Cambridge Pubs – Butch Annie’s

Yes, I know, it’s not a “pub” – I’m using that as a catch-all for anywhere that serves draught beer without requiring a food order – but until today I didn’t know Butch Annie’s was anything more than a burger place with some decent canned beers. The last time I came, over a year ago admittedly, they had Fourpure cans or Cerveses La Gardènia bottles to accompany the burgers, and good veggie burgers they are too. So it was a double-take surprise to see eight taps when we popped in for some lunch today – four from Fourpure and four from Redwell is more than enough choice to go with a burger, and they do welcome drinkers, so it’s a bar, or for my purposes, a pub.

Butch Annie's

Butch Annie's Beer List

It’s an independent subterranean bar near the Market Place, in what used to be Carrington’s Cafe on Market Street. We’ve always found the service and atmosphere friendly, and after suffering a few songs from U2 were rewarded with Hendrix’s Foxy Lady. The walls are graffitied, many of the tables form booths with padded bench seats, and there are stools at the bar – there has to be, it gets busy enough that you have to wait with a drink for a table to come free. But had we not, we wouldn’t have spotted the beer list and enjoyed a couple of pints of Fourpure Session IPA. For me, the burgers are better than Byron’s and I’ll take draught beer over cans any day. So, unexpectedly, at lunchtime today another Cambridge “pub” was added to the list and promptly ticked.

Butch Annie's

Cambridge Pubs – Waterman

It was on the cards that at some point during my endeavour to drink in each of the 80+ pubs and bars in Cambridge this year, one or more of the pubs would face closure – either to be transformed and relaunched, or to serve last orders. If I was lucky, I’d catch them before they changed or disappeared. It seems I got lucky and caught the Waterman before one such transformation.

On the 28th of this month, the Waterman in its present form will close, undergo a refit and refurbishment, and perhaps a couple months later will relaunch as… well time will tell, but for better or for worse it will change.

Waterman

Of course the present Waterman has already survived several changes. The original pub was rebuilt by the now defunct Star brewery of Cambridge in the early 1930s, and since then the interior has been opened out so the separate public bar and lounge now form one large room.

For me, this was a first visit. I’ve somehow gone over 20 years without setting foot in the place before, despite having visited the nearby pubs – the Boathouse, Portland Arms, Old Spring and the boarded up former ‘Spoons pub the Tivoli – on many occasions. And it turns out to be a nice pub and a pleasant surprise to find there’s an open fire that I can stare into on this freezing January evening. There are only two other customers in apart from us, plus the barman and a young kid who appears to live here – one corner of the room is like a living room, and he sits there gaming on his laptop with his back to the bar, seemingly oblivious to us. A TV above the fire replays Spurs 2-0 win over Chelsea, and to the side of the fireplace is a large aquarium – something else to gaze into.

Waterman

The couple (“I’m 50 and my wife’s 17 years younger” he beams – they could both be in their 60s) chat to the barman, and I catch some priceless pub “facts”:

Him: “Do you know there are more catholics in London than in the whole of Ireland, eh? Did you know the Vatican owns two thirds of all the land in Ireland? I bet you didn’t know that did you?”
Barman: “I didn’t know that”

The piped music is inoffensive background music – until the Proclaimers “500 Miles” comes on and the volume is inexplicably turned up loud. We were about to leave anyway, but we’re a bit sad that the next time we’ll come here the place won’t look this lived in – the aquarium will be gone, that corner won’t look like someone’s living room, the floorboards will be polished and the paint fresh, the young barman will have been replaced (“they’re bringing their own staff in – still, a change is good”), and the pub sign will have been replaced by something that looks less like a low-resolution enlarged photo, and another small patch of the city will have been gentrified. Then a few years later, when the investors (City Pub Co apparently) “exit”, as they intend to, one can only guess what will become of the site once known as the Jolly Waterman.

Waterman

OTB:
Staropramen Pravha, Sharps Atlantic and Doom Bar, Guinness, Stella, Carlsberg, Heineken

Cambridge Pubs – Grain and Hop Store

I’ve written about the Grain and Hop Store before, when it reopened almost two years ago as Greene King’s attempt at a craft beer bar. I liked it more than I expected to then, and I still like it now. It’s a welcoming spacious place, and for a former industrial building (Avery Scales factory) manages to avoid the cold industrial feel I find, say, a typical Brewdog bar emanates, having plenty of wood furnishings and warm colours to soften the exposed pipes and brickwork, and as our visit was on the eve of Twelfth Night, the last of the festive decorations were still in place, including of course a Rocking Rudolph flashing pump clip.

Grain and Hop Store

That said, the keg beer list was a bit of a disappointment. I could put this down to it being a cold Wednesday evening in “Dryanuary”, but if that were the case I’d expect to see fewer cask ales if anything, yet all six cask ales were on, it was the keg list that had diminished – I don’t visit often enough to know if this was a one-off or a trend. In any case, after having the Brentwood Chocwork Orange I’d have preferred a reduced cask choice – I’d kindly suggest it was on the turn, but more honestly it tasted like it had been filtered through soil. The Brewdog Santa Paws was fine though, and the cask Oakham Oblivion, to be fair. There’s always the Tankovna.

Grain and Hop  Store

Then and now
(Left March 2015, Right Jan 2017)

It was only 6pm, so it might not be a concern that there weren’t many people in, but a large pub can look especially empty when it’s not busy. I want this pub to succeed, as I say, I think it’s a nice place, but on this occasion it didn’t appear to be exactly thriving. One to keep an eye on maybe.

Grain and Hop Store

Cambridge Pubs – Old Bicycle Shop

I pop in because I think I see a Cloudwater pump clip as I’m passing, but disappointingly it turns out to be “Cloudy cider”. My eyesight’s not what it used to be. Anyway, there are plenty of beers so I take halves of Pig & Porter Chocolate Orange Porter and Red Spider Rye, later returning for a Wild Weather Hubcap Halo, to a seat at the front facing the street, a good spot for people watching, although I’m under the spell of a short story I want to get back to.

Three girls in the corner next to me are speaking Spanish, not my strong point – I can order a beer and “uno mas” but I can’t eavesdrop on a conversation. Other groups of people come and go behind me, their voices indistinct and blending into the piped music playing low in the background, perfect conditions for settling down into the comfy chair with a good book, which I do.

Old Bicycle Shop

I’m mostly lost amongst the pages, but at one point I discern Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag playing in the background, and I picture James Brown strutting and twisting and jerking across a stage, sweating and shrieking the words out from his gut, and fifty years later in this moment for me it’s diminished to background music gently soundtracking a few pages from a book. I tap my feet out of guilt.

I’ve been to the Old Bicycle Shop before and enjoyed a good long lunch, probably one of the best choices for vegetarian food in Cambridge, and I’ve come at other times for a drink only to find the small bar area bustling and all the seats taken, and left immediately. On this occasion the atmosphere is different again, a choice of empty seats a pleasant burble of conversation and music conducive to relaxing with a good read. Which I still haven’t finished – I’m easily distracted.

Cambridge Pubs – Punt Yard

The most recent bar to open in Cambridge, at the enviable location of the Quayside, an area packed with punters (“customers” and people who “propel or travel in a punt”) during the summer, and which hasn’t had a bar since Henry’s closed over five years ago. So it’s probably not at its best on a drizzly grey day in January, or has been since it opened in November last year.

We’re asked as we enter if we’re eating or there just for drinks, as often happens at the Brew House on King Street – unsurprisingly both are owned by City Pub Co, along with the Old Bicycle Shop and the Mill, the most traditional pub of the lot. I expect their next venture, the soon-to-open Petersfield, will be more food oriented, but so long as drinkers are welcome, it fits the bill. At the Punt Yard the main bar has the best views anyway, looking towards the river and Magdalane College on the far bank, while the dining area is at the rear. The outdoor seating looks optimistic now but will be at a premium at the first sign of sun. The Punt Yard is waiting for its ship to come in.

Punt Yard

Notably for a modern bar there are no bare filament light bulbs, no exposed brickwork, and only a bit of distressed wood making up the bar. The whole place looks smart without being swanky – how I imagine some craft beer bars might come to look when they’ve plastered over the brickwork, concealed the pipes and added light shades as the fad fades. It also has more canned beer packed into its fridges than I think I’ve seen in any other Cambridge bar – about twenty varieties, mostly between £4.75 – £5.50 each, but up to £7 for a Northern Monk Patrons Coffee Porter. I’m a bit surprised there aren’t more keg beers – only Brew House Pale and Fourpure Oatmeal Stout alongside Amstel and Heineken – but then it’s yet to hit its busy season. Anyway, the oatmeal stout is very good.

There’s only one other table of drinkers in the bar, made up of two couples, and one of them goes over to the board games, returning to the table with Monopoly. There was an expectant moment when I thought they might be going for Twister.

Punt Yard

OTB:
Cambridge Brewhouse Pale, Fourpure Oatmeal Stout, Amstel, Heineken.

Cambridge Pubs – Baron of Beef

I’ve been in this pub perhaps only a couple of times ever, and not once in the past twenty years. Back then it had a nice front room separated from the rest of the pub by a wood panelled partition, and one of the longest bars in Cambridge. Yet even as I’m walking towards it I wonder if after this visit I’m likely to return at any time in the next twenty years. I mean, it’s next door to the Mitre, just around the corner from the Maypole and the Punt Yard, and along the street from the Pickerel – all pubs I’d choose over the Baron. Still, I’m hoping to be surprised by some pubs over the next year of visiting every pub in Cambridge, so maybe this will be one.

It’s a good start when entering the pub the smiling barman wishes us a “Happy New Year” and asks “what can I get you?” – for me it’s an Abbot’s Reserve. We hear him greet other customers in this friendly manner, offering tasters before being asked and so forth. Three TV screens show Spurs thumping Watford 4-1. Successive refurbishments have opened it out into one long room with a shortened bar, the walls advertising various promotions, wooden floorboards leading to a quarry tiled floor at the rear which seems to say “yes, you’ve almost reached the toilets”. There’s a yard out the back with a covered shelter that looks a pleasant enough place to sit, were it not for the drizzle and cold wind. The new Victorian style awning at the front is a nice addition.

Baron of Beef

Looking around there’s nothing wrong with this place – it’s clean (well, apart from the too-sticky-to-lean-on table), it’s inoffensive and… well, that’s about it really. I’m not sure what its USP is, if it even needs one. The promotions advertised everywhere suggest it’s geared towards getting cheaply loaded before moving on to a nightclub, which might well have been my reason for visiting back in the early 90s. Apparently £5 will get you 2 bombs, 3 shots or 5 “sourz”, whatever they are (I genuinely don’t know, but I’m guessing it’s not lambics). Only after a while do I notice the attempt at a craft wall – a small familiarly white-tiled bit behind the bar with Punk IPA (£4.80 a pint), GK East Coast IPA and Blue Moon – the only other craft credentials are a few bare filament lightbulbs. When the friendly barman leaves, a group of young staff emerge and gather at the bar, almost as many of them as there are customers – I count 7 staff and 10 customers including us at that point. Most of the customers look of similar student age to the staff, with a couple of over-sixties sitting by themselves.

A middle-aged woman enters and walks over to the bar.
“Can I help?” asks one of the young girls.
“I’d like to know if I can bring my dog in?”
“You’re only allowed to have them in the garden, but there is heaters”
“Oh, he’ll freeze out there, we’ll leave it, but thank you kindly”
She doesn’t seem at all put out, but nevertheless away walks owner and dog. Not long after, we finish our drinks and leave too. I don’t suppose any of us will be back anytime soon. For no other reason than there is no good reason.

Baron of Beef

OTB:
Greene King Abbot Reserve, IPA and Baron of Beef (one of those “Landlord’s Choice” GK beers), Black Sheep Shearer, Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted.
Brewdog Punk IPA, GK East Coast IPA, Blue Moon, Carlsberg, San Miguel, Guinness Extra Cold.

Cambridge Pubs – Eagle

Pub #3 in my attempt to visit every pub in Cambridge over the next year…

I’ve written previously about the history of the Eagle, so I’ll keep this brief. The Eagle is one of the oldest Cambridge pubs and probably the most famous owing to its associations with the discovery of DNA, and its RAF bar, the ceiling covered in the graffiti of World War II airmen who burned their names and squadron numbers onto it using cigarette lighters and candles. It’s packed when we visit, it always is, and we’re lucky that the people at the table we’re standing next to get up to leave as we’re looking around for a seat. For others it’s standing room only, but then some people do come here just to stand, take photos, especially of the aforementioned ceiling, then leave without even staying for a drink (I later stand and take a photo of the RAF bar for this post, looking like the very tourists I’m describing – perhaps they’re all blogging about it too).

Eagle

In each room every table is full and seems to have or be waiting for food. The menu here reflects the need for fast service and rapid turnover – pies, fish and chips, burgers. Nevertheless, as I’m at the bar an agitated man pushes to the front and loudly asks “Just how long is the wait for food?”. “About 25 minutes sir” says a barman with an Italian accent, who’s pouring a round of drinks for a group at the bar. “Oh for goodness sake” huffs the customer, turns on his heels and storms off. The barman looks at me amused, “some people are crazy, no?!”.

The number of different beers on offer also reflects the high throughput – I count about 10 cask ales, albeit 7 of them from Greene King, along with the usual keg lagers – disappointingly the Brewdog Santa Paws has all gone so I settle for an Abbot Reserve.

Eagle

It’s well decorated for Christmas, fairy lights and tinsel everywhere, and of course a Rocking Rudolph flashing pump clip. Despite the temperature outside failing to rise above zero degrees C, the outdoor seating under the patio heaters has plenty of customers too. As we leave, squeezing our way through the people stood in the doorway aiming cameras at the ceiling, I note that a particular upstairs window is indeed open, seeming to confirm the tale about the fire and associated ghost – it’s said that some children were unable to escape from the room during a fire a few hundred years ago, so it’s written into the lease that it should always remain open, with any attempts to close it having strange and unwelcome consequences. It must be true – a window wouldn’t be left open in weather this cold without good reason.

OTB:
Greene King Abbot Ale, Abbot Reserve, Eagle DNA, Fireside, IPA, St Edmunds, Rocking Rudolph, Black Sheep Shearer, Cottage Memphis Belle, Sadlers Peaky Blinder.
Becks, Guinness, Hop House lager, Estrella, Peroni, San Miguel.