Cambridge Pubs – Smokeworks

£3* for an excellent** pint of Brewsters Hophead, one of two real ales, must be just about the best value for a pint I’ve had in Cambridge this year. Two well-kept, reasonably priced real ales? It’ll never catch on. But if the most recently opened bar in Cambridge can do it…


Formerly the Great Northern Hotel, named after the railway company that started operating between Cambridge and King’s Cross in 1866. In the 1970s it was a live jazz pub and one of the only live music venues in the city for a period, until it too lost its license in 1982, owing to complaints about noise levels when rock bands started playing there. I only knew it from the early 90s when it was City Limits, one of several identities and name changes in recent years, including Chambers, Bar Moosh, and Sauce, before reverting back to the Great Northern. When that closed, I doubted I’d be drinking there again.

Great Northern

Great Northern prior to reopening as Smokeworks

Now it’s home to the most recent venture from Cambs Cuisine, the second ‘Smokeworks’, which opened in June this year. Unlike their other sites in the city, which have been known to turn away drinkers when the restaurants are full, this one has a separate bar, and the service was friendly and welcoming. The interior design is ‘steampunk’ inspired, meaning craft credentials are high; filament lightbulbs, exposed pipes, the bar covered in burnished aluminium panels held together by round head rivets, steam train wheels on the wall.


This wheel’s on fire

Depending on your point of view, Cambridge is either lucky or unlucky that BrewDog seems to be chasing its tail when it comes to hunting a suitable bar here, as the site ticked just about every box of BrewDog’s requirements; 2,000 – 4,000 square feet in size (it’s 2,371), ground floor location, prominent frontages with lots of windows, corner site. Regardless, I doubt they’d be serving £3 pints of real ale.

* During “happy hour” (3-7pm Mon-Fri, 12-7pm weekends), otherwise £3.80
** NBSS 4


Cambridge CAMRA
Mike Petty – Looking Back


Lantern Tankard

I gratefully received a 10-sided Lantern Tankard from Stockport based Stephensons, apparently a faithful reproduction of the version originally produced by The Crystal Glass Company of Knottingley, West Yorkshire.



I tried to choose a suitable beer to christen the glass, eventually settling on an Anspach & Hobday Porter for being a beer from the past “reinvented for today”, but that hardly highlighted the “visibility afforded by the ten refined panels” of the lantern, so I followed it with an Old Empire for its claims to be an “authentic recreation”. I doubt either beer was contemporary to the lantern tankard, and in any case I’ll leave the history of the glass (and of beers for that matter) to Martyn Cornell, who covered the return of Lantern Tankard in Zythophile.

I have a nostalgic affection for dimpled mugs, but I can’t say I particularly enjoy drinking from them, whereas the lantern tankard feels good in the hand and surprisingly light, although it’s apparently heavier than a dimpled mug. I have cupboards full of glassware, but tend to favour the same few old faithfuls, depending on the beer. Maybe it’s simply a case of last in, first out, but so far the lantern has joined the old faithfuls as a glass I frequently reach for.

Cambridge Pubs – The Granta

“Just the place to moor your puntful of glittering people and nip up for a quick Pimms what ho! Very drinkable beer nonetheless” opined a student guide in the 1970s. Back then it was a “formica and plastic wood job, definitely bijou” with a small public bar and a slightly more comfortable smoke room with a small corner bar (I’m guessing one of those bars may have been where the present toilets are on the left as you enter via the main steps, as at that time the pub still had “primitive” outside toilets).


It probably has the best views of any Cambridge pub, overlooking Sheep’s Green and the more picturesque of the mill ponds, facing the former mill building (now Millworks restaurant) and the former Jolly Millers pub (latterly an Indian restaurant, still closed after recent fire damage). Although the beer range is GK and guests, they’re well-kept and on a previous occasion ales included TT Landlord and a surprisingly good “limited edition”(!) GK beer called Starry Night, the flashing pump clip pre-empting the much-anticipated appearance of Rocking Rudolph. Anyway, there’s always the Pilsner Urquell. It’s a pub I enjoy visiting and generally find a seat even when nearby riverside pubs are packed out – for me, perhaps one of the most underrated pubs in the city.

The present pub is much altered, opened out into a single bar, with the extension perhaps dating from 1975 including a bar cantilevered out over the mill pond. The outdoor terrace at the rear is the site of the former brewery and is a very pleasant place for a drink. In 1991 it had a “spanking new interior, in traditional style”. Now there are plans for another refurbishment, with improvements to the outdoor area including a new free standing awning to replace the existing jumbrellas, a lick of paint and plenty of new signage, thankfully retaining a pictorial inn sign.


A mid-nineteenth century inn with the adjoining Granta Brewery opening in 1865, since demolished. By 1890 one Herbert Tebbutt and a business partner had taken over the brewery, and in 1897 he dissolved that partnership and formed a new one with H.B. Bailey, transferring the business to the newly acquired Panton Brewery on Panton Street (see Panton Arms). In 1925 the Panton Brewery and its 48 public houses were bought by Greene King and Son, giving them a foothold in Cambridge, and the rest is history.


R.J. Flood (1987), Cambridge Breweries

Cambridge Pubs – Royal Standard

Royal Standard

With a few exceptions, most notably the Mill Road Triangle, that cluster of pubs in the terraced streets off Mill Road featuring the likes of the Cambridge Blue, Devonshire Arms, Kingston Arms and Live & Let Live, most pubs beyond the city centre serve only the local community. “Let’s walk out to the Brook – there’s a chance they’ll have Old Golden Hen on” isn’t something you’re likely to hear, but the Royal Standard is a suburban Cambridge pub worth the effort venturing out to. Its USP is draught Belgian beers, with a regular trio from Duvel Moortgat – Duvel, Liefmans Fruitesse, Vedett Extra White – joined on this occassion by Kasteel Rouge. Now that might not lead to empty seats on the Eurostar to Bruges, but it does exert enough of a pull to draw me from regular haunts to occasionally cross the tracks to an area not over-burdened by good beer.

Royal Standard Cambridge

Boasting six real ales when it reopened a couple of years ago, that number had been sensibly reduced to a couple of offerings, the dependable Ghost Ship joined by Colchester Freak Show on this visit. Despite all that, I plumped for a pint of Schneider Weisse Original and relaxed admiring the brown tiled-effect bar, and the bicycle seats on the wall looking like plague doctor masks.

Royal Standard

A fine Victorian pub built in 1881, when Mill Road was suddenly expanding over the railway bridge and across the open fields to the east, it stands on the corner of Malta Road, a side street which like many off that end of Mill Road had not yet been completed when the pub was built. Seemingly lost for good when it was converted to an Indian Restaurant in 2007, and when that closed in 2011, serving as a charity shop while awaiting its likely fate of redevelopment for housing, within a year of reopening as a pub it was awarded the local CAMRA branch Most Improved City Pub, and seems in good health two years on.

Royal Standard fomer menu

From former Indian and Thai restaurant

I’ve not eaten here, and the vegetarian choice of a penne pasta for around £14 raised my eyebrows, but I’ve heard good reviews of the food, although those who remember its time as an Indian and Thai restaurant may be disappointed the mystery “golden bags” on the menu haven’t survived.

Cambridge Pubs – The Anchor


This photo includes the best and the worst of the Anchor. The best, an enviable location with outdoor seating overlooking the Mill Pond. The worst, a pint of lifeless cask for £4.70 a pint.


The roped off upstairs bar, unburdened by customers

I used to consider the Anchor the better of the two pubs overlooking this mill pond; prior to the Mill’s refurbishment under new owners City Pub Co in 2012, the beer and food was poor, while the Anchor at least had decent Flowers IPA and Original (yes, really) we’d take out to Laundress Green on sunny days when the terrace is generally packed out. At other times the upstairs bar offered some of the best views from any Cambridge pub if you could bag a seat by the bay windows. In the 1950s the upstairs bar became ‘The Coffee Anchor’, the first licensed coffee bar in Cambridge, dispensing hot coffee from the “flourishing swish of the magic machine”, before the room was reclaimed as a bar in the 70s. It was roped off when I visited, and nowadays seems reserved for diners only. That’s your lot as a drinker there these days.


The downstairs bar at least has some booth seating and memorials to a shirtless Syd Barrett, who would no doubt fall foul of acceptable dress codes now.


In the 70s the Anchor was described as an “overpriced local… if you come from Queens or Queensland”, the “upstairs bar not always open, putting more burden on the downstairs bar”. How times change.

Cambridge Pubs – CUC Wine Bar

CUC Wine Bar

CUC Wine Bar (main) with the Mill (left, with hanging baskets) and the Anchor (far left)

Just along from the two pubs overlooking the mill pond, the Anchor and the Mill, Cambridge University Centre Wine Bar is another venue added to the list of pubs and bars in Cambridge. It’s almost a year since Cambridge Wine Merchants began operating the ground floor bar of the Cambridge University Centre, previously only open to UC members, but until my first visit this weekend I had no idea they served draught beer, as the sample drinks menu only lists cans and bottles.

CUC Wine Bar

There was one real ale, Elgood’s Cambridge Bitter, and three keg beers – Elgood’s IPA, Becks Vier and Bitburger, the latter of which was decent enough for a couple of pints. I didn’t pay attention to what beers were in the fridge, but their stores have a good selection to draw from, so I presume there are some good picks.

CUC Wine Bar

The building that houses the bar was opened in 1967 to provide more facilities for graduates. The brutalist design features four four-storey pavilions, clad in bolted-on Portland stone slabs with open joins. I can just about live with the natural textures of the Portland stone, but the concrete staircase towers are hideous and the building dominates the view of the weir from Laundress Green, a local nature reserve still grazed by cows, and the unofficial beer garden for the Mill pub.

University Centre

Still, it wasn’t the first or last incongruous piece of architecture in Cambridge, and it could have been worse – the architectural partnership of Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis also designed Blundell Court accommodation block for Sidney Sussex College. At least from inside the University Centre the view of the river and mill pond is rather more pleasant.

CUC Wine Bar

Without more interesting draught beer I’m probably only likely to return for one of the events, which includes live music – I was there to see Luna Falls – but presumably the 10% discount available for CU students and holders of valid UC cards sees them return more often.

CUC Wine Bar

Cambridge Pubs – Six Bells

Six Bells, Cambridge

I assumed the ‘Six Bells’ would have been named after the number of bells in a nearby church, but so far as I can tell the pub predates many of the nearby churches, none of which seem to have had six bells, and churches in the city centre that do have are unlikely to be commemorated by a pub in the backstreets off Mill Road. Perhaps there’s a tenuous link to the church at what was once Barnwell Priory; the site of the Six Bells pub was once part of the Barnwell parish, and the Abbey church apparently once had six bells. Most likely the name isn’t linked to any specific church, and instead was intended to encourage handbell ringers to come to the pub to practice, which must have been a more appealing place than any cold church on a winter evening.

Six Bells

A pub since at least the 1830s, when the publican was one Israel Haggis, a surname that might sound familiar to current co-licensee of the Live and Live pub less than 200 metres away. Hopefully he’ll have better luck than Israel Haggis, who after short spells at other Cambridge pubs found himself a prisoner in the Cambridge County Gaol by 1847.

Six Bells 1912

Six Bells 1912, Cambridge News

The landlord of the pub in 1912 was retired policeman George William Scott, pictured above outside the pub with his daughter Emily. She was there for sixty years, working in the pub and then taking over running the pub in 1949 after her mother died, eventually pulling her last pint there in 1972 before retiring to a bungalow owned by the Licensed Victuallers Association in Norwich – no doubt such provisions are still made for retiring publicans.

Six Bells website

Six Bells website via

In the early 1990s tenant Mike Paliczka-Telford renovated the pub, which became the first in Cambridge (if not the country?) to “join the internet” when Cambridge Cable and tech firm Cityscape, based in a building opposite, helped provide a free public internet access point in April 1995. Customers could read about the impressive range of whiskies available at the bar. The internet access point is sadly no longer there, and neither are the Cityscape offices or cable company, but the web pages for the Six Bells are thankfully preserved and well worth a look to remind oneself what a pub website looked like over twenty years ago (“try clicking on these blue words” it says pointing to the links!).

Six Bells

Despite that flirtation with technology, it has the feel of an untouched backstreet community pub, competing with the nearby Live and Let Live for the highest density of wood in a Cambridge pub – such that in the event of a biblical flood, this part of Cambridge would probably remain bouyant. I’ve visited the Six Bells quite a few times but seem to pick a quiet afternoon/early evening each time, and get the feeling I leave before it’s at its best, which would probably be one of the frequent evenings live music is hosted. There’s a separate conservatory, pool room and an outdoor patio, the door to which was locked (either that or I didn’t give it enough welly).

Six Bells

On this occasion I had a pint of Betty Stogs from the choice of five cask ales that included GK IPA, Landlord’s Choice (surely another of GK’s IPA clones) and Golden Hen. A man at the bar tried to engage the girl behind the bar in conversation:

This used to be my local. They called me ‘Peanut Man’ because when I gave up smoking I’d get through about three packs of them for every pint of beer I had

The girl didn’t respond. Two students in the corner sniggered and made snide comments. The man finished his drink and went, at least getting a ‘cheers’ from the girl as he left.

It’s a friendly pub, and I doubt the students meant for him to feel dejected, but it was a poignant moment; seeing someone return to a place they once called their local, where they knew people and people knew them and were fond of their foibles, but where they were now anonymous. I reflected how one day I might leave and later revisit pubs I now think of as my locals, and might not recognise anyone, and be just a stranger nobody knows what drink to pour without asking.

Later, I overheard a snippet of the students’ conversation:

It would be sad to be in a famous band and yet nobody knows your name” suggested one, “I mean, everyone knows Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but who can name the others?” he continued, with perhaps not the best example to support his proposition.

Well, I don’t know those students from Charlie and Ronnie, but I will remember Peanut Man.


Cambridge CAMRA
Cambridge News
Mike Petty – Looking Back