The Greens took on the Salisbury in 2006 and it's been a fixture in the Good Beer Guide since. In that time they've won several awards in the prestigious Publican's Morning Advertiser Great British Pub Awards. They were East Anglian winners of Best Cask Ale Pub and Best Cellar in 2008 a nd Best Cellar again in 2009. When I visited in August, the announcement had just come through that they'd again won the Regional Cask Ale award; I'll report at the end of the article on how they fared in the grand final.
The Salisbury is a large Victorian building occupying a fairly narrow but long site on the corner of Tenison Road and Wilkin Street. More space has recently been created in the front bar by removing the little-used bar counter and concentrating service in the step-down larger area at the back (which also leads into a further back room and the smoking area). The pub décor has several eccentric features, not least the bicyclist suspended from the ceiling. On my visit he'd just been joined in the rafters by a 50-year old punt; the dummy who was to crew it was standing naked in the bar but will by now be in pole position. On the walls is a fabulous collection of old Folk Festival and Beer Festival posters – the latter includes festivals two (with 18 real ales!) to five and Dave would love to locate a poster for the first one.
You'll find eight handpumps in action. Charles Wells Eagle and Bombardier, Youngs Gold and St Austell Tribute are permanents, as is Crones Cider. Two beers come from Wells's monthly selection of four guest beers (Holts Humdinger and Black Sheep Golden Sheep on my visit) whilst the final pump is happily free of tie and devoted to a local ale, often Oakham JHB. As with many pubs in our area, real ale sales are growing year on year.
Food is served every session except Saturday lunch and Sunday evening and is traditional. No-nonsense pub grub – great value, lots of it and genuinely home made where feasible. Most main courses come in at around £8.
During my visit Dave and Angela dropped a bombshell by telling me they are leaving – but, actually, they're not really. They've taken on Greene King's Red Lion at Cherry Hinton which will henceforth be their main base. However the Salisbury will be run by their son, Ben, and they'll maintain an involvement in the pub. Ben has been part of the management team for some years so a seamless transition is guaranteed.
Dave and Angela retain a soft spot for Cherry Hinton from their years at the Unicorn and see huge potential in the Red Lion as a cracking community pub. They'll start off with four real ales and a similar food offering to the Salisbury. The full reopening is planned for November.
Back to the Salisbury and what Dave and Angela will miss most is their “brilliant” customers. The pub seem to attract nice people – the kind who thank the bar staff for a great evening when leaving – and who never give any grief or hassle. They put this down to the pub being a proper, unpretentious back-street boozer for folk who want good beer in a real pub.
Finally, no report on the Salisbury could omit the real stars of the show. Max, the Briard dog, is effectively the front of house manager most evenings and he even has his own agony column on the pub website where he advises fellow dogs on pub-related questions. He's now been joined by 5-months old Ralph who is quickly learning the ropes – though both will be relocating to Cherry Hinton soon.
The Salisbury is of course in a part of the city rammed with fantastic pubs, many of them free houses, but it more than holds its own in such august company.