The Empress at Christmas

The pictures just don’t do it justice. You just can’t see from the images just how dazzling, how sparkling, and how incredibly intense the Christmas lights are in the Empress. It bills itself as the most SPECTACULARLY Christmas decorated pub in the world! (Well… almost certainly in Cambridge)” and I have to agree. There is nowhere quite like the Empress at Christmas. It’s fantastic – a glittering winter wonderland. Even the biggest Scrooge would have to muster up a Christmas smile in this pub, however hard he tried not to. Surely.

When you enter the front bar you are immediately bathed in red light, thanks to the berry fairy lights covering the walls and ceiling. Santas hang from every available hook and are also tucked behind the optics at the bar, and giant ones adorn the walls. And I haven’t even got round to talking about the snowmen yet.

When you pass through the archway into the jukebox / pool table / darts bar, the rooms turn blue and white, with incredibly bright flashing LEDs hanging from everywhere you look. The ceiling is plastered in Christmas wrapping paper, and baubles hang from a net of lights, and still the Santas hang from their red hoods taking up any previously available space. Oh, and there is tinsel. A lot of it.

The lounge bar also has a red theme, but it’s a bit lighter in there (as in the lights are not dimmed like in the main bar) so you could sit and read a paper in this bar. Possibly. There is a decorated tree, more giant santas and snowmen and baubles and fairy lights. And a nice smell of mulled wine.

We opted to sit in the main bar (the red berry one) and I spent ages just looking around the walls and ceiling.  This must have taken days to decorate – and good on em for doing it! I ordered some Buntingford Brewery’s Silent Night, (4.1%) one of many good beers on at the bar (there was also Thwaites Wainwright Ale, Timothy Taylor Landlord straight from the cask, St Austell Tribute and Adnams Broadside).

Silent Night

Buntingford brew a beer called Silent Night every Christmas – but it’s different every year, they change the recipe to spice things up and to confuse people (to their own admission). Sometimes it’s pale and hoppy, sometimes it’s dark and malty. But it’s always good. This time, it was light brown, with a nice balance of caramel flavoured malts and US citrus hops (Summit). The citrus was the first flavour I tasted, and then this developed in to a lovely rounded flavour. Very moorish.

Thus ended our brief but enjoyable visit to the Empress on this cold winter’s night. Then all that was left to do was leave Romsey Town to walk home in the wind and freezing temperatures. Why can’t this pub be closer to home…

Advertisements

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.

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

My Favourite Beer Gardens

My Favourite Beer Gardens

I was reading an article in the Observer recently about great beer gardens. This gave me the inspiration to create a list of my particular favourites, so after a bit of thought and some serious photography (you can’t talk about beer gardens without a few photos to show how good they are, can you?)  I came up with my own version. This is an ongoing project and is by no means the finished article – there are always new pubs and gardens to discover – so I will keep adding to it as I find more. Watch this space!

Cornwall

The Sloop Inn, St Ives

The Sloop Inn, St Ives

This cobbled beer terrace at the front of the wonderful old 14th century Sloop Inn overlooking St Ives harbour is a fantastic spot to sip on a pint of Doom Bar whilst watching the sunset over the sea as the boats come in at the end of the day. It’s also a great location to people watch, as the lively harbour front is a popular place for a stroll with its many bars and restaurants.

The harbour, back to the Sloop

St Ives harbour, the view from the Sloop

The Engine Inn, Cripplesease, (nr St Ives)

The beer garden at the rear of the typically Cornish stone built pub (which serves excellent pizzas and had well kept Betty Stogs on tap when I was last there) looks out across the Penwith moors, making you feel like you are miles from civilisation – there are some great walks around here and dozens of ancient sites and tin mines littering the area. I love it. The Engine Inn is well worth a drive out to if you are staying down the road in St Ives or Penzance.

The Napoleon Inn (“The Nap”), Boscastle

You can see the sea from the garden of this ancient pub, which was used as a recruiting office for the Napoleonic wars. This is reputedly Boscastle’s oldest pub. The Nap, as it is fondly known,  is located at the top of the town up a very steep hill, but it’s worth the climb; beer is served straight from the cask (lots of St Austell ales available) and the food is great.

The Golden Lion, Port Isaac

Port Isaac harbour, the Golden Lion to the left

The Golden Lion doesn’t really have a beer garden, it’s pretty much just a large balcony, but it’s the views that make it so great – it’s a beautiful sight, looking out over the harbour of Port Isaac with its little fishing boats bobbing up and down.

Wiltshire

The Red Lion, Avebury

The Red Lion, Avebury

The Red Lion, Avebury

A pub in the middle of a stone circle – you don’t come across those very often! The terrace of The Red Lion is a great place to sit with a beer and admire the gigantic stones of Avebury, one of the largest stone circles of Western Europe, which surrounds the village. The Red Lion is a 400 year old thatched pub which is said to be haunted by a girl who was thrown down the well, which is inside the dining area of the pub and now covered with glass. It’s a GK pub which means all the usual beers are on offer – I had a nondescript IPA on my last visit – but the location more than makes up for that.

The Barge Inn, Honeystreet

I love The Barge Inn – it’s the centre of the crop circle phenomena, with photos of crop circles all over the walls in one of the bars (quite a few appear in the area). You can sit outside the pub right on the edge of the Kennet and Avon canal and watch the barges go by whilst admiring the white horse of Alton Barnes on the hillside ahead. Wonderful on a summer’s day. It also has a large campsite and holds various music events throughout the year.

Cambridgeshire

The Bridge, Waterbeach

The Bridge, Waterbeach

I have mentioned The Bridge before in a previous post, but it has to join the list of wonderful pub gardens. The pub is right next to the River Cam and has a pretty outside patio area for dining and a lovely garden for sitting with your beer watching the action on the river. The interior is dark wood with beams a-plenty, so my kind of place. Good guest ales too.

The Green Man, Grantchester

The Green Man is in the village of Grantchester, only 2 miles from Cambridge. Grantchester is a lovely village and is famous for its beautiful meadows that the meandering River Cam winds through, Rupert Brooke the poet, and the romantic Orchard Tea Gardens.

The Green Man

The Green Man

The Green Man is one of 4 pubs in the village, and is a typically pretty village pub which was closed for a while, quite worryingly, but now has new owners who have recently refurbished it, very nicely in fact. It still maintains its dark wood interior and has kept its soul, unlike the Rupert Brooke down the road (although that does also have a couple of nice beers on tap still, despite now being more of a restaurant than a pub). The Green Man generally has a few real ales on tap; it had Skull Candy by Brew Dog (3.7%) on my last visit which was a pleasant surprise.. There are a few tables out the front and a grassy long and narrow back garden, but I prefer to sit out the front where you can watch the world go by; it’s a lovely place to sit, but if it’s a sunny day you have to get there early to get a seat as everyone has the same idea!

The Blue Ball, Grantchester

Again, this pub in Grantchester has a front and back seating area, and although the back garden is cute (it even has a cricket-style pavilion to sit in if you want some shade, with cricket memorabilia dotted around) I prefer to sit out front. There are only a few tables out the front, but that’s where the regulars gather. And the view across the road onto the meadows is very pretty too; there are quite often cows grazing. The pub is dark, old, tiny, with a piano in the corner, and has a good atmosphere. It serves Adnams ales and guest beers. This is a proper drinking pub, it’s the locals’ pub in the village, and that’s why I love it.

Outside the Blue Ball, Grantchester

The Old Riverview Inn, Earith

Driving through Earith before I have always wanted to stop off here at the Old Riverview Inn. So the other day we made an effort to do just that. It was quite a windy day, but sitting on a bench by the river with a beer watching the boats and barges go by was lovely. The other pub down the road, The Crown, is owned by the same people, and it also has a riverside beer garden. They picked their properties well! The pub has rooms, but you can even pitch a tent there in the garden!

The Riverside beer garden, Earith

The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge

I have mentioned the Blue in a previous post, but the garden is one of the biggest and bestest in town, and sitting with a pint of Dew Drop (their house beer) in the sun in the garden makes for a pleasant afternoon. The beers are great, and they also hold beer festivals and set up a big marquee in the garden as an extra bar for the occasion.

Cambridge Blue beer garden, as seen from the cemetery

They have just actually revamped their garden, and have concreted much of the main seating area where there was some grass before, but they have laid some astro turf at the far end with some benches, plants and trellis, and it looks great. There are even some steps up to the space over the wall to the cemetery that everyone uses as a short cut to the beer garden, and they left a space in the trellis especially for it! (See my Decent Real Ale Pubs in Cambridge for more about the Blue).

The Eagle, Cambridge

The Eagle is a Cambridge legend, being the pub where the discovery of the structure of DNA was first announced, and having a bar where Second World War RAF officers burnt their signatures into the ceiling with their lighters  (still preserved). The patio area is heated and lively although it can get crowded – get there early to bag a seat!

The Kingston Arms, Cambridge

The Kingston Arms beer garden

The Kingston Arms beer garden

The Kingston Arms is just round the corner from the Blue, located on Kingston Street, off Mill Rd. The beers are numerous and fantastic (JHB, Summer Lightning and Landlord on tap as regulars, and about 5 or 6 other taps) plus they hold monthly beer festivals with even more ales to sample. The garden is out the back of the pub and is secluded, so much so that it’s hard to imagine you are in the city – and not only that, it has sofas under a large canopy, and fairy lights all around, not to mention the pretty plants and trellis. Lovely. You can also get free wifi access there.

The Empress, Cambridge

The Empress, over the bridge on Mill Road, has just won an award for the Cambridge Pub of the Year 2010. It has a patio beer garden, and when I was last there it was holding a beer festival in the garden. I like this pub and garden; it’s welcoming to kids with some toys for them to play with, but the main draw are the 3 pub pigs, housed in a little pen, as well as rabbits running around under your feet – it’s like having a beer in a little zoo. Good on ’em! It’s a really private garden too, so you can forget you are in the middle of the city. Nice beer too! (See my Decent Real Ale Pubs in Cambridge for more about the Empress).

The Emperor, Cambridge

The Emperor on Hills Road, Cambridge, has an unusual beer garden – it’s filled with sand. That’s right; it’s a beach. In the middle of the city.The tables are painted bright colours and there are also deck chairs, buckets and spades, seagulls and parasols. The pub holds many events, some of the most recent being a beer festival and beach volleyball! This is the sister pub to the Empress, and also serves about 4 real ales, regulars being St Austell Tribute, Oakham JHB and Sharps Doom Bar. Check out my Emperor post to read more about this pub and its garden.

The beach beer garden, The Emperor

The beach beer garden, The Emperor

The Anchor, Cambridge

The Anchor, from the River Cam

The Anchor is an institution. Fronting the river in one of the prettiest parts of the city, the Anchor is in an ideal location and popular with the students. It’s a GK pub, but then again, most pubs in the city centre are. Grab a beer and sit on the outdoor terrace to watch tourists falling off their punts into the mill pond and listen to the punt touts on the bridge trying to come up with inventive ways to hook in more trade. An idyllic location – but unfortunately Cambridge University wants to redevelop the whole of this area which may involve a change of use of the pub (probably into an upmarket restaurant), so if you haven’t been there already, go now in case it disappears.

The Granta, Cambridge

The Granta

Round the corner from the Anchor, The Granta is another pub with a riverside setting but it’s set higher up from the river than the Anchor and is tucked away round the corner from the main tourist area and overlooking another mill pond which is just as pretty. Another GK pub, but decent enough Abbot Ale.

The Fort St George, Cambridge

This pub used to have much more character before Greene King refurbished it recently and ripped some of the character out. But the garden terrace of the Fort St George is beautiful, being right next to the Cam and with plenty of seating so you can watch the rowers go by, or turn the other way for a view over Midsummer Common and the cows! A lovely location.

The Fort St George, Cambridge

The Fort St George, Cambridge

The Elm Tree, Cambridge

The Elm Tree outside drinking area is tucked down the alley, behind all the drinkers!

I can only say good things about the Elm Tree. It has about 10 ever-changing hand pumps, lovely landlords, morris dancing outside in the summer, and it has a real village atmosphere even though it’s in the middle of the city. The outside seating to the side of the pub makes for a tranquil spot to have a fine ale (Banks & Taylors Dragon Slayer is a good one that is regularly on tap).

The Royal Oak, Barrington

The Royl Oak in pretty Barrington is a beautiful old thatched pub dating back to the 13th century. Barrington has one of the largest village greens in the country – you have to see it to believe it.  The pub serves good food and beer (there are usually Potton or Adnams ales on tap) and the garden at the front faces the green (where they hold cricket matches). It’s a fantastic place to relax if you want to get away from city life for a while.

Northamptonshire

The Boat, Stoke Bruerne

The Boat, Stoke Bruerne

A lot of my pubs seem to be riverside ones – and this is no exception. Watching the barges go by from outside The Boat in the little village of Stoke Bruerne is a lovely sight. It’s an old free house with several bars, one with Northamptonshire skittles which is always great fun to play. I had some great beer from the local Frog Island brewery when I was last there.

Some of the beers!

Some of the beers!

%d bloggers like this: