Cocktail bars in Cambridge have moved on ever so slightly from the days when the most exciting new arrival to the city's drinking scene was Vodka Revolution and, more recently, teen paradise Lola Lo nightclub. Since my student days, I've been a firm fan of subterranean cocktail bar La Raza and its expert mixologists. I occasionally still visit old classic Ta Bouche for a cheeky 2 for 1 offer from the funky bar's extensive menu. However, for some really special cocktails in stunning surroundings, I've found my new Cambridge favourites...
When I heard about the Latin American themed chain bar-restaurant Las Iguanas moving in to the Quayside area of Cambridge, I was expecting another version of Chiquitos or Giraffe and was prepared to be unimpressed. After visiting the new riverside restaurant, once to sample a selection of nibbles and tapas-style dishes and a couple of other times to tuck in to the cocktail menu, I've been converted. The setting helps; right on the quayside boardwalk, overlooking the beautiful Magdalene College and the river Cam, with low-key decor and lots of space for chilling at the bar or eating a meal in the restaurant. Quirky, Scandinavian furniture (think Danish design, not Ikea clones) nestles amongst splashes of Latino colour, and friendly staff buzz around to an eclectic collection of background music. The cocktail menu features traditional offerings from Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, with a couple of less widely known Chilean and Peruvian drinks. The Happy Hour menu includes a delicious, but very strong, Caipirinha, and ultra-sweet Keywest Cooler. Feisty and fizzy favourites, Cherry Fizz and Cana Royale, look and smell great, but the latter requires a deep-rooted love of Tequila. The food menu is on hand to help soak up the boozy cocktails and is too huge to tackle on one visit. My tip is to sample a taco sharing tray, and to make sure a Mexican chicken tinga is included, with some feisty side dishes like the creamy frijoles refritos (refried black beans) and patatas bravas.
Just a short stroll along the boardwalk and up a tiny alley into the peaceful warren of residential streets between Bridge Street and Jesus Green, the next stop on the hunt for the perfect cocktail is the hidden and unassuming entrance to The Varsity Hotel & Spa. As tempting as an afternoon of pampering sounds, the place to be is the roof garden, sipping Champagne and classic cocktails whilst enjoying amazing 360 degree views of the city centre and beyond. Views aside, the immaculate terrace of dark wood decking, manicured astroturf lawn, with its black wicker furniture and glass topped tables, makes for an impressive setting for an impromptu Champagne garden party. Tartan blankets keep guests nice and snug but not much can be done about the gusts of East Anglian wind whistling round their ears. The incredible selection of cocktails, spirits and wines on offer is more than enough to keep one warm on a chilly autumn's afternoon. Prosecco by the glass starts at £10, with Champagne from £12 a glass, and classic Champagne Bellinis and, my favourite, French 75 cocktails for £12.50 each. Served in glistening Taittinger flutes, the cocktails are refreshing, decadent, and made to be enjoyed in the sunshine.
From the top of the world to the depths of the city's cellars, the best place in Cambridge to warm up with a good stiff drink is the bar at Hotel du Vin. Located deep beneath the boutique hotel on Trumpington Street, a series of vaulted cellars houses an incredibly well-stocked bar, tasting room, countless cosy nooks, and, of course, an extensive collection of wines. Whitewashed brick walls, leather chairs and sofas, sumptuous velvet cushions, and flickering candlelight create a relaxing, and rather romantic, atmosphere. The drinks menu merits a good five to ten minutes' browsing, featuring a huge array of spirits, wines, beers and cocktails, from the classic to the more obscure. Lovers of a good single malt whisky and martini aficionados will be in their element. Being equally enthusiastic about a good old girly cocktail, we were thrilled by the bar's Cosmopolitan, classic Champagne cocktail, and beautifully named Highland Sparkle. The polished presentation, lashings of top quality ingredients, and, ahem, the most generous servings of alcohol, won us over and firmly placed the Hotel du Vin's cocktails at the top of my list.
Where in Cambridge do you enjoy drinking a cocktail or two?...