Pub/Bar of the Month November 2009: The Cambridge Blue
The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge, UK
Backstreet pubs have a magnetism all of their own. Tucked away from the main attractions, they are altogether more modest than their town-centre counterparts.
There’s generally less of the glitz and more of the down-to-earth when it comes to style, with keeping the locals who live around them happy the aim, rather than catering for the wider populace out for a night on the town.
That’s certainly the case at The Cambridge Blue, hidden halfway down a long terraced street to the south of Cambridge city centre (off Mill Road, to be more precise).
The pub opened as The Dewdrop Inn in the 19th century but gained a new lease of life when it was purchased by Chris and Debbie Lloyd, licensees of another popular Cambridge watering hole, The Free Press, in 1985. It was Chris who changed the name to reflect his own rowing interests.
When I first visited The Cambridge Blue some nine years ago, the rowing theme was well in evidence. Chris had turned the pub into a no-smoking venue at a time when there were only a handful of such pubs in the whole of the UK, attracting a grateful clientele keen to escape the sting and stench of other pubs in the city.
In 2007, Chris sold the pub to Terri and Jethro Scotcher-Littlechild, who eagerly made the move from their Enterprise Inns, 1950s estate pub in northern Cambridge to enjoy the freedom the new pub would bring. And they’ve certainly taken full advantage of that freedom.
‘We’ve doubled the number of real ales on sale and built a tap room just to do that,’ says Jethro.
Today, there are around a dozen available, with regulars such as Woodforde’s Wherry and a Nethergate-brewed house ale called Dewdrop Bitter joined by a constantly-changing selection of guests, some served by gravity dispense. Recent offerings have included Tipples Moonrocket, West Berkshire Old Father Thames and Spinning Dog Mutleys Revenge.
Food is served lunchtime and evening seven days a week, majoring on pub standards such as home-made curries, chillis and pies, and there’s a surprisingly large garden that is popular with families in summer, but it is beer that primarily oils the cogs of this pub’s success.
Jethro’s vast collection of brewery memorabilia brightens the premises, with trays, enamel advertising signs, pump clips and jugs overhanging the stripped-wood tables and church pews that line the U-shaped bar and conservatory extension. It’s worth looking out for the Dale’s Brewery items in particular, as the defunct brewery’s former home is still well preserved at the end of the street.
Competing with the cask ales is a vast selection of bottled beers from around the world, 125 in all, most of them served in the correct branded glassware. In the cooler cabinet that greets you as you walk in the front door, classics from Belgium rub shoulders with greats from Germany, the USA, Australia and more.
I was not aware before deciding to feature The Cambridge Blue this month that it has joined October’s featured pub, ‘t Brugs Beertje in Bruges, in a novel ‘twinning’ arrangement. You can see why, though.
The two bars have much in common. Enthusiastic, knowledgeable licensees; simple but comfortable furnishings; the lack of electronic amusements; a focus on conversation; and a fantastic choice of beers.
The fact that both pubs can be found in the quieter backstreets of a major tourist city is just another appealing connection.
The Cambridge Blue, 85–87 Gwydir Street, Cambridge
Tel. +44 (0)1223 471680
Opening Hours: 12–2.30, 5–11 (12–11 Thursday to Saturday; 12–10.30 Sunday)