The Emperor and its beach beer garden, Cambridge

The Emperor

The Emperor

The Emperor is a relatively new addition to Cambridge and has moved into the building where the old Globe Ale House was situated on Hills Road, Cambridge. It was stripped, redecorated, and reopened about a year ago. The pub is run by Dave and Enas who run The Empress on Thoday Street, off Mill Road in Romsey Town, and they have already brought their popular beer festivals, quizzes, and unique touch to this pub. There are generally about 4 real ales on tap, regulars being St Austell Tribute, Oakham JHB and Sharps Doom Bar. On my last visit Tydd Steam Roadhouse Bitter was also on draft, a great beer from a great brewery.

The Emperor's Beach Beer Garden

The Emperor’s Beach Beer Garden

One of the things that makes this pub unique is the fact that its beer garden is decked out as a beach. The garden is full of real sand, brightly painted picnic benches, deckchairs, parasols, buckets and spades, seaside paraphernalia such as ropes, netting and buoys, and seagulls flying around. (OK, they are plastic birds suspended by ropes, but it’s a nice touch – they are also hiding away in corners, even on neighbouring buildings). There is an outside window opening to the bar, painted to look like an ice cream van, so you don’t even need to leave the beach to get a beer. All the fences have been painted with beach scenes – they have made a real effort; it looks great. It is slightly surreal being on a beach in the middle of a city, particularly after a few drinks, but it’s great fun – especially when you have to shake out the sand from your shoes at the end of your visit. You really feel that you have been to the seaside.

Beach toys

Beach toys

The pub itself attracts a mixed clientele – students, locals, visitors to the city – with its big screens, round pool table and regular events such as quizzes, discos, poetry, food events, comedy, beer festivals (the last of which was held on the beach a few weeks ago), barbeques, and even beach volleyball tournaments!  It also has a live music license so hosts a variety of gigs plus a popular open mic event every week. All in all, it’s a very cool pub and I wish them all the best.

With the summer well and truly here now, I have a feeling that this beach beer garden is going to get very busy…

Update, May 2013: The Emperor has sadly decided not to have a beach beer garden this year or in the near future – however, it still has a very nice beer garden with pot plants, hanging baskets, and a covered area.

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Decent Real Ale pubs in Cambridge

I’m really lucky to live near some really good pubs that serve great beer in Cambridge. Most of the pubs in the city centre are unfortunately Greene King pubs, which although housed in lovely buildings and in great locations (you can’t beat the setting of The Granta,  The Eagle and The Anchor, a Cambridge institution) the Greene King beer is just mediocre (although they do sometimes serve some interesting guest ales). There are some exceptions though: The Mill, next to the Anchor and by the river, serves  real ale such as Deuchars and London Pride, which you can take out in a plastic cup (you pay a 20p deposit) and sit by the mill pond on the grass watching the punters go by whilst supping on your beer.

The Maypole in the city centre is a great little real ale pub, tucked away in an alleyway  on Park Street, curving around to Portugal Place, which is a pretty narrow street just off Bridge Street. It serves several well kept locally brewed ales as well as tasty Italian food, and has a large outdoor patio area where there is an outdoor serving hatch too to save your poor legs so you don’t have to go all the way indoors to get served.  On my last visit I had some wonderful Buntingford Chinook, 4%, one of their single hop beers – I couldn’t get enough of it, my sort of beer!

Other pubs worth visiting in the city centre are The Mitre on Bridge Street, The Pickerel on Magdalene Street (reputedly the oldest pub in the city), and The Castle Inn on Castle Hill (an Adnams pub, not to be confused with The Castle on Regent’s Street).

Rround the Kite area there are some great little pubs tucked away that serve decent beer. Take the Elm Tree. This pub is in a perfect location, in the little villagey-feeling area known as the Kite, just round the corner from the Grafton Centre. The Elm Tree has outside seating and a tiny secret courtyard. The owners have been running this pub since May last year, and they have done a great job in creating real ale heaven, with this Banks & Taylor pub serving no less than 10 ales on tap which change constantly.

Morris men outside the Elm Tree

Morris men outside the Elm Tree

On recent trips to the Elm Tree I have had Sharpe’s Doom Bar, Milton Sparta and Pegasus, Eagle IPA, Banks Dragon Slayer  ( a lovely golden ale, 4.5%, which they have on regularly) and Crouch Vale Golden Duck (one of my favourites). They have had two lots of morris men dance outside the pub in the recent summer months which proved popular in this little neighbourhood and much beer was consumed – and it wasn’t just by the morris men!  (check out my Favourite Beer Gardens post).

Another pub with decent beer in the Kite area is The Free Press, 30 seconds from the Elm Tree. It’s a Greene King pub so it has mostly GK ales on tap, but it always gets good guest ales in and they keep them really well, and there are plenty of ‘craft’ beers from this country or overseas in the well-stocked fridge. They serve their beers in oversized glasses too so you get a good measure. Some of the guests I have enjoyed there include Holden’s Golden Glow and Ossett’s Big Red. It’s a cosy pub with a nice back garden, a proper snug, and it is always busy.  It was the original non-smoking pub in the city. The food is good, the service is great, the atmosphere is fantastic (no games machines or mobile phones), and in the winter they light a log fire. They also have morris men dancing outside in the summer. You can’t ask for more than that!

Off Mill Road there are many good pubs that stand out – a couple being The Cambridge Blue and The Kingston Arms, within a stone’s throw of each other. I really like the Blue on Gwydir St  (as you may have guessed if you have read any of my other posts)  – I love the old pub memorabilia dotted around the interior of the pub, and I also like it’s large garden that backs onto the cemetary where they put up a marquee for their beer festivals (the last one was at the end of June, when they served the wonderfully hoppy and moorish Gwydir St Bitter, brewed by Milton for the  Gwydir Street Party which was going on at the same time). They have just refurbished their garden – (see My Favourite Beer Gardens post). The next Gywdir Street Party takes place on 26th June 2010 and also coincides with another Cambridge Blue Beer Fest!

The Cambridge Blue, during the Gwydir Street Party

The Cambridge Blue, during the Gwydir Street Party

The regular house bitter, Dew Drop ale, is fantastic, and on my last visit they were serving Oakham’s JHB (a lovely and refreshing ale, and a quaffable 3.8%), Handliner at 4% (Cornish Coastal brewery), and Palmer’s Dorset Gold (4.5%) to name a few. The Handliner was russet coloured, not the colour I usually go for,  but it  actually tasted like a light golden bitter and was so lovely I went back for more; the  Dorset Gold, although pleasant, didnt taste as golden as the Handliner –  if that makes any sense!

The Kingston is just round the corner, on Kingston Street. This pub has so many good ales on tap I never know what to do for – some of the regulars are the lovely JHB, the award-winning Brewers Gold (Crouch Vale, always a favourite, 4%), Timothy Taylors Landlord, and Summer Lighting by Hop Back (great but too strong most of the time for me at 5%). They even have some Recession Busting guest ales which change every week. There is free internet access there (with a couple of free computers for those who don’t have laptops), and they hold Sunday and Thursday BBQs in their little secluded garden out back, equipped with sofas and pretty fairy lights.

The Kingston Arms

The Kingston Arms, tucked away on Kingston Street

When we were last there they held their first monthly beer festival – the casks were located in a little ‘grotto’ in the main bar behind plastic doors to keep the temperature just right – interesting to negotiate with hands full of beer! The Fenny Popper (Concrete Cow, 4%) had to be my favourite beer there, being light and with sherbet hops flavours. I was pleased to see Natterjack from Frog Island brewery, Northampton, there, as that’s where I’m from – good ale too. The Kingston beer festivals are held in the garden during the summer months. Good on them – it’s great to see a pub putting on beer festivals like this every month at what must be considerable hard work for all involved. Go Kingston!

Another real ale pub still in the Mill Road area but a stroll over the bridge into Romsey Town is The Empress. This pub is hidden away on Thoday Street; you wouldn’t really know it was there unless you went looking for it. It just won an award for CAMRA’s Cambridge Pub of the Year, and on our last visit, during the Spring Bank Holiday week, it held a beer festival. I tried some very nice and hoppy Oldershaw Caskade beer amongst others. One thing that makes this pub stand out is that it is the home of 3 pigs, Barney, Chester and Romsey, who live in the garden.

The pigs at the Empress The Empress

There are also rabbits in the garden, and there are pub cats. Kids love it. I love it. I spent all my time there talking to the pigs and looking under the tables at the lovely ginger rabbit running around. Anyway, animals aside, this is a great pub with a large garden, good beer and it was a really fantastic beer festival. More about this pub on My Favourite Beer Gardens post.

More good pubs in the Mill Road area are The Salisbury Arms on Tenison Rd, The Live and Let Live on Mawson Road, and The Geldart on Ainsworth Street.

If you are in the Hills Road area, visit The Emperor on Hills Road (see separate post, and also the Flying Pig on Hills Road, near the station.

* For a more updated post than this one, including some new pubs, check out @pintsandpubs fantastic Cambridge Pub Guide with a helpful map so you know where to find them. *

The Maypole, with some Buntingford Chinook

The Maypole, with some Buntingford Chinook

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