REVEALED: Cambridge’s cheapest pint
A Tab investigation into the college bars of the bubble
College bars are a gift from God. Or from rich alumni. Same difference.
They’re the stock resort for semi-broke students who would rather not cough up north of £5 for a Kopparberg in some of Cambridge’s pubs, but want a more dignified experience than Basics Gin and ‘fruit-flavoured cocktail’ out of flowered mugs.
But which college really has the best bar? Well, it depends what you’re looking for – whether you’re trying to get suitably smashed, have a relaxed night with friends, sample drinks that actually (shock horror) taste good, or sip your spirits in style, there’s a venue for you. We tested out 14 of Cambridge’s colleges – we tried more, but Magdalene and Trinity Hall shut early, and Queens’ didn’t have public price lists – to find which college bar is the best (so you can make sure to exploit your friends there in Lent).First, there’s the question of getting in. Most college bars have keycards and are intended for students at their college, but they’re usually pretty lax; you’ll walk straight into King’s or Clare, waltz in keycardless at Emma but have to be signed in, and Christ’s states its ‘college students and their guests only’ policy on the door.
Some colleges also have different pricing for members and non-members – particularly important at St John’s, where the already-steep prices rocket up for non-members, pushing a double vodka coke from £4.55 to £6.72(!!) Most will presume you’re a member anyway, but it’s often worth having an in-college friend on hand.
The atmosphere is also a big factor; some college bars are made for pre-drinking, whilst in others you feel like you’ve got to have your pinky out at all times. If you’re planning on going out after, Sidney is the hotspot – cheap and cheerful, with a delightful selection of sub-£3 cocktails. Sex on the Cam, anyone? Jesus and Queens’ provide the Sidney feel at a higher price-point, though Queens’ wins the culinary bar prize, providing burgers or sandwiches to go with your £3 Woo Woo. If you don’t feel like a full meal, try Downing – their bar snacks range is #onpoint.
Pembroke is calm, sociable, but pricey; King’s and Trinity are like really stylish common-rooms, while Emma is cheap and informal (read: lots of blue vinyl). Clare is central, but good luck getting pissed in Christ’s, Downing or Caius without getting a few dirty looks. Homerton is kitted out for bops, and do what you like at Girton (it’ll take a few weeks for the news of your escapades to reach central Cam).And, of course, there’s the price wars. We can reveal what is (probably) the cheapest pint in Cambridge: Christ’s boasts the cheapest pint of lager at £1.70, even if you can’t wangle the members’ discount down to £1.50; Emma and Fitz are right behind at £1.90, whilst St John’s, Pembroke and Homerton are all on the pricier side.
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Meanwhile, Fitz claims the prize for best double-vodka-coke (£2.60), with the always-cheap Sidney and not-always-cheap Girton not far off at below £3. But stay off the spirits at John’s, King’s and Christ’s, who all near the £5 mark or soar over it.
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Emma and Sidney win cheapest bottled cider at £2.50, whilst Fitz narrowly takes cheapest glass of wine (£1.40).
As for the best overall college bar? I’d vote for Sidney, for its blanket appeal to drinkers and non-drinkers alike – the student-run bars in Cambridge tend to produce a more laid-back atmosphere, as well as cheaper drinks. Sidney knows its clientele – the Fusebox is a particular favourite (essentially a glass of alcoholic sugar with a Fudge in it) and it shuttles out cans of Coke and Pringles for a cool 50p a throw. Downing is gorgeous and professional without being pretentious, Clare wins ‘bar I’d most like to wait out the nuclear apocalypse in’, and Queens’ is a social hub with an impressive food menu to boot.
Every college bar has its own character, and everyone’s convinced their own college’s is the best (unless it’s unavoidably shit). But dearest citizens of Pembroke and St John’s – please, save your wallets on occasion and exploit your other friends. And King’s, you are not doing great at the whole anti-capitalist deal. But spending half your weekly budget on Midori is just part of the ‘uni experience’, right?
And hey, at least that Basics Gin is always there for you.