I guess 1667 isn’t young by any means, but this is a fair bit younger than the last pub I covered. What makes this one stand out is some more recent events in the twentieth century – the so-called RAF bar in the back, and the discovery of DNA being announced there by Francis Crick in 1953. According to the latter tale Crick ran in, interrupting lunch, and dramatically announced that he had “discovered the secret of life” – his old Cavendish Laboratory was based around the corner at the time, so I’m guessing it was selected for it’s locality as much as anything else.
From the outside, the building itself is non-descript in an old fashioned sort of way. That’s not to say it’s not pretty – in another town it might stand out, but in somewhere like Cambridge it just blends in. A visitor is more likely to be focusing on the fantastic looking colleges and churches in the area – opposite St Benet’s Church, just around the corner from Kings College and Corpus Christi College. Cambridge is a beautiful town and the pub happens to be in one of the more beautiful parts of it. It’s handy for the shopping areas, restaurants, other pubs and the tourist sites – it really couldn’t be better placed.
Inside it’s got the floorplan of an older pub, with a number of different self-contained rooms linked together with little turns and nooks. Unfortunately, it’s also got some rather unattractive furniture and carpet which maybe prevent it building quite that much atmosphere – it looks like they’re just always prepared to lift pile the tables away and tidy up. It has that strangely temporary look about it. There’s a small beer garden that seemed reasonably pleasant, though the day I went did not have the weather for it. Again it’s not a bad place, but in a town of interesting pubs and buildings, it doesn’t really stand out as unique. That is, until you get to the back room and look up …
The RAF Bar
Back in World War II, this became a popular place for RAF and US airmen stationed on the airfields around the city, it became a tradition for these men to write graffiti on the ceiling of the back bar by using candles and cigarette lighters to make scorch marks. Apparently this became forgotten over time and nothing much was made of it, until it was cleaned up and made into the attraction it is today. It really gives a wonderful snapshot and feeling of the atmosphere that these men were living in, having a night of fun before heading out on some dangerous mission, from which they might not return. There’s plenty of information and memorabilia placed around this room now and it should be rather cosy – unfortunately the It’s well worth dropping into the pub for this alone.
They also make the most of their link to the discovery of DNA, but unfortunately Watson and Crick didn’t decide to carve a celebratory double helix into the floor so it’s hard to really get much sense of anything from it. Though if you want to tick the box and imagine that part of the story of genetics, you should feel free.
As a final attraction, the pub allegedly has a ghost. I guess most pubs need one. This grim tale was of a boy who was killed in a fire at the pub, and died struggling to open a window in an upstairs room. To keep the ghost happy, this window is never shut – which may explain why the pub was actually quite cold!
These tourist attractions mean that the pub can apparently get quite busy, particularly in RAF bar, but I happened to be there on quite a wet, miserable weekday afternoon so it was rather quiet. That may have contributed towards me finding the place rather bland, with a crowd of people in it then maybe it would have sparked into life. As it was though, I found it to be rather flat – at least for a town like Cambridge, packed full of cosy, traditional pubs in this sort of style. Without the airmen and the discovery of DNA, there’s nothing to mark it out over the others.
As with the Olde Trip, this is a Greene King pub and does have their mixture of local ales and the standard Greene King options. Unfortunately it’s slightly less impressive this time round. I had their own special mild (Eagle’s DNA – bringing together the noticeable aspects of the pub well there – the name, flying and genetics) but unfortunately it was not a particularly good one. I think they may have missed a trick by not getting Charles Wells/Dogfish New World DNA – but it’s one of my favourite beers, so I think they’ve all missed a trick by not stocking it. Like Nottingham, Cambridge does have some good local beer but while The Eagle did have plenty of beer on tap there was nothing to shout about. As with most pubs nowadays they served food, though again it seemed like the standard range of pub food.
That was a less than enthusiastic review for the most part, I feel slightly bad for that but unfortunately it was pretty average. The RAF bar is worth seeing though. It’ll probably be one in Oxford next, just to keep things balanced.