196 – Mill Road

196 is a real hidden gem of Mill Road. Easy to miss and purposely low key, this place serves an amazing selection of wine and spirits.
You’d be forgiven for never knowing that 196 existed.
Though the name of the bar is actually plastered across the entrance, 196 is simply the address. Walking past you would only assume that it is another generic cafe or place of business.
There is no sign out the front, no menu is on display, and no promotion trying to entice you inside. The building is even painted a dark grey to help it blend into the background of the concrete jungle of Mill Road. There is very little social media presence too, with only a website and Instagram page.

This is clearly done on purpose to create the idea of 196 being a hidden gem known only to the locals, but this warm and modern bar really does make you feel like you have discovered some hidden secret upon entering. Though very small, being no bigger than the average living room, they do incredibly well with the space and manage to seat people comfortably, even at full capacity. Upon entering the place was already packed but the staff managed to somehow create space out of nothing by playing a game of people Tetris. A part of me thinks that their stealthy marketing practice might actually be to manage numbers rather than create a feeling of hidden exclusivity.

The menu’s are hand written, which is a really nice touch. Unfortunately, some people may struggle to read it, especially with the dim lighting. We persevered none the less and managed to find what we needed. The staff were incredibly helpful and had an extensive knowledge of the selection on the menu (in case anyone reading feels they may struggle here). The reassuring thing about 196 is that unless you are particularly fussy about what you want, everything on the menu is of the highest quality. Simply ordering a red Shiraz and leaving it in the staffs capable hands will not leave you disappointed.
I was particularly impressed with the selection of spirits here. Being a cocktail bar, I suppose it aught to be! I am a whisky and bourbon man myself, so I have a good knowledge of what makes a good selection. Speaking with the chap behind the bar he really knew what he was talking about and was more than happy to offer his advice and talk through what they had on offer. There were a few bottles I did not recognise which surprised me but also showed how good their range was. This also made me want to come back again and try them again in the future to explore the selection.
They had nothing on tap but served bottles of Modelo – a Mexican beer which I had never tried before. I ordered one of these with a double Four Roses single batch bourbon on the side with a splash of water.
As mentioned above, the menu only had quality here, so the beer was refreshing and served incredibly crisp.
There is a single toilet at the back with a selection of framed photos across the wall. This ranges from celebrities to the unusual. This really compliments the great character of the bar. Considering how small the venue is itself, the toilet was surprisingly spacious, which will be good for wheelchair users.

The bar was dimly lit, which gave an incredibly cosy feel and an intimate atmosphere. This made you feel a million miles away from the rest of the world. Perfect for those cold winter nights. It reminded me of other pubs in Cambridge like The Flying Pig.

A couple of beers later, they told us they were closing for the night. They serve up until midnight which is always good to know for future nights out. We finished our drinks and paid our tab. The prices were as you would expect for a place in Cambridge serving premium cocktails, beer, and wine. So don’t come in here expecting a bargain. We did, however, leave feeling that we had paid good money for quality drinks and a unique experience. This can be hard to find and I personally feel like it was worth every penny.

We left feeling good and everyone speaking highly of the place. I have had 196 on my radar for some time now and it didn’t disappoint. It was exactly what I expected but that was no bad thing!

Thanks for reading!

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