Cambridge Pubs – Station Tavern

It was about time another Cambridge pub opened. It’s been all of 360 hours since the last one, and that’s a long time to wait for the novelty of a new shiny thing these days. And the Station Tavern has plenty of shiny things.

Station Tavern

Now how about this for a write up:

“This pub is remarkable in that it seems to cater successfully not only for railway passengers and staff but also for a strong local trade. The lounge provides comfort for weary travellers. The well padded seats giving the room a restful atmosphere emphasised by the warm red decoration and subdued lighting. The bars themselves provide all that one could expect from an establishment in this position”

I’ll bet Young’s, owners of the new Station Tavern would take that, but it’s a description from the 1970s of the former Station Hotel, which stood opposite the main building from around the time the railway arrived in Cambridge in 1845, until 1986 when it was demolished and replaced with the offices of Murdoch House.

It’s hard to guess how successful the new Station Tavern will be in achieving “strong local trade”, but surrounded by the major ‘CB1’ development of flats and offices, it must be aiming to catch more than the transient trade the Station Buffet Bar on the platform used to offer – that bar, the “Out of Town“, latterly the “Lord Byron Bar“, closed in the 90s and was replaced with the Marks and Spencer food store. If it does build up a local following, I doubt the nearby pubs will be much affected. I’m sure a Venn diagram of people who’d drink in the Station Tavern and the nearby Flying Pig or Devonshire Arms, even the Earl of Derby, would have a fairly small intersection – this is a pub that will suit people who don’t want their pubs to be too ‘pubby’ – it’s more lounge bar than pub, more All Bar One than Wetherspoon (on that note, with a license to serve beer from 7am, perhaps it might catch drinkers who can’t wait another hour for the Regal to open)

In an interview with the Cambridge News, the general manager said “It will be like another living room for people”. Presumably meaning living rooms like this:

Station Tavern

Or this:

Station Tavern

Rather than this:

Station Tavern

It’s a large place with lots of seating, padded stools around the large bar, leather armchairs around small round wooden tables, padded seating along the side wall on a raised area, more stools, more chairs. It’s mostly one large room, broken up by brick arches and exposed air ducts and piping, with a couple of those living room areas with carefully cluttered bookcases in the corner to the right of the bar, and a small side room appropriately called the Sidings which offered some respite from the loud bar chatter, if not the piped music.

On the opening evening the clientele was a mix of people of all ages, plenty just having a drink and a bite to eat, some who looked dressed for a night out and who would no doubt have found the loud broken beats were a good warm up for the main event in town later, others looked like they’d just stepped off a train (funny that) or had emerged from the Ibis hotel above and probably weren’t even aware it was the opening night, plus a few curious CAMRA types and pub bloggers who’d come to check out a new bar.

Station Tavern

Despite promising “local hero” beers from Moonshine and Milton, on opening the 4 real ales across 7 pumps were Doom Bar, Adnams Broadside, and Young’s Bitter and Special. I found the Keg offerings more tempting and went for a pint of Founder’s All Day IPA; also on were Camden Pale and Camden Hells, alongside the usual lagers & Guinness. A fridge, signposted ‘Crafty’, had bottles from Hammerton and Five Points (including Railway Porter of course) and cans from Beavertown and Yeastie Boys. It’s not a bad selection overall, it’s just painful to remember that a few years ago we seemed so tantalisingly close to having a Cambridge Tap, like those at Euston, Sheffield and York, with the promise of “27 different beers” at any one time – they even got as far as having a premises license granted and revealed designs for the Cambridge Tap sign, before they were “shafted”, and it all fell through. Still, no doubt an improvement on the Tolly Cobbold Bitter and Original the Station Hotel served before it closed.

I liked it more than I thought I would, even though I’m only likely to visit either side of my fairly infrequent train journeys, it felt comfortable and pleasant enough. Nevertheless, leaving a bicycle as conspicuous as that unlocked in Cambridge is just asking to have it nicked.

Station Tavern

Cambridge Pubs – Pint Shop

Pint Shop

For those who’ve bagged Senate House Hill and Market Hill, it’s always a relief to reach the summit of Peas Hill and find the Pint Shop open for refreshment. On this occasion we timed our assault on the peak perfectly and walked in to find a mythical empty table, something the elders speak of but which is rarely encountered these days. This saves us the effort of partaking in the traditional Pint Shop pub game of circling the bar area looking for the table with the emptiest glasses and assuming tactical positions. Instead we get to sit back and observe the phenomenon of the bar being empty one second – blink – then 6 people wide and 3 deep the next, timing our trips to the bar in the gaps between swarming. First beer is of course Kernel’s aptly named Table Beer, a trophy to having found one vacant.

Pint Shop

The beer board here is like one of those puzzles that only Japanese school children can solve, where the aim is to anticipate the total cost of 1 pint of the beer that’s priced by 2/3 of a pint, plus a half of the beer priced in thirds, plus a gin-and-does-that-price-include-the-tonic… then find you can’t have a half of a beer priced in thirds so you have 2/3, oh and some nuts, and… just hand your wallet over. I did take a photo of last night’s beer board but my camera misplaced it, so this is one I prepared earlier, from February 14th, which happens to be the day retiredmartin succinctly captured the pros and cons of the Pint Shop – “Some excellent beers at scary prices”. Still, it offers one of the most pleasurable paths to penury, the keg range consistently providing the best choice in Cambridge, even if it sometimes swaps places on the podiums with the Maypole and the Blue Moon.

Pint Shop

Some people eye our glasses and stand tactically nearby, prompting me to return to the bar for more drinks, much to their disappointment, ascending the ABVs through Wild Beer Fresh, Northern Monk/Wylam Bróðirblóð (try texting those accents on a phone) to Northern Monk IPA, via a couple of G&Ts and a side order of Corkers crisps replacing dinner. It’s hard to have to leave a bar that pipes a blues-based playlist, dotted with the likes of Dusty and Dylan, but eventually we ran out of money and they wouldn’t accept the ‘Spoons vouchers.

Pint Shop

Cambridge Pubs – Baroosh

Baroosh

I was quite looking forward to this one, a chance of some different beers, with it being the only McMullen venue in Cambridge, maybe the McMullen IPA or Country Bitter I’ve had here before. Surprisingly, as we’re walking towards the bar I see a Magic Rock Dark Arts pump clip. Oh no, silly me, it’s another beer that bears no resemblance no siree, one from Rivertown brewery called Defiant. I have a pint and it’s a decent enough bitter, much like McMullen Country Bitter (and it turns out, unsurprisingly, to be brewed at McMullen’s Hertford Brewery). Just that one real ale on then, the only other beers worth noting were Freedom Liberty Pils, Caledonian Three Hop Lager, and Camden Hells on keg.

Rivertown Defiant

The dark art of pump clip design

Opened in November 2002 in what was the Arts Cinema, it’s a large venue over four open plan floors with a rooftop terrace; the main bar on the ground floor, a mezzanine area overlooking it, then a third bar leading to a function room called the ‘Intermission’ after it’s former use. When we visited, it had just proved large enough to have absorbed the extra lunchtime trade from the Half Marathon, as well as a private party setting up in the function room.

Baroosh

Built in 1866 as a University gymnasium, including a gallery approached from a long flight of steps and used as a fencing room, it became the Conservative Club Central Hall later that century. According to Cinema Treasures, after a fire in 1926, the interior was rebuilt as the 250 seat Cosmopolitan Cinema, “a square-shaped one-floor auditorium with mirror projection from the ceiling”, refitted as a 320 seat cinema in 1961. I remember it as the Arts Cinema, fairly run down by the 90s but the kind of venue to go if you liked your films in a foreign language with subtitles.

Baroosh

It stands in Market Passage, in part of the courtyard of what was one of Cambridge’s largest medieval inns, the Black Bear. Samuel Pepys and Oliver Cromwell are recorded as having stayed at the inn; the drawing below shows three bow windows looking into the inn yard, behind which was the room the Parliamentary Committee had sat during the Civil War, its furnishings described in the Cambridge Portfolio of 1840:

“At each end of the room was a hearth, with carved mantelpiece above. On the oak panelled walls were some oil paintings and a looking glass. A draw table stood in the centre of the room and against the walls were sideboards and a court cupboard. The commissioners sat at the table on turkey-work or leather chairs, with their backs to the windows, the chairman being in the middle facing the door.”

Black Bear

From Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Life, 1968

The Bear was demolished in 1848, but later Market Passage had another pub, the Criterion, popular with American GIs and “the arty-farty lot” in the sixties apparently, now the Ta Bouche café. Anyway, back to Baroosh, a nice enough bar, and an inviting roof terrace in the summer, but one not really taking advantage of the opportunity to have some different beers on.

Black Bear Blue Plaque

Sources:
Moody, W.R. (1900) The life of Dwight L. Moody
Povey, G. (2007) Echoes: The Complete History of Pink Floyd

Cambridge Pubs – Blue Moon

The original 19th century pub, the Man In the Moon, which stood near this site, was purchased from the Star Brewery and demolished as part of slum clearances in the early 60s. Shortly after it was resited and rebuilt as the Man On the Moon, opening in 1964 and inspiring NASA to achieve the feat a few years later (although conspiracy theorists believe the pub was never actually rebuilt and is in fact a film set). The themed interior described in the 70s sounds wonderful, decorated of course with pictures of moon landings and astronauts, one wall with “plastic model rockets stuck on a mural of the milky way”, another with “a mural of a spaceman with his space-dog waving in greeting”, with formica topped tables and a lino floor.

Blue Moon

Then in the late 90s it suffered the indignity of being restyled and renamed “the Office”, complete with a decorative photocopier in one corner and a pub sign showing a city gent with a bowler hat. It seemed to me like a charmless attempt to promote itself as a ‘town’ pub (likewise, a couple of years later another pub clumsily attempted to align itself with the ‘gown’ by renaming to ‘the Graduate’); I hadn’t realised the ‘office’ was supposed to be slang for ‘pub’. Less than 2 years later it reverted to the Man on the Moon and had a good run as a live music venue, with beer limited to lagers and a couple of draught bitters. I never really took to the place and found the atmosphere about as hospitable as the moon itself, only visiting a few times before it closed in 2013. At that point, despite the council owning the freehold, I thought its days as a pub were over.

Blue Moon

Eventually it was rescued and reopened as the Blue Moon, sister pub to the nearby Cambridge Blue. I still find it hard to love the design of the buildings in the whole of the 1960s redevelopment it’s part of, but the pub’s interior has been much improved by the addition of old Cambridge pub photos on the walls, wooden floorboards and mood lighting, and there’s a welcoming atmosphere at last. The back room has a pool table and arcade games and hosts regular live music. Then there’s the beer.

Having opened with 10 keg and 4 cask, it’s since doubled the keg lines (surely more than any other Cambridge pub) and will make good use of them with a series of monthly tap takeovers this year, including Thornbridge, Tiny Rebel and Three Blind Mice. In the past week I’ve had beers from Magic Rock, Wiper and True, and Ægir Little Bro, and there’s at least one from Dark Star permanently on cask. It’s one of those pubs that’s always worth popping in, and although the original interior may be long gone, these days you can at least get themed pizzas.

Blue Moon

Cambridge Pubs – Devonshire Arms

A mid 1870s pub, likely the first building on Devonshire Road, formerly named the Midland Tavern, commemorating the Midland Railway that brought trains to Cambridge from Kettering. It obviously slaked the thirst of the builders, as Devonshire Road was gradually laid out over the following two decades, and of the railway workers. It seems it was very successful, since in 1889 the Railway Mission Hall was built three doors down, no doubt for the spiritual salvation of the workers from the perils of drink.

Devonshire Arms

It’s an oddly shaped building, only one and a half storeys high, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that the two-storey extension was built to the rear when the pub was under the ownership of Tollemache & Cobbold Breweries on Newmarket Road. In that decade a pub guide amusingly described it as a “dark & shady establishment” adding, in words that still ring true today, “although the decor is rather shabby, this was one of the liveliest pubs in the area”. It seems to have remained a laid-back, alternative kind of place for decades. Back then it had “rock bands most Wednesdays, reggae and soul disco every weekend” and was apparently a hang out for punks. It was a bit of a dive when I first visited in the early 90s, by which time it had become the Devonshire Arms, drawn by the dub reggae still played there; a rasta I knew at the time swore he’d witnessed a late night game of dominos where the stakes kept being raised until finally one player bet his house keys… and lost!

In January 2010 it was refitted and reopened under the ownership of Milton Brewery, the first of their three Cambridge pubs. It still attracts more of an alternative crowd and has a relaxed atmosphere, with occasional live music and an annual chilli sauce competition (there’s a warning on some of the pizzas, which used to include one loaded with ghost chilli sauce and suitably named the ‘Johnny Cash’). As you might expect, Milton’s own beers are well represented with 5 cask ales covering a range of strengths, from the sessionable Justinion and Sparta through to the likes of Marcus Aurelius and Mammon, both over 7% ABV – there aren’t many pubs in Cambridge that regularly have that span, most don’t venture beyond 5%. There are also a couple of guest ales, and on keg Moravka, an unpasteurised Czech style lager brewed in the Peak District, is permanent and has recently been joined by Milton’s craft keg offshoot, ‘Beach Brewery’ Waikiki. It’s one of the closest pubs to the train station, and I think it’s unlikely to be much affected by the forthcoming opening of a Young’s pub there – the Dev is more than just a place to get a drink; it’s a lived-in boozer with almost 150 years of character engrained in its walls, with a good crowd of regulars, something a new-build with more transient trade will struggle to match.

Devonshire Arms

Cambridge Pubs – Pickerel

This should be about the rich history of one of the oldest extant, continuously licensed pubs in Cambridge; its claims to have been a former “gin palace, opium den and brothel”, its ancient beams, the former brewery, malting house and stables, former publicans and links to a celebrated Cambridge pub sign painter, the pub’s ghosts and residual opium smoke. Instead, it’s dominated by a TV.

Pickerel

Something’s a bit different at the bar. The last time I was in here, admittedly a while ago now, there were a couple of cask Oakham beers rebadged for the pub – an Esox lucius Ale (JHB) and a Biting Bitter (Scarlet Macaw) – Theakston Old Peculier was permanent, and Punk IPA was on keg. This evening there’s disappointingly no sign of any of them, although Oakham Citra is on, along with Woodfordes Nelson’s Revenge and Nethergate Stour Valley Gold, of which I’m about to have a pint when I spot BrewDog Dead Pony Club on keg. “That’ll be £5.35”. I wish I’d gone with the Nethergate. The rest of the bar just has a row of lagers like Peroni where the Punk IPA used to be.

Pickerel Inn

I’m Sat at a table by the window, hoping to enjoy the atmosphere from the ancient interior, with views outside to Magdalene College, illuminated in the winter evenings, and people crossing the Great Bridge over the river. Something’s not quite right. There are plenty of people in but most seem to be speaking suspiciously quietly, if at all. Then I notice the TV in the corner blaring out Unbelievable Moments Caught on Camera. It’s obviously been left on after the rugby finished, and is now killing conversation for the tables within sight or earshot of it. People seem unwilling to break its spell. I look around and everyone’s either staring at the TV or at their phones. One couple finish their drinks and get their coats on to leave, then stand there for 5 minutes transfixed by some wingsuit wearing stuntman landing in a pile of cardboard boxes. Another couple come in and go straight for the two chairs directly under the tv, then sit in silence, arching their necks to watch it. At one point, loud screams attract everyones attention – not the shriek from a customer laying eyes on one of the pub’s ghosts, but from a woman caught in a tornado in Alabama.

I happen to glance to one side and am momentarily confused by seeing a familiar ‘Flame & Grill’ menu. Then it dawns on me – this pub got swallowed up by Greene King when they bought the Spirit Group, which included Taylor Walker who owned the pub. That explains the diminished beer choice.

People are helplessly watching a man helplessly watching his car get swept away by a river of mud. I don’t mind sport being shown in pubs, it tends to animate those watching it rather than silence them; I enjoy watching some football myself, although I’m not a rugby fan so have avoided certain pubs while the 6 Nations is on. Likewise, I sat in a Norfolk village pub where the locals were all celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as they watched the rain-soaked proceedings – it prompted lively conversation rather than killing it. But just rolling, random TV shows? I seem to be the only one irked by it so decide to leave. As I reach the door, a man on the TV is recounting his marriage proposal on a plane: “I was expecting it would annoy and bother and inconvenience people, but everyone was loving it”, he says, echoing my observations.

Pickerel

For posterity, the rebadged Oakham beers – Esox lucius Ale and Biting Bitter – that used to grace the bar

Cambridge Pubs – Petersfield

“It will ruin the character of a quiet neighbourhood” complained the naysayers, what with all those “customers making merry outdoors beside neighbours’ gardens”, “diners carousing”, and “the ‘nightmare’ of clattering pots and pans, clanking dishes, slamming pantry doors and whooshing dish-washers – all to the sound of toilets flushing”. You’d think a soup kitchen for the incontinent was being proposed for the grounds of a Benedictine monastery. Instead, the plans were simply to turn a former backstreet pub back into a pub. Heaven forbid!

Petersfield

The White Hart and the rest of Sturton Street existed by at least 1874, around the time the Corn Exchange was built, with one Richard Fuller probably the first publican, also listed as a grocer, there for about five years before it first changed hands. Over a century later, It closed in 2003 and reopened the following year as the Backstreet Bistro, primarily a restaurant but with a couple of handpumps. Last night, after 13 years as a bistro, it opened its doors as a pub again. Five handpumps state the intent to be a pub first and foremost – Adnams Ghost Ship, Nene Valley Big Bang, Tring Hummingbird, along with Cambridge Brewhouse Night Porter and King’s “fair play” Parade – with Beavertown Neck Oil, Adnams Mosaic, Lagunitas and Cambridge Brewhouse Pale and Dry Stout on keg along with a couple of lagers. That said, no doubt food will be a draw, and although the menu wasn’t yet being served, some tasty hors d’oeuvres were handed out.

Petersfield

It’s a classy place, pitched at the kind of locals who can afford to own property here rather than the railwaymen, carpenters and bricklayers who once populated these terraced streets, but no doubt some “carousing diners” will see it gets a few knocks and spillages and soon develops a more lived-in feel. The fine wooden fixtures and plush furnishings, large L-shaped bar, wine bottle ceiling and complete overhaul of the layout suggest it’s seen significant investment.

Petersfield

Nice to see plenty of old Cambridge photos on the walls, and some breweriana from Dales Brewery which once brewed on nearby Gwydir Street. As for the worry of acoustic nuisance, the impeccable taste in music – Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Canned Heat – couldn’t be heard outside the pub, and on leaving only a murmur of conversation was audible – earlier I stood in the courtyard and the conversation was punctuated by the sound of passing trains, so it’s not quite the “quiet neighbourhood” some residents claimed.

Petersfield

Now I’m not without sympathy for the concerned residents, even those that moved in nearby when the premises was a pub and were now complaining they didn’t want to live near a pub. Nobody wants the potential for “nuisance incidents… accompanied by other nuisances” on their doorstep. But if they were interested enough to visit last night, they might not be weeping and gnashing their teeth so much today. The feared nuisance and “BIGNESS“, as one anxious resident put it, weren’t evident at all. What the residents have on their doorstep now is one of the most impressive refits of a pub I’ve seen. Perhaps they’ll even come to like it.

Petersfield