This quote from Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue, written in 1973, reflects the somewhat seedy reputation which Mill Road used to suffer from. With the gradual gentrification of the residential areas either side, this is largely history. But some of the street's eight licensed premises retain a flavour of those past times.
Starting at the city centre end, the first pub encountered is The Locomotive (Pubmaster). Once a Good Beer Guide entry when Mick Martin was in charge, it is now run by his son Steve who has pointed it at the student/youth market. There are two large open rooms, each with bare floorboards, simple furnishings and a pool table. Quiet at lunchtimes, it is anything but in the evening. Real ales are Boddingtons and a guest from the Whitbread cask collection. Cheap and cheerful food is available 11 til 6 (12 til 3.30 Sunday). Nice to see that the collection of framed railway engine photos has been retained.
Next up is the only Mill Road entry in the current Good Beer Guide, The Jug and Firkin Off-Licence. Run with panache and enthusiasm by Jon Harling, the Jug offers a mind-boggling selection of bottled beers from all over the world as well as a good selection of real ales and ciders on draught to take away. Jon has had particular difficulty keeping up with the explosion in English bottled beers, over 20 new ones having appeared in the first three months of the year. A very difficult place to leave empty-handed.
Diagonally opposite is one of the very few unspoilt locals left in Cambridge, The Durham Ox. Bare boards and unfussy fittings may be familiar now in designer re-creations of the "traditional pub". Here they're genuine! There is an unpretentious front bar and a small rear lounge. A permanent Christmas tree sits next to that increasing pub rarity, a pinball machine. And there is no food. The single real ale, always well-kept, is Flowers Original. Landlord Neville Lindsey has been here since 1974, but for how much longer is not certain as the threat of redevelopment hangs over this part of the street. Enjoy The Ox while you can.
Further down the road and out of the danger area is The White Swan, known locally as The Swimmer. Reopened about two years ago, after a troubled interlude, this Greene King pub has two bar areas, one with green upholstery, the other with a striking semi-circular bar maroon. The colour scheme throughout is pink-dominated which will not be to everyone's taste. The Swimmer is another community local with no particular frills run with great enthusiasm by Dubliners Jim and Sinead Landy. IPA and Abbot on handpump.
Just the other side of the railway bridge, we catch up with Mick Martin again, now licensee of The Earl of Beaconsfield. In his three years at the helm, Mick has transformed a pub with an unsavory reputation into a smart thriving establishment. The whole place has been tidied up and a covered patio garden now leads to a separate games room, also bookable for meetings and events. Five real ales are on offer - Hancocks HB, Worthington BB, Fullers London Pride, Bass and the current Bass seasonal beer (Spring Ale til the end of May). The selection of food is equally impressive and remarkably good value. It is served 11 til 9 Mon - Sat and 12 til 5 Sundays. Well worth a visit.
Quite a step now down through Romsey town to The Royal Standard. This was a CAMRA favourite back in the days of the redoubtable Arthur Cooper, hosting the Branch A.G.M. in the early eighties. It was a Tolly pub then and belongs to Pubmaster now. No Tolly beers either just Flowers IPA and Original. Physically the place has not changed with its sturdy no-nonsense public bar and pleasant airy lounge. The garden is especially nice.
Things now go downhill at least in real ale terms. The Grasshopper has flirted with cask beer a couple of times but is presently keg only. This is a shame as it is another "unimproved" local retaining separate bars. Regular live music with an Irish flavour is another attraction. Formerly Whitbread, it is now a free house but with the former owners continuing to supply all the beer. Efforts are in hand to persuade the landlord to give real ale another go.
Our final pub is not strictly in Mill Road at all because the eastern extremity is called Brookfields, hence the pub's name, The Brookfield Tavern. Sadly, this Greene King house keeps its cask ales under top pressure. A handpump did briefly appear a few years back to dispense Rayments, but it soon went. The present landlord is unlikely to change anything.
Mill Road can therefore be characterised by a higher than average number of good honest boozers some good, some indifferent. There are of course excellent pubs a short distance either side of the main road. The Cambridge Blue, The Empress, The Live and Let Live, The Salisbury and The Six Bells to name a few. Best to crawl sideways rather than along.