Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Such a nice little pub

Tandleman writes here about his very positive experience of drinking in the Mill Road area of Cambridge. This is an area of densely-packed Victorian terraced housing that has now been largely taken-over by middle-class residents, but has retained its corner pubs, although they have very much changed in character. He suggests that a large proportion of the population is students, but I would guess that many residents are professional people working in the University and the city’s booming science-based industries.

Areas – and pubs – like this can be found in many of the cathedral cities and university towns across the South and East of England. I was recently in St Albans where the Sopwell district just across the road from the Cathedral is very much like this, with pubs like the Garibaldi and White Hart Tap (pictured). They’re essentially locals, not destination ale shrines, but will offer a variety of beers and are likely to be doing good business even on evenings early in the week. They’ll serve evening meals, provide newspapers and magazines for customers to read, and host a variety of activities such as pub quizzes, folk music and themed food nights.

You don’t really find that kind of thing around here, as the historic pattern of development is different and pubs tend to cluster in local centres rather than in the back streets. Where extensive areas of Victorian terraces do survive, they’re often now largely devoid of pubs. Probably the nearest thing I can think of locally is the Olde Vic in Edgeley, which isn’t really the same, but does have a very different atmosphere from the Castle Street pubs and attracts some of Edgeley’s growing number of middle-class residents.

When done well, this can to my taste provide a very congenial style of pub. But, to those who are used to drinking in that kind of area, it would be a mistake to imagine it is representative of much of the rest of the country.


  1. For what it's worth, I think a lot of the Mill Road area pubs are "destination" pubs that just happen to be on backstreets. Generally anyone who's interested in good pubs and good beer will make a point of visiting them semi-regularly, regardless of where in town (or out of it) they're based.

    In other areas of town, the suburban / back-street locals that are still going mostly tend to be the ones that do above average food, or are right next to large concentrations of students. Average wet-led locals are noticeably thinner on the ground than they used to be...

  2. I was working away in Oxford earlier in the year and it's just the same. Early doors drinking gives way to night time revelry almost seemlessly; with students, obviously, making up both circles of the drinking Venn diagram.

  3. Mudgie. You may or may not be right about the occupants of the terraced houses, though there seemed to be plenty that looked like students, both sitting in the open curtained rooms and hanging around on doorsteps.

    The pubs might have been destinations, but they seemed like locals with folks being called by name by customers and staff alike.

  4. Petersfield is very unusual, because although it feels like the backstreets, its got such a density of good pubs and restaurants that its as much of a destination as the city centre itself.

    I haven't been into Cambridge city centre in probably 6 months. For me and a lot of Cambridge residents, Mill Road IS the city centre.

    If there are students, they're more likely to be Ruskin students than the posh lot, who often refer to Mill Road as if its a rough no-go zone.

  5. Nice boozers, got barred myself from the one in the picture after me and Godfrey got into a barney about a question in the pub quiz regarding 80's pop act Musical Youth. Suffice to say I was of the opinion that such a talented act would get in the country under an Australian points based immigration system and Godfrey said they would only get to No1 in bongo bongo land.

    Well, we'd both had a lot of bitter and Godfrey's mood got no better when he got unlucky when even after 5 bags of peanuts he hadn't uncovered the girl in the peanut boards tits.

    I went to the shitter to get away from him and due to a lack of toilet paper had to use my union jack underpants to wipe myself. Upon chucking them out of the window they landed at Godfreys feet in the smoking shelter.

    That was it for Godfrey. Musical Youth, no tits on the peanut board, skin full of best bitter, and now the Union Flag soiled and on the floor. He went ape shit. Kicked off big style. Offended the polish barmaid and accused the landlord of being a EU fascist Quisling, just for having an "a la carte" menu.

    I booze these days with Douglas instead but I gather we are not welcome back.

  6. I suspect this might not be the original Nige either...

  7. Maybe Cambs Uni students have got even less worldly-wise since I was there (hard to imagine, to be honest), but I thought Mill Road wasn't exactly a no-go area so much as a no-go-on-a-pub-crawl-while-dressed-in-togas-and-tied-together area. It used to be pretty much a standard destination for just going out for a drink in a relatively civilized fashion...

  8. Back in the early 80's I remember the bottom of Mill Rd (or possibly the adjacent corner of Parker's piece) being called "Reality Checkpoint".

  9. Reality Checkpoint is the lamp-post in the middle of Parker's Piece. It is the point beyond which the students fear to tread! Here be poor people and ethnic minorities...

  10. Martin, Cambridge21 October 2014 at 23:59

    I think Curmudgeon is spot on about Cambridge, and most folk in Mill Road are pretty much locals; I just can't quite get my head round the concept of the Olde Vic as a middle-class enclave.

  11. @py: I stand corrected. But surely Hear be Reality.

  12. @Martin - the Olde Vic is not quite the same sort of thing, but it is very different from somewhere like the Jolly Crofter, which is a raucous working-class keg-only boozer with Sky Sports, loud music, karaoke, gaming machines and dodgy-looking blokes smoking outside the door.

    The Olde Vic is much quieter, it is a free house with an interesting choice of beers, although not an out-and-out beer enthusiasts' pub like the Crown or Magnet, it has lots of books and other memorabilia, and it's somewhere you might find the local middle-class CAMRA members drinking.

    When Sale Sharks used to play at Edgeley Park on Friday nights, it was the supporters' favourite venue for a post-match pint.

  13. yes, here be reality. To the west of reality checkpoint the students live in a make believe world of butlers and turrets and privilege and self-entitlement, to the east, poor people, ethnic minorities, and decent pubs.

  14. Martin, Cambridge22 October 2014 at 23:25

    Reality is to be found Wetherspoons (Tivoli), not the Blue and the Kingston. The Tivoli is also probably the place where students and working class most mix, certainly on curry night.

  15. Why anyone would go to the tivoli in a city with so many fantastic pubs is quite beyond me. They must really, really hate pubs to make that choice.

    A riverside pub with no riverside view, because why would people want to look out when there are subtitles to read? It has all the soul of a downmarket casino.

  16. Martin, Cambridge23 October 2014 at 21:07

    Py - Real life, staff who talk to you, good beer.

  17. Right, and you don't get that in any of the 20 traditional community pubs to the east of town, do you?

    Some people prefer pubs, some people prefer wetherspoons canteens.

  18. Martin, Cambridge24 October 2014 at 11:58

    Py - I agree, and I've been in the Brook and the Rock this week, both real pubs with good beer. That doesn't mean a Wetherspoons isn't worthwhile though.


  19. Tim Timbo Martin24 October 2014 at 12:36

    What pig ignorance about my fine establishments, Py. You will find I run arguably the best shitter in Cambridge. I run the best public shitter in most towns and cities. When I was a young lad I dreamed of being a public toilet operative but I was denied my dream due to piss poor qualifications. But this is a land of opportunity. Why should councils have a monopoly on public toilets? Why should they decide who can or can’t be a public toilet operative?

    I decided to build my own empire of public toilets that span the land. I needed an economic model to pay for my toilets as I could not hope to compete with municipal conveniences charging by a market rate to have a dump. They are subsided through taxes. Selling cheap beer and burgers provided the obvious solution. With that income stream I could build the finest empire of public toilets known to man!

    And I have. I win toilet award after toilet award for having the best toilets. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it. If you like craft so much, build a craft empire. When it’s as big as my toilet empire then you’ll have a point worth listening to. I’ll tell you this, though, you’ll never have as large a range of tip top quality award winning shitters as me!

  20. To be fair, when I was on a pissup week in Newquay many years ago, we would all go to spoons for a shit every day.

    Obviously we went elsewhere for a beer, we were young but we had some standards.


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