A traditionally British watering hole, it dates from 1608, making it the oldest licensed ale house in the city, according to owner of nine years, Nathan Donnelly.
And like all historic buildings, it’s got some stories to tell.
“The building itself is from the 1500s,” says Nathan, who previously owned pubs in Norwich. “It’s previously been a gin palace, a brothel, a hotel, an undertakers… It used to have a brewery out the back and there were stables in the courtyard at one stage. It’s got some history.”
As well as history, there’s also a spot of folklore surrounding the pub, as Nathan explains: “We also have a resident ghost. She’s a previous landlady who drowned in the river nearby, and my then-girlfriend saw her two or three times upstairs in the flat. The lady’s daughter actually comes and drinks in the pub and has verified the whole story about her mum drowning in the river in the 50s.”
Owned by neighbouring Magdalene College, The Pickerel (meaning ‘baby pike’) pulls in a regular crowd of locals, students and tourists, drawn by the promise of good British beer, pub food and a friendly, bustling atmosphere.
Says Nathan: “We’re a proper English pub and we see people from all walks of life here. We get a lot of tourists in the summer months and at this time of year there’s a lot of students, local business people… We’ve got a good crowd of regulars too. Magdalene Rugby Club come here, the Anglia Frisbee Team and a couple of chess clubs. We run a quiz every Monday too.
“Lloyd Grossman used to come in here a lot; he went to Magdalene College over the road. And David Guest came in and wanted a cocktail, but we don’t really do cocktails so I think we gave him a J20 with vodka or something like that! He came in with his great big security guys. I’ve got a picture of myself with him. And The Pickerel was C.S Lewis’s favourite pub; he used to drink here when he was at Cambridge.”
These days, you’ll find a range of top quality ales on the bar, including the popular Nelson’s Revenge and Old Peculiar, together with five regularly changing guest ales.
“Oakham actually brew two ales just for us: The Pickerel Aesops Luceus, and The Pickerel Biting Bitter,” Nathan explains.
Meanwhile the menu offers an updated vision of quality pub grub: “It’s traditional English food,” says Nathan, “so fish and chips, pies, sausage and mash, and we do a really good selection of speciality burgers. The ‘Juicy Lucy’ burger has jalapeño peppers and Monterey Jack Cheese in the burger, and we do a pulled pork and wild boar burger.
“It’s fantastic,” Nathan sums up: “I love this pub, I love Cambridge… When I was training I worked in The Fountain and I always wanted to be manager at The Pickerel. It’s my dream pub: I never want to leave!”