good home for both the business and our staff”, said Clive Watson at the time). I think it’s fair to express concern at that, without taking anything away from the pubs as they are today, and the refurbished Waterman turns out to be another good addition.

Waterman

Almost six months after closing, the Waterman reopens under the new ownership tomorrow. I happened to be there last night because a friend had booked it for a birthday party, no doubt an opportunity for the business to ‘soft launch’ and stress-test the bar and kitchen. Disclosure – this being a private party, the food was free, but I will say the Padrón peppers (one of the best snacks to accompany a beer, in my humble opinion) and massive veggie burger (sweetcorn fritter style) were top nosh. The full beer range wasn’t on, but the likes of Cloudwater, Beavertown and Thornbridge for less than £6 a pint makes a mockery of nearby pub the Old Spring charging £6 for a pint of Punk IPA. The two other pubs nearby might also be bracing themselves; the Portland Arms opposite has picked an unfortunate time to give itself a refurb, closing from August 7th to the 22nd, giving the Waterman the opportunity to pull away and gain open water.

Waterman

As for the refurbishment, it’s similar to the Petersfield, one of its many sister pubs, with soft furnishings, art covering all available wall space, and a high density of wood – the bar is about the size of a cross section of giant redwood, and sticks its chest out into the room such that the room feels smaller than it did prior to the refurbishment. At the rear, the outdoor paved area has been extended, and the outbuildings will eventually get used for private functions, while there’s a row of picnic benches at the front for those who prefer a view of the Mitcham’s Corner gyratory system (I’m relieved to see the logo for the defunct Star Brewery, former owners of the pub, has been preserved on the front gable). Good to see the Waterman get a new lease of life, I only hope it has the same appeal beyond 2020…

Cambridge Pubs – Revolution

Revolution

Formerly the Rat & Parrot, which opened in December 1999 in what had been the Cambridge Building Society, in 2007 it was refurbished and reopened as Revolution bar. We’d been waiting for a suitably sunny day to visit and enjoy the roof terrace, refurbished last October and sensibly fitted with a retractable roof, and it turns out it’s a really nice space to enjoy a drink, even if the beer list is unexciting, and one of the few roof terraces for drinking in Cambridge; Novi and the River Bar/Varsity Hotel (no draught beer so not on list) are the only others I can think of.

It was 2-for-1 on cocktails when we arrived, so after some strawberry flavoured alcoholic drink, a spritz or a Woo Woo or something, that I knocked back like it was beer, I did the right thing and ordered an actual beer. Ordering a beer (table service) was, not for the first time (I’m looking at you, Architect), reminiscent of Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch:

Me: Can I have a pint of Honkers Ale please?
She: I’m afraid we’ve sold out of that.
Me: No problem, I’ll have a Budvar instead then.
She: Erm, it’s not tasting very nice at the moment. Can I recommend a bottle of Camden Pale; a lot of people really like that.
Me: Sure, I’ll have a bottle of that.
Disappears for a moment to retrieve bottle from downstairs bar
She: It turns out we don’t have any Camden Pale left…

Thankfully, there was at least one beer that hadn’t been eaten by the cat, and I ended up with a pint of Amstel, along with some halloumi fries, better described as halloumi chips, a top-notch bar snack.

Revoultion

I noted I could’ve combined the pleasures of beer and cocktails and had a boilermaker; at least one other Cambridge bar, Smokeworks, has these on the menu – is this the start of a trend?

The downstairs bar didn’t have quite the same appeal as the roof terrace, although it did have Air Con set to ‘walk-in fridge’ level, and the clubroom only “comes alive” at night apparently, although there was piped music on the terrace at almost club volume, with the likes of Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Alicia Keys on repeat. Still, it was a friendly place, and I’d probably visit the roof terrace more often if they replaced one of the handful of lagers with something a bit more exciting (“Real Ale is NOT Available” says whatpub – you have been warned!)

Revolution

Cambridge Pubs – Hot Numbers

Hot Numbers

Another venue just got added to the list of places to get a beer in Cambridge. Hot Numbers, an independent coffeeshop and roastery on Trumpington Street, became the latest yesterday evening when they cracked into their first keg, serving De Molen Hop & Liefde at a ‘happy hour’ price of £2.50 a half.

Hot Numbers

Drinks are ordered at the counter and brought to your table; there are a couple of tables outside at the front, and a courtyard at the back. As they only have half pint glasses, frequent trips to the counter were made to keep topped up on this great session beer, sweet caramel malt mingling with subtly spicy citrus hops – hopefully they’ll have De Molen permanently because I think the Pint Shop is the only other place in Cambridge serving their beer with any regularity.

Hot Numbers

Formerly Martin’s Coffee House, where in the booth seating such culinary delights as spaghetti in butter could be enjoyed, it closed in 2013 after a long-running dispute over the lease with Cambridge University. The following year it reopened as Hot Numbers’ second site; perhaps the original site on Gwydir Street will soon start serving keg beer to add to its current selection of bottles and cans…

Cambridge Pubs – Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

Cambridge Union beer garden

The other day we were counting how many Cambridge pubs have beer gardens with real grass, and could only come up with a handful of them*. There’s one we forgot, and it’s hidden away behind the Round Church, down an alley off Bridge Street, right in the historic centre – the beer garden to Cambridge Union’s 1815 Bar. This was a private members’ bar until 2015 when it was granted permission to open to the public, so it’s no wonder we’d overlooked it.

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

The bar is named after the founding year of the Cambridge Union, although the Victorian Gothic building it occupies wasn’t opened until 1866, and the bar is in an additional wing added two decades later in 1886. It’s a large room with wooden floors, a high ceiling with chandeliers and fairy lights, full length windows, and furnished with leather chairs and Chesterfield sofas. The walls are lined with signed photographs of famous guests; while many pubs claim tenuous links to highwaymen and embattled kings, the Union Bar has probably served some of the most famous names of the past century, no doubt witnessing late night debauchery from the likes of Stephen Hawking, ‘top’ Buzz Aldrin, and the Dalai Lama. Well, Stephen Fry at least.

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

It probably also has one of the cheapest pints of real ale in Cambridge, not counting the Wetherspoon’s and various Greene King IPA and Doom Bar promotions, with Marston’s 61 Deep Pale Ale at £2.50 a pint. We also had the Pilsner Urquell at a less reasonable £8.50 for a pint and a half (£3 for the half!).

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

There’s a surprisingly decent range of cans and bottles too.

Cambridge Union 1815 Bar

It has the kind of opening hours that would keep retiredmartin suitably entertained, sometimes closing “in periods of low demand and private functions/parties, specifically during exam term”, while it “may close at 2am rather than 1am Thursday-Saturday in periods of high demand”, making it one of the classier late night drinking venues. It’s the rare ‘real-grass’ beer garden that’s the main draw for us though, well worth a visit during this equally rare prolonged spell of weather good enough to enjoy it.

* Forthcoming post will round up Cambridge’s real-grass beer gardens