ALE Winter 2000 No. 300

Pub news - Cambridge

Red Face Corner

When Cambridge CAMRA selected its entries for the 2001 Good Beer Guide early in the year, one of the first to be pencilled in was the Grapes, Histon Road. Unfortunately the paperwork went astray at some point and the Guide appeared Grapes-less. Please be assured that the ale here is as brilliant as ever. Our humble apologies to all at this excellent hostelry.

Down by the River

On Chesterton Road, the Boathouse has reduced its once extensive range of cask ales to just two: Flowers Original and Wadworths 6X. Further along the road (giving the real-ale-free Graduate a wide berth) you'll find a rare local outlet for the once ubiquitous Tolly Bitter. The Jolly Waterman also sells Flowers Original.

The Fort St George in England on Midsummer Common occupies an enviable riverside location and is a building oozing with character; the snug bar at the front is a particular delight. For many years it has been a Greene King managed house, and has had managers of varying quality coming and going at regular intervals. In April 2000 GK leased the pub to Ronan McLister, a landlord of 18 years' experience, mostly in London. For the real ale fan, Ronan has installed a splendid range of beers, with GK IPA and Abbot supplemented by three changing guests - Batemans XXXB, Jennings Cocker Hoop and Badger Tanglefoot on a recent visit. A trial run of XX Mild was being planned. Ronan is also pleased with the reception given to the new menu, which ranges from snacks to reasonably priced main meals and a daily special.


Returning to the Graduate, this is now a Bass junior drinkers' It's A Scream outlet and it looks to be the same resounding flop as its predecessor the Fresher & Firkin, mainly due to being in the wrong place - off the Drinking Circuit.

Meanwhile the giant Regal (JD Wetherspoon) is a roaring success, especially with yobs on the Circuit. The two Hogsheads (Twitbread) seem to be in long-term decline, apparently through incompetence. Even though the Bath has had a crass make-over to make it more "youth-friendly", both have refused to respond to the challenge of the Regal and permanently drop their high prices to compete. Staff say they're under orders from area management to defy Trading Standards and leave pump clips for finished beers on display, rather than turning them round or removing them.

Charles Wells have got in on the Circuit action in a more effective way than Greene King. The Ancient Druids, round the back of the Grafton Centre, was rapidly converted to a clone of the All Bar One as Bar Citrus. At the same time GK completely revamped the Castle, next door to the Regal, but it doesn't seem to have caught on: it still looks more like a (very yellow) locals' boozer than a Circuit venue.

Follow-ups to the printed edition of ALE 299

The Yorkshire Grey and Cow & Calf have now been demolished. The Tram Depot has individual digital thermometers in front of each handpump so that you can see that the beers are too cold (cunning, eh?). The typical setting is around 11C (52F) whereas 55F is a more appropriate temperature for real ale. This is presumably a precursor to a Cask Marque award. Perhaps the Free Press could do with such thermometers: it's been awarded Cask Marque but the chiller kit seems to be on overdrive. People have noticed how unpleasantly cold the Mild is, for instance. Hopefully this is just a teething problem. Anyway, we do congratulate the Press on the award, as we do the Dobblers (Sturton Street), the Cambridge Blue (Gwydir Street), and the White Horse in Oakington.

At the end of October the Durham Ox reopened as the Chariots of Fire after a complete strip-out. It has a small bar with a couple of real ales from the likes of Milton Brewery and Everards. It's a lively and friendly place, mainly aimed at the younger end of the market.

The Jug & Firkin (Mill Road) is planning to increase its range of beers.

Moving on...

At the latest estimate, about 15% of Cambridge's pubs will have changed landlord during 2000, the majority being GK tenancies. (GK has about 32% of Cambridge's 115-or-so pubs.)

The ever-higher rents being charged by the pub chains are driving long-serving, experienced publicans out of the area or out the trade entirely - surely a sign of trouble to come.

How long can it be before GK and others start closing "secondary" (just outside city centre) and suburban pubs?

Pete Gray retired from the Live & Let Live Free House, our Pub of the Year 1999, in early December. We wish him and his family well for the future.

GK tenancies expected to change soon include the Zebra (Maids Causeway) and the Alexandra Arms (Gwydir Street).

The Red Cow (Corn Exchange Street) got into trouble after ejecting same-sex couples caught kissing. Since then new management have taken over.

All information is believed correct at time of going to press. If our spies have got anything wrong, please contact the editor, who will be happy to print a correction.

ALE Winter 2000 No. 300
Cambridge & District CAMRA