Panton Arms Cambridge
Back in 1989 I contributed descriptions of Cambridge-area pubs to a CAMRA book called “The Best Pubs in East Anglia”. Of the Panton I said “the public bar is probably the finest example left in Cambridge – simple, straightforward but with its own elegance”. Shortly after that, a new regime installed a pool table in the middle of the room plus games machines, loud décor and other horrors. Fortunately the current licensee has chucked all this stuff out and once again the room is a delight with its parquet flooring, part-panelled walls, real fire and simple hatch to the bar. There are windows on three sides of the room so when the sun shines the light streams in onto the warm floorboards. A couple of settees plus a pleasingly varied selection of tables and chairs make up the furnishings. Real ales – Greene King IPA and three guests from the Greene King list.
Queens Head Newton
The public bar here also featured heavily in the 1989 book and, thankfully, nothing much has altered, apart from Belinda the goose. Back then she patrolled the car park, now she presides (stuffed) over the bar from a glass cabinet above the door. The timeless atmosphere here is disturbed only by conversation and the ticking of the clock. If you’re lucky you can sit on the curved high-backed settle next to the fire – otherwise make do with the wooden benches and seats built into the bow windows. In the tiny adjacent games room, you can play devil-among-the-tailors and other traditional pastimes. Real Ales – Adnams Bitter, Broadside and Seasonals.
Eagle Cambridge
Older readers may have fond memories of the Eagle when it was a small two-bar pub entered only from the yard. It closed in the late 1980s and at one point seemed to have been lost but the owners (Corpus Christi College) had a change of heart. The price to pay was a significant extension into former office premises fronting Bene’t Street. Now whilst the original Airmens’ Bar, with its World War Two graffiti, is the famous space, my favourite is in the new area. On your right from the front entrance is a delightful room, fully covered in light oak panelling and with tall windows facing Bene’t Street. Apart from framed prints and an unused fireplace that’s all there is to it but it has a wonderfully warm feel. Real Ales – Greene King IPA, OSH, Abbot and a Greene King quest.
Chop House Cambridge
A skip and a jump from the Eagle, on the corner with Kings Parade, is the city’s newest real ale outlet. Though first and foremost a restaurant (and a very good one – see elsewhere), the Chop House also welcomes folk who just want a beer. At lunchtimes and on light evenings, the ground-level room is the place to be. Its huge windows offer terrific views of Kings College and, obliquely, the Corpus Christi Clock (or rather the gaggles of tourists staring at it). Real Ales – two or three locally-brewed beers, often from Milton, served straight from the cask.
Boathouse Cambridge
Shortly after buying it, Greene King undertook a classy refurbishment here, which included creation of a snug, a type of room I’m especially fond of. This one is semi-open to the main bar, has panelling on one wall, a fireplace with stove on another and bookshelves along the third, partly explaining why it’s known as the Chuck Norris Reading Room. Padded leather seats help make this a most elegant little space in an under-rated pub. Real ales – Greene King IPA, OSH and a seasonal/guest.
Free Press Cambridge
And talking of snugs, the example here is a true classic. It looks like its been around for centuries but is in fact a recent re-creation. By 1975, when the pub was rescued from demolition, the interior had been reduced to a shell so what you now see is a hugely impressive fake. The snug has two narrow benches with a table squeezed between, the whole thing being a symphony in dark wood. There used to be regular attempts by students to cram unimaginable numbers of bodies into the place with the record standing, I believe, at over 60 (though the current highest score is no longer displayed). As with any snug, you need to get in early to grab a seat. Real ales – Greene King XX Mild, IPA, Abbot and two Greene King guests.
Avery Cambridge
Having highlighted my predilection for tiny rooms, here’s an enormous space, on the first floor of this former weighing-machine factory, converted into a pub quite recently (initially as the Hogshead). It’s at its best when the trees aren’t in leaf as you then get great views over Parker’s Piece. The high ceilings, cast-iron columns and ducting betray the factory origins but give it character. In the evenings things can get a bit raucous; however, at lunchtime it’s generally quiet and a surprisingly pleasant spot. Real ales – Greene King IPA, OSH and Abbott.
Bees in the Wall Whittlesford
Another pub with a truly superb public bar which, like all great examples of the genre, manages to ooze atmosphere despite being simply appointed and containing nothing grand or fancy. It’s at its best on a cold winter’s day when the big fire is blazing and the locals huddle round for a chat and a beer. The bees are (or were) in the wall of the lounge. Real ales – Batemans XB, Tim Taylor Landlord (always a great example) and a couple of changing guests.
Hoops Barton
And the same again, though the public here is even simpler and smaller. The L-shaped space has a tiled floor, an upholstered bench seat and a large fireplace, seemingly out of scale with the rest of the room. There’s also the bar counter where you can obtain arguably the most reliably good Greene King IPA in the area (or Abbot from the barrel).
Red Lion Histon
Saving a personal favourite to last. Landlord Marc Donachy has turned both bars into shrines of breweriana and the former public to the left of the front entrance is a particular delight. There’s an amazing array of bottles, enamel signs and jugs plus a growing collection of illuminated fonts, mostly commemorating the ghastly fizz concoctions which CAMRA despatched to hell – Red Barrel, Trophy, Tankard, they’re all here, gleaming harmlessly. The subdued decor and unfancy furnishings add to the atmosphere and make this a great place to enjoy real ale from the pump or selections from the growing menu of continental beers. Real ales – Theakston Best, Elgood’s Black Dog, Oakham Bishop’s Farewell, Everards Tiger, Tring Blonde and changing guests.
There are other pub spaces that I love such as the Radegund, Elm Tree and Champion of the Thames Cambridge and the Blue Ball Granchester but they’re either single room pubs or two former rooms forming essentially one space. Sadly, we’ve also lost some fantastic rooms over the years, notably the public bar of the Cambridge Arms (now D’Arry’s), the front room at the Baron of Beef and, most recently, the snug of the Fort St George.

This is all very subjective of course so if you have any favourite rooms we haven’t mentioned, let us know.