The College Bar Crawl

AMY PROVAN compiles an arbitrary (and totally unbiased) list of the best and worst college bars that Cambridge has to offer.

Cambridge college bars downing bar Emmanuel bar kings bar Sidney Sussex bar St John's bar

My college bar crawl last week taught me two important things: at least three colleges claim to be ‘the only student-run bar left in Cambridge’ and Downing is a bad place to say you’re from if you want to get in anywhere (once I revealed my allegiance, I couldn’t even make it onto Jesus property). Indeed, the arduous task of comparing college bars has brought me many strange and wonderful encounters – but here I reveal the best (and worst) Cambridge has to offer.


College drink: Disappointingly absent.

Typical student: Extrovert, friendly and very very merry.

Emma bar is smelt before it is seen. One of the few bars playing music, it features people body popping on the outskirts of the room. Appreciate the enthusiasm if not the skill. As interiors go, it is one of the stranger places to get drunk. Two-tiered and strangely ship-like, its walls are the colour of the ocean and ropes adorn the banisters. Later on, the captain of our motley crew addressed the throng from on high to instigate a rendition of the team song.

Set sail to Emma for a cheap, student-run bar, which is great for pre-drinks.

Sidney Sussex:

College drink: Fuse Box – ½ Rekorderlig (I have no idea either), ½ Cherry VK, 1 shot Malibu, stirred with a fudge stick.

Typical student: Off their face, shouting “SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS”.

On their website, SS advise “try Clare or Darwin” if you’re looking for a good ent. It doesn’t seem proud of its bar. Albeit, the décor’s more Barnsley conference centre than The Tab’s star spot. With low ceilings, maroon curtains and a sticky bar, Sidney Sussex bar is not one I’d easily recommend.

St John’s:

College drink: St John’s Pint anyone? Or St John’s Port? You might even find an old bottle of St John’s Champagne lying around. If none of the above, attending a St John’s cheese and wine evening will provide you with a more sedate student night out.

Typical student: Chilled out kids, up for a quiet night playing Uno.


John’s is mellow. Selling Hot Irish or Caribbean cappuccinos (which can come in at hefty £7.76 for non-Johns members), turkey and cranberry sandwiches and ice creams does warrant it more than the Johnian’s description of an “old man’s pub filled with students.” With the most relaxed atmosphere of the five – so long as the framed rugby shots slathering the walls and the prominently placed trophy case don’t put you off – this is a great place to come, day or night.



College drink: The King’s Passion. I can’t tell you what’s in it as no one would admit to having tried one.

Typical student: Lively, but not rowdy – and has come for a slightly too intellectual conversation, given his/ her surroundings.

With an uncanny resemblance to an airport lounge, the mouse traps hidden in the corner and the grimy orange wallpaper are deceiving. With a hammer and sickle taking pride of place, the bar boasts that King’s students are “defined by their apathy to Cambridge generally.” This suggests that students here take themselves a tad too seriously – but clearly there are real drinkers at King’s as well; the bar staff were non-plussed by a soft drink order: “only a coke? Seriously?” It’s packed after Wednesday formals and offers weekly live music, so go to King’s for the house cocktails and social atmosphere (if not the interior design).


College drink: Machetti – 2 shots port, 1 gin, 2 cherry sourz, coke – a real drink.

Typical student: Just back from a swap, thinking they’re on top form, flirting outrageously.

A typical encounter with Downing bar is what I would imagine being embraced into the arms of God might be like. Troubles melt away as you pass through the euphoric laughing faces, lounged comfortably yet gracefully on clouds of soft leather. Approach the bar and flick out your magical card, whose bill will never arrive. Smiling staff fix up your favourite drink just the way you like it, and bask in your new found contentment with the world. It would seem that Heaven is a place on earth after all.

Do you think that your college bar deserves to be listed among either the best or worst that Cambridge has to offer? Let us know in the comments section below.