I'm posting this towards the end of June 2020. We visited our 71st BrewDog bar during the first weekend of March. There was a plan that by this point in June, we would be guzzling pints in our 72nd: but with travel restrictions being what they are, that isn't happening any more. (If you're wondering where that bar might have been, there's a subtle clue on one of the pages linked to in this piece.)
Let's say it out loud: Cambridge may well be the last new BrewDog bar I write about on here for some time. At this stage, it's hard to tell how many of the bars we've previously visited will survive this mess: we know already that Helsinki hasn't, which is a damn shame. In the circumstances, it's incredibly weird looking back three and a bit months to March 6th-8th, seeing what we did over the space of that weekend, and how little of it we could get away with currently. Sure, there were rumblings coming from the east that we were heading for trouble, but the main way I remember Covid-19 from that weekend was having the official Vietnamese campaign song stuck in my head for most of it. There wasn't any sense that this could have been our last weekend away for some time: whereas just one week later, we were sitting in the Brixton Ritzy watching The Invisible Man with a growing awareness that we probably wouldn't be able to do that in a few days.
So, as we head towards the July 4th re-opening of English bars with an increasing sense of dread at the second wave they could be instrumental in stoking, join me as we get all nostalgic about what things used to be like as far back as last Spring...
We travel to Cambridge the long way round, primarily for reasons of stampwankery - we're still (okay, we were still) attempting to fill up our Intergalactic Beer Visas with physical stamps from all the bars, and Norwich was a gap on the page we'd been meaning to plug for some time. So on Friday afternoon, we get the train up to Norwich, stay there overnight, and then travel the rest of the way to Cambridge on the Saturday. The Norwich bar is much the same as it was when we visited in 2016, the main new feature being that the signage by the dog bowls suggests they're primarily there for the hydration of children. We grab Friday dinner at The Belgian Monk (a terrific combination of Belgian food and beer in the most traditional English pub setting imaginable), Saturday breakfast at The Waffle House (with no fewer than thirteen breakfast waffle options on the menu), and spend a pleasant Saturday morning strolling around the market and the grounds of the castle.
There's one other thing we do in Norwich, and it'll require you to think back to The BBG's 2020 diary. Remember her project to see a dozen gigs in 2020 featuring acts neither of us had ever seen before? Well, that project's looking a little shaky right now, but on that weekend back in March we got it off to a flying start. In Norwich, we head off to The Waterfront to see two acts we definitely know nothing about - Samantha Fish headlining, with Felix Rabin in support. Both acts are basically shit-hot guitarists who let themselves down by the assumed requirement that we need to hear them singing too. Rabin, in a particularly ballsy move, covers Voodoo Chile with the use of 21st century FX pedals, but his voice isn't up to the job: Fish coasts a little on her vampy Monroe image, especially with the lecherous old men who seem to make up a sizeable proportion of this audience. But she gets better as the gig goes on, and the sheer aggression of her playing steamrollers over most of your objections.
Saturday lunchtime we take the train from Norwich to Cambridge, and do the 15 minute walk down the A1307 - a road we'll be traipsing up and down constantly for the next day or so - to the Regent Hotel. It's a little old-fashioned in its styling, but boutique in its attitude, and the combination turns out to be irresistable. They apologise for not offering breakfast, but instead just shovel free coffee and croissants into your mouth in the lounge every morning. And their wifi is strong enough for us to spend the very first part of Sunday watching the start of the oddest-looking sumo tournament in living memory.
But the main order of business on Saturday, of course, is a pair of visits to Brewdog Cambridge, which has been open since last August. It's another big old place, a rambling structure spread over two storeys, with a very nice view from the upper deck (as illustrated by The Belated Birthday Girl above). The staff are enjoyably chatty - when The BBG tries asking about a local beer, Milton's Tiki, the barman diplomatically answers "yes, that's a beer," so we take the hint and plump instead for BrewDog's own Duopolis and Bullhouse Brew Co's Melon Citra Sour. For lunch alongside those, we have the all-new seitan wings that have just appeared on the BrewDog food menus. It has to be noted that the condiment supplied with the wings here is Wiltshire Chilli Farm sauce rather than the usual Dalston Chilli, and The BBG would like to register her disapproval at the former's feeble 2% chilli content.
The bar has an interesting mix of punters - it looks like 70% of them are the students you'd expect, while the rest are tourists who are there either very deliberately or very accidentally. Some of the latter are possibly here for the Six Nations, which is showing on TV in the upstairs area. Other than that, the bar's got a very traditional design for BrewDog, with the most interesting innovation being handy symbols against some of the beer names on the board, indicating if they're strong (lightning bolt) or almost sold out (hourglass). Having said that, the latter isn't used as frequently as it should be, with The BBG finding on at least one occasion that her first choice of beer is no longer available. Still, it seems pretty busy both on Saturday afternoon and late on the same night, when we call in for nightcap beers of Wild Weather's Dwayne The Bock Johnson (I know, I know) and Pressure Drop's Give Me The Message stout - the only two lightning bolts left on the board by 11.30 on a Saturday night.
As ever, we make sure we also achieve some non-BrewDog things while we're in town. Saturday evening, following an enjoyable stroll along the river, we have a very nice dinner at The Old Bicycle Shop, including - finally - some local beers in the form of Wolf Brewery's Lupus Lupus and Cambridge Brewing's Misty River. Then we head back down the road to Cambridge Junction, to continue our quest for undiscovered gigs courtesy of the venue's monthly New Routes night. The three acts provide very different interpretations of the folk/roots brief, with Eve Owen's quietly understated electronics, Ben Walker's ludicrously virtuoso guitar playing, and Lexie Green (with John Wright) providing the more expected Americana.
Our Sunday morning is initially disrupted by our unexpectedly finding ourselves walking down the route for the Cambridge Half Marathon, but it ends up having no real impact apart from a few road crossings taking five minutes or so. By accident rather than design, we find ourselves spending a lot of March 8th at events that fit quite nicely into it being International Women's Day. Kettle's Yard gallery is dedicating its space largely to the exhibition Linderism, documenting the work of the artist Linder Sterling, from her photomontages on Buzzcocks single sleeves to her most recent forays into performance art. (The exhibition is currently on a hiatus, but can still be viewed in this YouTube walkthrough.) The Museum of Cambridge has, in the middle of its glorious collection of old bric-a-brac, a series of interventions from various women's groups to mark the day. And the Heong Gallery at Downing College is running We Are Here, a history of women's art at Cambridge University.
On top of all this, because we feel we have to fit a film in somewhere, we go to the Arts Picturehouse (we were last there in 2005 for a Cambridge Film Festival screening of Howl's Moving Castle, apparently) for a quick snack and a preview screening of Marjane Satrapi's Marie Curie biopic Radioactive. More women! Unfortunately, that preview ended up being the film's entire UK theatrical run once the lockdown had kicked in. For what it's worth, Rosamund Pike is impressive in the lead, and Anthony Dod Mantle shoots it all beautifully, but Satrapi can't make the bold flashforwards to the consequences of Curie's discovery fit with the main story. I suspect the original comic book the film's based on handles those transitions more effectively. Still, I've spent so long getting around to writing this piece that you can now see for yourself - it's available for digital download from YouTube or the VOD platform of your choice.
We wrap up the weekend with a nice dinner at La Maison Du Steak steak house, and head back home on the train, not thinking that was a particularly unusual thing to do. It was the last major bit of travelling we'd be doing for a while: within two weeks, we were reduced to only leaving the house for shopping and the odd bit of exercise (i.e. shopping somewhere further away). You don't know what you've got till it's gone, do you?
Three and a bit months into the lockdown, I've got no idea when BrewDogging #72 is likely to happen. Let's hope it's soon, assuming that pubs are still a thing by then.
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, Dog Eat Dog/Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki†, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes, Canary Wharf, Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Aberdeen Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth, Edinburgh Airport, Carlisle, St Pauli, AF Old Street]