The Champion of the Thames on King Street is one of Cambridge's best-loved pubs – somewhere I always take foreign visitors who want to experience a “real British pub” as it's a quintessentially traditional local despite its central location. The interior is largely unaltered from the late nineteenth century, comprising two small wood-panelled bars divided by a rare part-glazed partition. The counter and bar backs are Victorian originals though the position of the counter was shifted slightly in the 1980s. The pieces de resistance are the two wonderful etched windows showing the Champion in action; sadly the pub's position on the once-notorious King Street Run means these are (several times) replicas of the originals. The Champ is one of only five pubs in our area which are on CAMRA's East Anglian Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors ( – the others being the Portland Arms and Free Press Cambridge, the Blue Ball Grantchester and the Queen's Head Newton.

Catherine (the licensee) and Lawrence Dixon have been here some ten years now and the pub has been a Good Beer Guide fixture throughout the period. Lawrence is fanatical about the quality of his ale despite having a tiny cellar to work with (necessitating two dray deliveries a week) Greene King IPA and Abbot are the regulars and the two others are from Greene King's increasingly interesting guest list – Okells Old Skipper and Holts Fifth Sense on our last visit. The Abbot is Lawrence's personal favourite and the Champ is famed far and wide for serving an immaculate drop of this complex bitter/sweet ale. Currently the IPA is available (pre-Budget) at £2.45 a pint as part of GK's “Love Your Local” scheme and Lawrence regards having an affordable pint as essential in these straightened times. He reckons the Champ ells more real ale per square foot that any other GK pub. Having said that, as a wet-led pub, the Champ was hit hard by he smoking ban and trading levels are only now starting to rise back to what they were.

Like all great locals, the Champ has a hugely varied mix of customers from all age groups and all stratas of society. The pub motto is “Beer and Conversation” and it's difficult not to find yourself drawn into the lively banter (though the rights of those who want to sit silently are fully respected). This is also that relative rarity, a dog-friendly pub – there are few other places in the city for folk with well-behaved hounds to go. The only time the telly comes on is for the rugby afternoons which Lawrence describes as “spectacular”. These sessions also see the rare appearance here of (free) food in the shape of cheese and pies – also on offer Sunday evenings. Otherwise you must make do with crisps, nuts and scratchings.

So, if you like superbly kept beer in a gloriously traditional pub setting you now know where to go – though I can't imagine many ALE readers don't already know the Champ.