ALE January-February 2012 No. 354 : Next section

[Campaign for Real Ale logo © CAMRA]

Not Taken For Granted - Part 9

The Free Press in Prospect Row, Cambridge is one of the city's best-loved pubs – but we're fortunate it's still here. In the mid-1970s it lay boarded up and derelict because of redevelopment plans for the Kite area. Thankfully these were much scaled back (though still ruinous) and the pub cam back to life.
Since then there have been just three regimes. Chris and Debbie Lloyd were the first tenants and ran it for over 20 years, building up its great reputation for ale and food. In 2000 they decided to concentrate on their other pub, the Cambridge Blue, and Donna and Martin Thornton took over. A couple of years later, their daughter Jenna and hubby Craig picked up the reins after returning from a bout of globe-trotting. They've been here ever since, taking on a full lease six years ago.
Entering the pub, your eyes will immediately alight on the six handpumps facing you where you're certain to find a great selection of ales, especially for a Greene King pub. Along with Laurence from the Champion of the Thames, Craig has in fact been instrumental in persuading Greene King to offer their tenants a better choice of guest beers, including more local ones. On my visit the line up was Greene King XX Mild, IPA and Abbot, Nethergate Umbel, St Peters Best Bitter and Robinsons Unicorn. In this part of town and, indeed, in Cambridge generally, most non-GK have access to a vast choice of real ales but GK pubs are now better able to compete on this score – so well done to Craig and Laurence.

The dark and delicious XX Mild is sadly a rare beast in the city but it has a loyal following here and Craig reckons he'd be lynched if he took it off.

Craig and Jenna have built up the food trade during their 11 years and Craig is very hands on in the kitchen. All the food is freshly prepared and locally sourced ingredients are used in the main. There's a £12 set menu Monday to Wednesday evening. You can eat either in the bar or, when its warmer, in the lovely little walled garden. Having said that, this is totally a pub where you can eat not an eating place where you can drink.

The Free Press is unusual in selling beer in oversized glasses, ensuring you always get a full pint. Craig is passionate on this subject and regularly tries to persuade fellow licensees to follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately it seems like only legislation will make this happen and CAMRA continues to press for this.

The pub is currently organising a Cambridge to Paris cycle run, involving Craig and eleven regulars. It will raise funds for Cancer Research UK (the pub has lost several customers to the disease in recent years). The run will take place over five days in June, covering over 440 miles and Rory McGrath, often seen at the pub, will do a leg of the journey. There will also be a special beer on sale at the pub with 50p a pint going to fund-raising.

Finally, back to the pub's fascinating history. It was licensed in 1823 and is named after a newspaper, called the Free Press, launched by the local temperance movement to rail against the evil drink. It lasted one issue! On the walls you can see many photos of the pub over the years. The interior was significantly remodelled for the 1978 reopening but one part which is entirely original is the snug. In former times, there was a door from the alley-way (you can still see where it was) which led to an off-sales, with a door on the left into the snug. On its outside wall (now within the bar) you can still see the tip-up seats used by “offie” customers waiting for their take-away. Students have made many attempts to cram as many bodies as possible into the snug and the record stands at a mind-boggling 62.

It's hard to imagine that any regular ALE readers won't know this brilliant pub but if you haven't been for a while, be assured, it's as good as ever.