My first Red Lion visit (well, to write these articles anyway) takes me to Cherry Hinton, a suburb of Cambridge with an awful lot of tiny roundabouts. And much else besides no doubt, but the roundabouts did command the attention as I made my way here. So the pub was a welcome sight as it appeared from round the corner and I was thoroughly convinced that I deserved a nice pint as I went in, even if it was only a Tuesday evening.
The sounds of banter between some blokes at the bar and the bar staff waft out through the door as I waft in the other way. I can hear someone having a damn good laugh at something or other before I’ve even got to the bar. Once I do, I get a warm welcome and an IPA. I’ve arranged to say hello to Amanda, the landlady, but she is busy in the kitchen just now, so I make myself comfortable for the time being and take a look around.
This pub, like my fictional Red Lion, is a place with old pictures and maps on the wall, well aware of its own history and its own place in the community. Someone else is now finding something else raucously funny at the bar, but that is not representative of the whole pub. Over in the corner is one solitary lady happily reading and opposite me are a father and son having a chat and a meal. There’s even a dog enjoying a drink. Not a beer, presumably, but some water from a dog bowl. As I look around, I see that this is a pub that is all in one room, but has corners and subtle borders that allow for differing spaces within it. This can be a place to be alone, or a place to be in the middle of everything, depending on your mood. This is, in short, a pub that is comfortable in its own skin.
Amanda manages to get free from the kitchen and sits down with a grin and a pint for me. I express my gratitude, for both I guess, and I ask her how she ended up here.
“I had already run a few pubs for the brewery in the area,” she tells me, “and when I was looking to move about two and a half years ago I was offered an upmarket pub in Trumpington. But I wanted to run a community-driven pub, so I chose this one instead.”
“So The Red Lion was like this when you moved in?” I ask her.
“Yes, but not entirely,” she replies. “The base was there, and the community, but you have to work hard to keep people coming in. For example, we have a bunch of younger lads from the football team who regularly come in here. But that’s no coincidence, because the pub sponsors the local football club.”
I nod knowingly. Not sure why, as I have never been a member of a football club, never mind one enticed into a boozer with sponsorship. In fact, I’ve never needed enticing into any pub, but I get the intention nonetheless.
“There was always a real mix of people here,” Amanda continues, “but we haven’t taken that for granted and have always worked to improve the community feel. So we get families in here too. We even manage to get the well-to-do and the not so well-to-do mixing.”
“That’s a quite a trick,” I offer.
“Of course, we get the big drinkers in here,” she continues, “from the building sites and places like that, and others who just like to pop in every day for the company, But you don’t just rely on that. We put on quiz nights, music nights, and we reintroduced food back into the pub too.”
I’m appreciating the aroma of Amanda’s kitchen activity already, so I know what she means.
“My favourite time of the week,” she adds with distinct pride, “is Sunday lunch. We are the pub in the area where you come for that. But ‘Sunday is Funday’ as we say, so we like to mix the lunch with a bit of dancing too!”
Sounds good to me. Roll on the weekend! I take another sip and ask her more about the regulars that come in on their own.
“We have five old boys,” she tells me, “who come in at 11am, every day. For the company.”
One of them, who we shall call ‘Old Dan’ to protect the innocent, always walks in when the pub opens, has three pints, then walks home again. I can’t help but think that may be his only company for the day, and that this pub really does play various important roles in the lives of the community here. As I muse on this, a thought comes to Amanda and she leads me and my pint over to the charming fireplace that acts as a border between the Bar and the Lounge.
She points out the chair and the photo just to the right, both of which I had previously missed when looking around earlier.
The photo is of a kindly-looking old bloke, sitting by this very fireplace and appearing distinctly content. In the photo frame, next to him, is an empty pint glass.
“This is Old Don,” Amanda tells me. “He’s no longer with us now unfortunately. That was his chair, so we put it here for him when he died, just next to his glass and his picture.”
I can’t help but be somewhat moved by this, so I have a couple of sips to steady myself and take a good look at the photograph. So Old Don has gone, but in some way, he is still here. This, more than anything, shows that this Red Lion cares. I could go on, but that says all you could need to know about this place really.
Thanks, Amanda. And cheers Don. Nice to meet you.