The Cow and Calf Memorial Site

This page is dedicated to what was undoubtedly the finest pub in Cambridge, the Cow and Calf, which alas is no longer with us. Sorry it's not as good as I'd like at the moment, it'll get better, I'm just currently short of time to go beyond the confines of what I already have in the pub guide structure.

You can read people's retrospective comments here, and/or submit your own. You can look here for reviews made while the pub was still open.

In case people wonder, it was closed because the City Council, who own the building, wanted to sell it on. And they have. And after a year of neglect, that included squatters and the roof being allowed to fall off, there's now planning permission going through for it to be demolished and replaced by houses :-( An absolute travesty.

So, here are people's retrospective comments:

Mike Miller: (08/02/00) It's precisely a year since the Cow closed. Summing up my experiences there is something I've found very difficult, which is why it's taken me a while to write this. I've no doubt forgotten things, which I'll put in later. But here goes:

I was first introduced to the Cow by a couple of friends on 28 September 1997, ironically it being introduced to me with the line 'Let's go the Cow and Calf - it'll be the same as always, it never changes.' (would this were true!). The beer was cheap and good. I drank rather too much of it and was rather ill later that night! But I thought it was a great place immediately. This was a perfect pub in almost every sense of the word : quiet piped music seemingly from the 50s or before, a piano that a friend played that night, a fantastic three cats, memorabilia behind the bar that actually meant something to the landlord (and he'd tell you about what it meant if you asked), Cambridge college shields around the walls, the typical boatie oar (though untypical in that it came from the 1910s), a cute motorised fish (that the cats often clawed at), pictures of cats. There was a tiny beer-garden which alas I never sat in.

The beer was fantastic too - at least when there was some on, which unfortunately became a more rare event over time - at various times Elgoods, Lidstones, and best of all City of Cambridge beers. Hobsons Choice, Boathouse Bitter (or True Blue as it was then), and occasionally my favourite beer in the world - Bramling Traditional.

It was less good if you weren't a real ale drinker. The spirits generally appeared to be cheap ones bought from Aldi. A cabinet urged people to 'Make Time For Wine' though few ever did. There was some random foreign lager, but I don't recall many people having that either. No, this was a real pub. While Les (the landlord) said he personally didn't have much to do with CAMRA, CAMRA had time for the C+C. It stayed in the Good Beer Guide for years, right up until it closed. It was the local pub of the year in 1990.

The Quiz Night rapidly became one of the highlights of the week. Many Fitz second years went there. The Quizzes were on 'pop music and TV' and generally involved reasonably impossible questions, though I was on the winning side at least twice. They were generally great fun.

Alas, when we visited on 7 February 1999, Les informed us he was shutting that day. We were shocked, but we were in for a memorable (if emotional) night that really commemorated the end in style. The piano was played again, also Paul Wood the saxophonist was there and he was playing that. Les played one song over and over again that instantly brings back the memories - 'Dance the Night Away' by the Mavericks. However, all good things must come to an end - Les gave us all C+C lighters, and some friends actually took the 1910s oar! And at about 3am we finally left into the cold harsh February night, never to see the inside again.

Perhaps the great strength of the Cow was that it was, in many respects, an ordinary place where people went to have a (very good) pint of beer. Almost a relic from the past. Les was usually amusingly grumpy (I've been proposed to by him at least once!!!), the clientele were a good mix of old regulars, students, and general people. The atmosphere was ultimately totally relaxing, and perhaps this is another key to why the Cow was so good. In this modern world, it was a haven from speed and noise, and it was great! Something I often think about is that I'll never be able to sit and have a nice relaxing pint in this greatest of pubs again. A terrific shame. But I wouldn't trade the memories for anything.

Rating : somewhere about infinity, I think.

Ben Chalmers: (10/02/99) I first visited the Cow and Calf on the day of the general election, May 1st 1997. It had beer at 1.20 a pint. I went back again and again. Trying to get rid of students, the 1.20 Rutlands vanished, but Cambridge brewery beers remained. As did I. During the early hours of Monday 8th February Les left the Cow and Calf, and Cambridge was left with only two free houses. So now the Cow is left with no music, no people and no beer - even in death it hasn't changed that much - and it's still shitloads better than the Isaac Newton. So folks, raise a pint in memory of the Cow, and pray that whatever happens, it doesn't become a soft furnishings showroom.

Rating : Oooh somewhere around 12 out of 10, methinks.

Andrew Hollingsworth: (16/03/99) The Cow and Calf was a pub that, on my first visit, I didn't reckon much to. Once I got to know the place and appreciate the atmosphere, I grew to love it. Great times, great people. Nothing more can be said, except that I will miss the sanctuary the Cow and Calf provided from the rest of Cambridge life; a place where good beer and good conversation remains in my memory. Fingers crossed that it wil reopen as a pub, but it will never be the same.

Nick Breame: (28/02/99) I had the pleasure of managing the Cow about 5 years ago, Les went on holiday for a couple of weeks. It was one of the best pubs I have ever worked in, the punters were a mix of lecturers, businessmen, students and of course the general public. Everyone got on great. I'm sorry to hear that it has closed. I will miss the two dogs and about five cats if remember rightly.

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This document created by Mike Miller. Last edited 08/02/00.