Opening of new social spaces transforms 500-year-old tradition of community dining at St John’s

"A new Buttery, Café and Bar have opened at St John’s to meet the demands of 21st century studying and eating"

A spectacular new Buttery, Café and Bar have opened today at St John’s College to meet the demands of 21st century studying and eating.

The contemporary social spaces set within historic buildings, featuring stylish interiors blending the traditional and contemporary, represent one of the most significant projects so far as the College fulfils its estate masterplan, a 20-year development framework with a 100-year lifespan.

All three facilities will open throughout the day, offering the entire St John’s community a shared space for refreshment, meeting, study and relaxation, and reinvigorating the communal spirit that lies at the heart of College life.

Made possible by a donor who has chosen to remain anonymous, the scheme replaced the dark and dated Bar and Buttery in the south-west corner of Second Court with welcoming new versions, and created a College Café for the first time. All three venues are filled with natural light while maintaining a sense of homeliness.

People in cafe
St John's students in the College's new Cafe which opens daily at 8am (8.30am at weekends)

Heather Hancock, Master of St John’s, congratulated the Fellows and staff who, working with architects and contractors and with input from students, have together created “breath-taking and welcoming new spaces for the College”.

She said: “We have gained bright, warm and welcoming space for our day-to-day lives in College. We are privileged to learn, live and meet in such a beautiful and inspiring environment, and this latest development is a worthy addition to the fabric of the College.”

“It is without doubt authentically ‘John’s’, from the brickwork and the beams, the red benches and the trophy cabinet to the centuries-old panelling and the view across the Kitchen Bridge. But it is St John’s for the 21st century, full of colour and light, and - all thanks to one extraordinarily generous alumnus – it will enhance the personal and intellectual wellbeing of students and Fellows for many generations to come. I look forward to seeing us all settle in.”

The social spaces project has relied on the tireless efforts of the College catering team, who ensured the St John’s community remained fed and watered throughout in a temporary Buttery and Bar located in First Court. Each new facility has its own identity, emphasised by specially commissioned logos based on historic symbols seen throughout the College, which all have a heraldic link to our founder Lady Margaret Beaufort.

"We have gained bright, warm and welcoming space for our day-to-day lives in College"

The Café is the first to exist at St John’s since its foundation in 1511, but it nods to the nearby coffee houses that lured students and Fellows for refreshment and conversation in the 18th century – caffeine and study have gone together for hundreds of years. The contemporary facility, on the site of the old Bar, serves premium quality, barista-prepared sustainable coffee at subsidised prices for College members, alongside freshly-made pastries and savoury snacks. It is open daily from 8am-4.30pm (8.30am-2.30pm at weekends).

The new Buttery features a living green wall which is watered by collected rainwater

The new light and airy Buttery dining space boasts a feature ‘green wall’ watered by rainwater from the top-lit, freestanding, oak-framed roof. Five vaulted, glass-topped ‘pavilions’ rise above the café-style tables, and doors at the western end of the room open out into a revamped and accessible terrace with new tables and chairs, in-built seating areas, and garden planting. Grade I-listed gate piers have been carefully relocated in line with Kitchen Lane and Kitchen Bridge to create a new gateway to the area, and views from the terrace stretch across Kitchen Bridge over the River Cam and down to the Backs of the College beyond.

The Buttery will serve lunch daily from 11.30am-1.30pm, dinner daily except Saturdays from 6pm-8pm (and a cooked breakfast on Wednesdays 8-10am), always including a choice of healthy and filling meals, baked potatoes, a salad bar, gluten-free alternatives and a daily vegetarian option.

New Bar
Service begins in the Bar at 5pm during the week and 12pm at weekends

"The new facilities will enhance the personal and intellectual wellbeing of students and Fellows for many generations to come"

The new Bar has deliberately been given a more open and inclusive atmosphere than the original, but the U-shaped window seating from the old facility has been retained and repurposed, and the new benches, like the old, are a distinctive red. A trophy cabinet is filled with silverware and the walls feature photographs of sporting achievements and other aspects of College life.

The Bar will open 5pm-11pm Monday-Thursday, 5pm-midnight on Fridays, and from noon till 11pm and 10.30pm on Saturdays and Sundays respectively. In due course, a wider range of drinks and snacks will be introduced, including cocktails and a selection of freshly prepared bar food.

The College’s leadership was also determined from the outset to meet the highest sustainability requirements, despite the challenges of doing so on a site mixing historic fabric and newbuild elements. The project has achieved a coveted BREEAM Excellent rating: a world-leading sustainability assessment method for masterplanning projects and buildings.

The Master, who officially opened the spaces today, predicted that the new Buttery, Bar and the Café would be “widely admired and wildly popular”.

Opening ceremony
Heather Hancock, Master of St John's, officially opening the new spaces. Photo credit: Nordin Ćatić

Published 30/01/2023

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