Quality / Choice of Drinks: 10/10
Décor & Style: 9/10
Character, Atmosphere & Local Life: 10/10
Amenities & Events: 8/10
Value For Money: 7/10
Address: 85-87 Gwydir St, Cambridge, CB1 2LG
Nearest Station: Cambridge, 10 mins walk
Opening Hours: Sun-Thurs Midday-10pm, Fri-Sat – Midday-11pm (Due to Coronavirus restrictions this may change, so check with the bar directly for any latest info)
The Cambridge Blue, began life as the Dewdrop Inn, and remained with the name for over a century. All things come to an end, however, so when ownership changed to an ex-rower (always likely to be a big deal around Cambridge) in the 1980s, the pub name changed to those of the University and city colours. The new pub sign was a rather macabre mix of Welsh Dragon and American Eagle, reflecting the nationalities over the Landlords until their departure in 2007. There is more information on its history here, underlining that this pub is a backstreet, locals’ venue, despite close proximity to the train station.
New owners did not dispense with the rebranded pub name, but you will notice on arrival The Cambridge Blue’s signage now has a bold crimson/reddish brown background, creating a typically English contradiction. The little firkin barrel hanging underneath is a reasonably distinctive touch top. The pub boasts out front about being a ‘Real Ale Paradise‘, which immediately put me in mind of ‘Landbierparadies‘, a Nuremberg business dedicated to preserving and exhibiting Franconian beer (which, if you’re interested will make you completely rethink lager as a drink).
On entry you will find a large bar, and it must be so in order to house The Cambridge Blue’s strongest suit, a vast offering of real ales, craft cask + keg, real cider + perry, dozens of whiskies, and tall fridges stocked full of Belgian beers, hundreds to choose from as it happens. The pub has won so many awards over the years for this offering that it would be frankly boring to reel them all off, but it leaves a firm impression. Pricing is along the lines of what you can expect in the city, so it is unlikely you will feel ripped off by many choices.
A wooden floor, chunky tables along with some recovered branding and signage from long gone businesses (including some which used to supply the pub with beer) helps bring the dominating bar area down to earth, lending a genteel element that contributes to that vital old nugget: genius locii.
Although there are normally (outside of Covid) a spread of tables around the bar area, including a nice snug set of a few tables around the corner, the main pub room is up to the left of the bar. With its slanted ceilings, fairy lights and yet more recovered pub ephemera, it’s like an oversized tube train carriage that’s crashed into a barn owned by a pub obsessive. In a good way.
Carrying on through, you will find that The Cambridge Blue boasts a large back garden, one that wouldn’t be immediately guessable while stood by the terraces facing directly onto the street front. The extra capacity is vital (even before distancing) given it’s such a popular venue and it backs on to the city cemetery. Without this a pretty small pub would remain.
Food is available, and although that isn’t really our area of interest, suffice to say, they cover a number of bases and dietary requirements.
Spending an evening in the main room as the natural light disappears, the glowing yellow of the lamps and dots of the fairylights takes over, or perhaps holding forth in the beer garden on a summer’s eve as the dusk sets in, you realise you are within – and part of – a quite special place. Other writers (who are very well travelled across the UK) have The Cambridge Blue as one of their Top 10 Pubs in the UK. When you pick the right moment and company here, it is tough to claim otherwise.
The concept of the Free House, (free that is, of the infamous brewery tie), a place free to stock its own choice of products to sell to the public is obviously one that attracts brave, bordering on foolhardy owners to make work. These are usually people with a vision. This far more often leads to better choice, a more distinctive venue and – in this case – the rewards of their labour: the custom of a great mix of locals and those from elsewhere who know that The Cambridge Blue is only a short walk away from the train station.
The pub at its best is all about a space to socialise, space where you know you can have a chat, play games, speak to different kinds of people, make friends, or sit in a cozy corner and ruminate. The Cambridge Blue offers that, so it would be valuable even without the compendium of Belgian beers. The fact it does go the extra mile is simply the cherry (or should that be Kriek?) on top. That is why we are delighted to add it on our guide.