The Anchor, Hayfield Road
Largish Wadworth pub, with a U-shaped bar, splitting the pub into three areas. The public bar is on the Hayfield Road side, and contains a TV by the sound of it. The lounge is on the Polstead road face, and the third area is located round the corner of the lounge, "opposite" the bar. The lounge was quite comfy, friendly, and on Easter Sunday the custom consisted of North Oxford gentlemen having just left the service at the nearby church. The menu looked a bit steep but the beer - Wadworth Henry's IPA, 6X, JCB plus a guest - was good, both for price and quality. The 6X was in a different league to the stuff everywhere in the town centre has got. No crazy decor, random tat or huge mirrors, instead a real fire (not lit when I went) and a framed history of Wadworth brewery, i.e., a real pub. A large, fluffy dog of indeterminable breed was lying in the middle of the floor and took much delight in trying to trip people. A good pub. April 2002.
Update: Easter Sunday the following year and it is still just the same. Same post-church crowd, beer still great and atmosphere good. Ther guest beer works as follows: they have a guest brewery every month with four or so beers from that brewery in turn over the course. A great pub. April 2003.
Update: I hear rumours that this place has been turned into a gastro-pub so I shall have to have another look soon. Stay tuned... March 2007
Update: Ooops! Only a year until I got a chance to have another look. Surprising close to Easter. Why is it I always come here then? Anyway, it is indeed now a gastro-pub. Of the "U" of the pub, the original dining room and the Polstead Road side are now kitted out entirely as eating areas. The Hayfield Road side is also mostly table based, but does have a couple of bar stools and trestles left, making it barely comfortable for the non-eating drinker. I did, however, feel distinctly uncomfortable just ordering a pint and hiding in a corner whilst all around me people were tucking in to what looks like very good food. The Wadworth beer, although competitively priced, now seems a little bit more chilled, so the flavour was less distinct. Down 1 star for over-concentration on food and deterring drinkers. March 2008.
Update: The food here is absolutely excellent. It is without doubt some of the best pub food I have ever had. There's an excellent emphasis on game and fish. However, from the pub point of view this does mean that it is slightly uncomfortable just popping in for a pint, but no-one has ever looked down their noses or made me feel odd when I have done. The Wadworth beers are not overly expensive depsite the rather upmarket clientele and they are always in excellent condition. February 2010.
The Bear, Blue Boar Lane
Recently acquired by the Great Bass Empire (may it rot in hell until it starts brewing its own beer again), this has not changed the Bear substantially other than bringing in Draught Bass and other guest beers. The Bear is famous for its age - contending with the Turf for the title of "oldest pub in Oxford", its collection of ties from various societies, forces, colleges, etc. (gone are the days when you could get a free couple of pints by adding to the collection), and its small size. As they often say to Roo, size isn't everything (and then snigger not very discreetly), and this pub certainly is worth a disproportionally large visit. Beer is consistently excellent, with usually Bass, Bateman's XXXB, and a couple of others on. Not the kind of pub you are going to be able to go to on a Friday night, unless you, like the pub, are very small. November 1998 to present
Update: The Bass Empire transmogrified into Mitchells and Butlers, affecting many of the pubs in the centre. For the Bear, this simply means that Bass is now only rarely available and that they have a good, cheap menu! January 2006.
Update: Converted to being a Fullers house a few years ago, which has not changed the fabric of the pub but has certainly made it a great deal more expensive (c.f. the Head of the River). Consistently packed but the beer is usually of good quality with three Fullers beers and one or two guests. John Karban kindly sent this update: "Visited this time on a warm summer's evening with everybody in the beer garden. "Garden" is a strong word for an otherwise empty patch of concrete adjacent to the pub but on this balmy evening every perch on the many benches outside was taken. Inside, there were three ales from the Fuller's house brewery: the ubiquitous London Pride, ESB, and the former Gales of Horndean "HSB", now brewed by Fuller's in London. Two guest ales were Butcombe Bitter and a local brew, Shotover Brewery's Prospect Ale. Although the beer here is consistently good, it's getting a bit pricey, with �3.40 for the standard-strength Prospect Bitter being top-dollar for a fine but inconspicuous ale." Thanks. July 2010.
The Royal Blenheim, St Ebbe's
Once a Halls pub, then a dead pub, then a gay pub, now a dead pub again. For a short while after its most recent rebranding it was advertising cheap Draught Bass, but, although the pump remains, there is now no real beer here. Instead, we have the worst of what the Evil Bass Empire ("yes, we were once brewers but now we'd rather take over the world, hahahahaHAAA!!!") can throw at the unsuspecting public. This is naturally almost entirely alcopops, with the very worst of the nitrokegs as well as multiple identical lagers. As is usual in Autumn when faced with such a "choice", I went for Guinness, which was fairly expensive. There was about four other people in at the time and the barman was bored silly. Later the population was doubled when a group a suited people wandered across from the wedding at St Ebbe's. They didn't stay long. Although obviously a fairly old building, the place was done up to look vaguely tropical. Enforced crap music. Dire. August 2002
Update: After being bought up by Everards of Leicester, real beer has been installed, comprising Tiger and Beacon, both for less thatn �2 a pint. The Tiger is also quite good. This, combined with deals on other drinks, seems to have drawn back a crowd, such that it was very busy on an early Friday evening, with a young crowd. The tropical decorations in places still exist, but I also noticed that brick-clad small side room with a pool table, with barely enough room to swing a cue. One star added for the good, cheap beer, but this still isn't a particularly good pub. May 2003.
Update: The pub has now been redecorated and is in far better shape, with sensible surroundings, nice bar area and photos of old Oxford, etc. Generally tasteful, bright and airy with lots of pine. Newspapers available to read while drinking your pint. Increased by another star. March 2004.
Update: A major change has just hit this place - it has been taken over by the local White Horse brewery to become their first owned house, essentially the brewery tap. This has led to a refurbishment, tastefully done, and the expansion of the real ales up to a total of TEN, comprising three to five White Horse beers and the rest interesting and varied guests. These are cheap for the city centre, especially the White Horse beers, and very well kept. I haven't seen the menu yet, but there are rumours of "pints of chips", which sounds an inspired idea. There's a fairly discreet jukebox and quiz machine and, pretty much uniquely for the central pubs, a dart board. I was very impressed overall and hope to spend a lot of time here. At the moment it is very quiet and therefore, perhaps, not as atmospheric as it certainly could be. The reason for this is probably a combination of lack of adverstising about the major change and also the place's tucked-out-of-the-way location. A poll of random people at the Turf one evening by the Hobbit revealed that few people even know where St Ebbe's is, let alone where the pub is. If this can be changed, then there's an excellent new home of real ale to discover and I strongly advise you all to try to make this place a success. October 2008.
Update: Getting busier and has established an excellent, cheap menu of pub classics. Friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable staff and a very varied selection on their ten draught pumps, kept at good prices. The transformation to this place has been amazing and it is a true home of the spirit of real pubs and decent beer in the very centre of Oxford. Up to the full five stars! February 2009.
Update: Now one of my locals. Consistently excellent beer range and quality although not quite as cheap as it used to be. John Karban kinds writes: "A gem of a pub, being the other city centre outlet for White Horse ales, of which it stocks the regular range, plus a few alternating guest beers, and a few with "coming soon" labels to whet your appetite to come back. Beer quality is consistently good (testified by the large quantities of pin-holes well wide of the dart board) but the prices have crept up to city averages. Food menu is small but hearty and reasonably priced. Handy location near to the city centre Sainsbury's and Westgate car park, so a favourite stopping off point after a day's hard shopping." Many thanks. July 2010.
The Old Bookbinders Arms, Victor Street
This pub was the first to be NuMorrelled into an "olde ale house", but is the most successful of Morrell's transmogrifications - the only one where it feels right. All the others are poor imitations. The pub appeared in the Morse book "The Dead Of Jericho" under the pseudonym of "The Printer's Devil", and a photo of John Thaw, gifted during the filming, stands as tribute to the late great. Free monkey nuts are provided to go with the beer and chucking the shells on the floor is the common practice. Quirky additions abound, including the "home brew" bell ring mechanism made out of a length of clothes line and a hammer, and a pre-decimal pricing system is in use (Morrells Varsity �2 1/-). Also, all the doors have handles at both edges, so the potential is here to look a complete pillock after a few pints. Also, check out the toilets - Ladies', Gents' and others'. See what happens if you try the last of these. Lager and kegs are discreetly concealed, and the real ale comprises 6 hand pumps plus several directly tapped barrels. Nice mix of town and gown most evenings. Top marks March 2000
Update: With the recent selling of the pub, and nearly all the rest of Morrells pubs, to Greene King, there has been both a change in manager and beers. The Greene King range is now the standard beers and the range of guests so far has been decreased. Still an excellent pub, but I'm waiting to see if anything will change as the new boss gets more secure there. October 2002
Update: Still an excellent pub, but the range of guest beers is much reduced and prices have gone up a fair bit. However, there are still at least 6 beers on at a time. August 2003
Update: The number of guests is now rather intermittent, ranging from 1 to 4 at a time. This is combined with 3 to 4 GK beers at a time. Still all of excellent quality, though, and prices have reached a steady, but fairly steep, level. The food here looks particularly interesting, I note, and will probably be sampled at some point (something that i do rarely in pubs!). April 2004.
Update: Beer quality and quantity has really began to drop off recently and the beers tend to be GK standards. Prices up and up. Doesn't really cut it as one of the best pubs anymore. Shame. January 2005.
Update: There is, however, an excellent, cholesterol-ridden menu of burgers and sausages! The beer quality is quite variable and the variability now only extends to Greene King ales, or those "Authorised Guests" eg St Austell Tribue and Brains. February 2006.
Update: Unfortunately, the manager who had until recently kept this pub in the top echelon of Oxford hostelries has now moved to Cornwall. Our loss is definitely that county's gain. The beer range is now essentially down to Greene King only, with a few of their disguised seasonals, labelled "Westgate Brewery" (simply the name of the Greene King site), taking up the centre space. These are rather uninspiring. In addition, the last time the Hobbit and I came we both had different beers, both of which were a millimetre from having to be taken back for being "on the turn". The delightful quirkiness of the decor, a hangover from the NuMorrells days, is the main drawing factor. Down to a mediocre 3 stars, leaving the Harcourt as the unchallenged king of the Jericho pubs. July 2010.
Update: Closed abruptly to the surprise of almost everyone in the area. Greene King say they are keen to get another tenant in to open again, but take for example all the other GK pubs that have closed in Oxford recently for lack of a tenant. A real shame. June 2010.
Update: Open again. Good news: the inside has been left unchanged. Excellent news: the free monkey nuts are back. Bad news: The people who have taken the place on clearly understand what used to make it a good pub, but themselves seem to have little experience in running a pub and keeping beer. The ale range is again the "extended" Greene King range (the ones that pretend not to be GK) and are rather mediocre and slightly too cold. However, a modern classic pub has at least temporarily been saved. December 2011.
The Brewery Gate, St Thomas Street
CLOSED as of September 2010
This was once the brewery tap for Morrells when the famous Lion Brewery stood on St Thomas Street. Now the proudly independant family brewery is a wide space with the beginnings of some construction girders, while the beer is brewed in Dorset and as time progresses more and more cringe-inducing stereotypically-named seasonal beers are being produced. The pub as well is slightly atypical and only opens at odd times. It seems that lunchtime is your best bet. Inside, it is rather nice - atmopheric wooden building looking quite old and with lots of little corners. For some reason the place has a lot of Welsh decoration, and the gaffer was wearing a t-shirt featuring a red dragon, etc. He may well come from said part of the world, but his accent is perfectly local. The crowd in were regulars with an average age of fifty, so the place was quite relaxing. The full range of Morrells beers is advertised, and there are three pumps, but only Oxford Blue was on when we visited, and this was fairly good (for a bland beer) and very cheap. Some food is advertised, but none appeared to be happening. Historic photos of the brewery and Oxford on the walls. Well worth a trip if you can catch the place when it's open. September 2002
Update: Has been open only on-and-off for a few years. The current incarnation seems to have closed in about mid September and is now entirely boarded up. There's so much new housing around this area that I wonder if someone might be able to make a go of it, but we'll wait to see. September 2010.
The Castle Tavern, Norfolk Street
The rainbow banner and strange colouring schemes, plus the noticeably all male crowd, point out that this place, like the Jolly Farmers round the corner, is a gay pub. Small, darkly lit pub of indeterminable age, but presumably modern. No instantaneous feeling of like or dislike on entering, just an emptiness of character and atmosphere. Typical 80s music. A Greene King pub, the Abbot was very expensive and also mediocre. Long gone are the days when this place used to have a resident stripper and topless pool-playing! June 2002
Update: John Karban kindly sends this: "Visited on a late Saturday afternoon in early Spring, this place was pleasantly quiet compared to the bustle of shoppers outside. A mixed clientele at the time, so not sure about its possible gay connections, and no feeling of being scrutinised. This is a Greene King pub but as the Abbott was off it had to be a pint of the rather bland IPA which was well-kept but otherwise unremarkable apart from, that is, the price, which was a stiff £3. Given the newly-opened Swan & Castle just up the same road (who also serve Greene King, if you must, but for under £2/pint), there's little reason to venture here." John suggests a reduction to one star, which I endorse. July 2010.
Chequers, The High
A large, open plan, studenty pub, hidden off the High. Two visits in close succession show the extremes of this pub - one at lunchtime when the place was dead, and the other on a Friday night when I couldn't move and was being progressively deafened by the enforced music. In addition, it's one of those places that tries to be funny by sticking George Bernerd Shaw quotes everywhere. It's a pity they haven't heard one his lesser known gems, "A quotation on a wall is like a house on fire - if I ever catch anyone using one of mine, I'll burn the bloody place down". One thing that can be said of this place is that it is conveniently located, i.e., if it vanished off the face of the Earth tomorrow, no-one would notice. Beer was bland, with no loving care taken keeping and pulling it, and there was an obligatory requirement to get them to top it up. It was sparkled as well. Humph!!! June 1999.
Update: This is interesting! Oxford had 3 pubs called The Chequers until the start of 2007 and all 3 were rubbish. Now two have closed and the third, this previous teenage nightclub lookalike has been completely refurbished and is, I must admit, pretty damn good. Good beer, good wine and good service are mixed with reasonable prices in this large pub. The bar has a very comfy, padded chair enabled region to the right, in which you can put your feet up and chill even when the rest gets busy. The main part of the pub is in a kind of mock-mediaeval style with banner-like curtain divides and college crest looking like a row of nobility. The real beers, of which there are 3 to 4, are well kept and served in a handled glass by default. Usually Deuchars IPA, London Pride and another. This place is definitely on the map again! August 2007.
Update: A part of the Nicholson's estate. The beer is consistently good and varied but with a huge over-emphasis on lighter and golden ales, which doesn't necessarily correspond to my personal tastes. As a central pub, can vary from packed to one-man-and-his-dog depending on time of day and university terms. February 2012.
Chequers, St Thomas Street
CLOSED as of August 2007
Grotty side street local with no real beer, rust-couloured walls and several pool tables. The attraction is that these tables are only 50p a play at the moment. Hmmm. The main bar area has a strange mixture of odd farming implements and American baseball rubbish. MTV-equivalent playing on the huge screen. The only keg bitter was Tetley's, so I went for the Guinness, which was by default Extra-Cold. Behind the bar has adverts for highly toxic sounding home-made cocktails. Coming here made even the thought of going to the Honey Pot next door attractive (which, incidently, was packed whilst this place was just ticking over). May 2004.
Update: Hurrah! It's closed, thereby increasing the average quality of Oxford pubs. It is now a cocktail bar called Maroon that, I'm informed, has drinks starting from 6 pounds. November 2007.
The Cock and Camel, George Street
CLOSED as of January 2008
Stupid name, crap pub. PUB?!? Did I say pub? No, sorry, not even the esteemed Young's Brewery of Wandsworth, brewers of mediocre beers since 1831, can convince me that this is a pub, despite descriptions to the contrary. It is an air-conditioned yuppy bar that happens to belong to a pub company. Inside is clinically sterile, with a great long bar serving several different types of champagne and about twenty wines. Yes, they do have three draught Youngs beers. Yes, they are completely bland. Yes, they seem to think they can justify charging 2.85 for a pint of 4% bitter that is probably a pound cheaper at the Angel and Greyhound. This (at time of writing, 2002) is the most I've ever payed for a pint of real bitter, even in London. I've a good mind to right to write to the Times ("Sir, this is me writing to complain about the price of beer, etc... Is this a record? Yours, etc."). People who enjoy real pubs should not enter here on pain of death. I have been psychologically traumatized. August 2002
Update: I've just noticed that this place has closed, and then heard in the local news that it has been bought by Jamie Oliver, who plans to turn it into a restaurant. An Italian one, I think. Hmm, yes, George Street does seem lacking in restaurants, particularly Italian ones. Anyway, the end of yet another of Oxford's worst pubs, so I'm happy. February 2008.
The Crown, Cornmarket
This place reminds me of a typical boozer back home in the heart of the Great Bass Empire (may the termites invade their Toby Inns for selling off their beer), with the emphasis on plugging the food. The beer was well kept, though - as good as any Bass I've tasted at home, but bloody expensive. Music was slightly retro easy listening. The place lacks atmosphere! No idea what it's like at night, but I expect it's just a few more of the grumpy regulars who keep the place ticking over at lunchtime. Good, however, if you are out "shopping" with a band of females. November 1998
Update: After a mere five years away from this pub we finally returned, mostly by accident. It hasn't really changed, although the night crowd is a lot younger than I thought it would be. Also they had a doorman - why? World War III was hardly likely to start! All the real beers were off, but remembering how expensive the Bass was five years ago (beer prices in other pubs have only recently matched what they were charging here in 1998) perhaps this was a good thing. Went for the Guinness. Some things never change - this place remains fairly abyssmal. February 2003.
Update: Dashed here to escape a severe hail storm, as it was the closest pub. The prices have almost stayed the same for the last ten years, so this place is now comparatively non-expensive. There's a wider selection of ales too - Adnams, Fullers and others. The inside feels a little more welcoming as well, so generally an improvement, but I still don't like it, or the general clientele, very much. Up one star, however. March 2008.
Update: Miracle of miracles! Someone has had a thought about the Crown and decided to turn it into an ale house! I'm not sure whether this will do anything, however, about its previous usual clientelle, which mostly consisted of people too drunk to get served at McDonald's next door. Anyway, the whole affair has been tarted up to a mock Georgian parlour. This I don't mind, considering the extensive history of the place. The overpowering smell of fresh flowers and floral air fresheners, however, was not only slightly nauseating but also destroyed any old atmosphere they are trying to impose with the dark woodwork and multitude of candles. The menu looks great, full of steaks, pies and other cholesterol-ladden pub classics. There are seven (count that - SEVEN) draught pumps. When I was there, these bore Brakspear Bitter and Gold, a Hook Norton, Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted, Sharp's Doom Bar and 1 empty pump. There were also plenty of shiny brass "keg trees" for continental lagers and cider. The Doom Bar was, unfortunately, pretty filthy and tasted sparkled, but about average city centre price. Any illusion to a parlour-style ale house was completed shattered by the overly loud current charts music. They are certainly trying here and it bears closer inspection in the future but it's not sure of itself. Up to three stars, but I'll keep it in mind for a fourth. November 2010.
The Duke's Cut, Park End Street
Formerly Rosie O'Grady's:
Hugely Irish (or "Oirish") themed pub with freqent live music of the green shamrocked persuation. On Friday and Saturday the pub is open til 12 and patrolled at the door by bored bouncers. Inside is a mixture of Morrell's style "make the pub look old" tat and lots of Irish signs, etc. The walls are covered with humourous (to a greater or lesser extent) quotations from famous natives of the Emerald Isle. Constantly playing music is - yes, you guessed it - Irish folk, played at that certain volume where it is not loud enough to be offensive, but just enough to get on your nerves after a pint. There are three main rooms inside, with a "conservatory" area next to the river. Not real beer, of course, the only standard bitter being Caffrey's. Guinness, Guinness, Guinness and Guinness! Well poured but pricey. They claim to serve the best Guinness in
Oxford and if it's all in the pouring then they may be right. And to my surprise the people serving were all Irish! And they brought my pint over to my table when they had finished the "perfect pour". Nice. Theoretically, this place should only get one star for lack of real beer, but I'm going to push the boat out and go for two because it's reasonably tolerable. May 2004.
Update: This place has recently been taken over by an Irish chap who is planning on losing the Irish theme and turn it into a traditional English pub. Therefore both the name and the decor are very likely to change in the near future. My money's on it returning to the name of The Queen's Arms as it was before the "Oirish" invasion. I also hear, however, that there are likely to be big sports screens, so we'll have to see. March 2009.
Renamed The Duke's Cut.
Update: Well, I was totally wrong on the choice of name after refurbishment, taking the name of a section of canal north of Oxford. Unfortunately for both us and the pub, we went in on a particularly dead Monday evening just before time. Monday happens to be the day they clean their lines and therefore only a pint of Pedigree could be obtained, at a reasonable price. The beer was good for Pedigree, which is to say that it was thoroughly mediocre. Alternatives on any other day would have been Wychwood Hobgoblin and Brakspear Bitter. The pub maintains its division into several rooms, but is now much lighter with pastel shades making it feel more relaxing and airy. There was quite an impressive array of spirits. There is a large TV in one of the rooms so it is easy enough to avoid. Never forget as well that it has a garden (albeit small) next to stretch of the river, which could be very nice (but also much in demand) on a sunny day. Definitely a good improvement and I hope to try a better beer range here in the future. July 2009.
Update: John Karban keeps us updated on the place: "Don't judge a book by its cover. And when it comes to this pub, don't even judge it by the sleeve note. It's only when you sink the first few glugs of Wychwood (Hobgoblin on this Halloween visit) that you realise that this is actually a pleasantly fine pub. Looks like a lager-infested sports bar from the outside, decorated like a cocktail bar for teenies on the inside, but serves damn good beer. Brakespear also available for the faint-hearted, but note that draught Hobgoblin is only 4.5% ABV whereas the bottled version is a meaty 5.2% ABV (a pet hate seemingly popular with some brewers e.g. Fullers London Pride)." October 2009.
Update: Thanks, John, for your update. My new gripes with the place are not really about the beers, which are well kept but often limited with not having all their beers on, but by the general attitude of the establishment. The scene for this visit: heavy January snow, the heaviest in Oxford for years. Stamping and sliding about in wellies. A pub, promising a roaring log fire and warm welcome. So we went in. First, as ever, it took ages to be served, despite us being pretty much the only people in there. The staff would far prefer to chat to each other than to serve customers. The log fire was actually a tiny grate, giving off approximately the same heat as a large candle. The floors were wet and slippy - yes, I know it was snowing, but they were rather dangerous. Finally, some other people did try to come to the pub at about ten to eleven but were turned out by the staff as they had "closed", despite no bells sounding or letting the few customers in the place know about it. Again, the impression was that the staff didn't feel like doing their work and stopping their chat. We had planned to have a second pint in there before time but were indirectly made to feel like we were intruding upon their time and not welcome. Down to two stars. July 2010.
Duke of York, Norfolk Street
CLOSED as of early 2008
A typical example of a NuMorrelled pub, obviously designed to have "atmosphere" but totally failing. Having said that, the last time we went in the Varsity was up to scratch and the food looked very good. This could, however, be biased since I had just been forced to ice skate and afterwards dashed to the nearest pub nursing a dislocated thumb. As far as I am concerned, if ever in this circumstance again, I shall hold out that little bit longer to get to the Wharf House. October 1999
Update: After a very long absence, I decided to see what the Morrells closure had done to this place. Fortunately I managed to enter without have been forced to attempt to ice skate first. The pub is smaller and more intimate than I remembered and I was flabbergasted to find that they still had Morrells: Oxford Blue and Old Don. With much nostalgia, and for 1.80, I tucked into a pint of Oxford. It was exactly as I remembered it: completely bland. At least some things never change. The pub has a main bar and a side, eating room, done up in what I would now classify as the Rustic Charm school of NuMorrellsing. Probably deserves to go up one star considering that I now have a much better feel for the average Oxford pub. January 2003.
Update: This place has looked closed on all but Friday and Saturday nights for some time, then disappeared behind some railings and is now apparently closed. The source for this information is Oxford's CAMRA branch. I shall pop by to make sure. March 2008.
Eagle and Child, St Giles'
One of the most famous Oxford pubs, the Bird and Baby was the pub used by C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkein et al. for many years, and also a haunt of DCI. E. Morse (presumably more so in his disastrous days at St. John's). The staff, however, seem almost embarrassed by the place's history, and have distinctly modern attitudes to customer satisfaction and the keeping and serving of real ale. All the standard set of beers found in Oxford are here, slightly overpriced and irreverently pulled. However, once you've got away from the bar it is impossible not to relax in the truly great atmosphere. Unpredictable number of people here, often packed but sometimes you can find it almost empty even on a Friday night. I still can't work out why they don't have tomatoes growing in the greenhouse style extension at the back. September 1998
Update: After having ignored the Bird and Baby for about 2 years, we popped back and the trend of ignoring the past at this pub continues. The beers are now Bass, Hancock's HB, Old Hooky and London Pride, now a much more reasonable price. A larger food menu appears to have developed, with all the historic Tolkien memorabilia (which they should be milking at the moment) is firmly stuffed deep in the Rabbit Room. Oh, and enforced music has appeared. When will they wake up to develop the pub's full, and worthy potential? July 2002
Update: New management, I think, so the music has disappeared and a pub quiz is on every Tuesday. Still far from what it should be but the beer range is becoming good and is relatively cheap. Up to four stars. September 2003
Update: The beer quality is now consistently good, with some interesting and varied guests. There is also the excellent, cheap Mitchells and Butlers menu (potato wedges recommended!). There is also a generally increased air of enthusiasm about the place that is a nice change from before. May 2006.
Update: Beer quality remains fairly good - met with the approval of the person whose beer appreciation perhaps exceeds my own. The food remains excellent, with a confusing number of different menus. I really intend to have the swordfish steak at some point, just for the hell of it! August 2008.
Update: John Karban kindly comments: "Another pub that needn't pander to discerning drinkers given its historical importance but manages to keep both natives and tourists happy. Cavernous inside despite small frontage. Rare sighting of Shepherd Neame Spitfire ale during the present visit, downed with greater success than the Luftwaffe did of the real thing. Didn't try the food on this occasion but the menu looked tempting enough." March 2010.
Far From The Madding Crowd, Friars Entry
A new pub in the town centre as of summer 2002, I heard this place described as a Lunchtime Pub even before I visited. And thus it is. It is a fair size and open plan, feeling a little bit like a bar with the slightly abstract art of Oxford and large glass windows, but as the name implies it is a calming influence so close to the town centre. For instance, I visited during St. Giles' Fair when the centre of Oxford was quite literally "madding", but inside there were just a few people reading newspapers, eating and supping beer. All tastes are catered for: there is a very well-stocked set of spirit shelves with some rather classy stuff, good wines, and also five draught pumps, with Black Sheep and Timmy Taylor Landlord being regulars. The music played was quiet, relaxing jazz and generally I chilled out. Depends what you want in a pub, I suppose, and I will have to investigate whether it is any different at night, but I think this place does a good job. About fifty percent of the other customers at the time were people I know or recognise who drink in real ale pubs in Oxford, so it is clear that the generally consensus amongst the ale-drinking populus is that this place should be adopted. I wonder what Thomas Hardy would have made of it. August 2002
Update: We visited here at night on that most illustrious of events, the Birchathon, and it was very different. It was packed, and the tables quickly ran out, but the crowd were quite quiet and civilised. The service and beer remained exemplary, so this place gets the approval of a seal. November 2002.
Update: Has recently had an exhibition of fine art by the esteemed William Andris Wood and also had St Austell Tribute. The food is better quality and slightly more extravagant than average pub fare and overall it still remains pretty quiet at most times. A lovely place to get away from it all. September 2004.
Update: This was one of the first places to get an extended license and now opens until 12 towards the weekend. The beers remain varied, mostly from local breweries, but can be a little bit of a muchness - as Dan Mitchell of Turf fame puts it, "They make everything taste only a little bit different to Everards Tiger". They also have some lovely single variety ciders in bottles. The atmosphere remains relaxed and reflective even when the place is full. June 2006.
Update: This is now one of my semi-regular pubs and what it just about lacks in atmosphere it makes up in range of beer and relaxation. It also has the most fiendishly difficult pub quiz in Oxford on Sundays, although it doesn't always happen, depending on the number of teams. Try the single varietal cidars. March 2007.
Update: John Karban write: "Unusually quiet, even for midweek, however the beers were in particularly fine fettle, as always. There's an ever-changing range here however they have now introduced the concept of one basic bitter being a "house" beer which is offered at a bargain price, certainly for an Oxford city-centre pub late in 2009. Most ales are in the region of £3 but the house beer is currently on at £2 a pint, presumably in response to competition from the nearby Wetherspoon Four Candles. Wide food menu on offer." October 2009.
Update: The current couple who took over managing a couple of years ago have now got this place down to a T. As John noted, sometimes it's empty, even at the weekends, however sometimes there is not even much standing room early in the week. The six beers are varied and imaginative and always in good condition. There are quarterly beer festivals with a fine spread of styles. Dave's Special, picked by the manager, is the cheap pint but is of the same high quality as the other beers. After a period of lacklustre staffing, the current crew are all enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their beers and are very willing to let you try several until you find one to suit. Popular Quiz and Curry night on Sundays, the quiz being rather more general than the past "genius-level" quiz of the previous manager, and a special pizza night on Thursdays complements an otherwise interesting menu. A worthy winner of the Oxford CAMRA Pub of the Year 2009 and now a Five Star pub on this guide. July 2010.
Update: Continues to go from strength to strength. Excellent staff, always a fantastic range of beers, good homecooked food with a pizza night on Thursdays, great beer festivals. Oxford CAMRA Pub of the Year 2011 as well!. April 2012.
The Four Candles, George Street
Oxford's second Wetherspoons opens in the heart of George Street. This could be either a very good or a very bad idea. I intend to visit in the near future but have already dispatched the Scout Hobbit to do some exploring. Apparently, the place conforms to the standard Wetherspoons pattern. A hearty Hobbit breakfast with tea and toast was had for four pounds. The beer comprises no less than ten draught pumps, although at that time only four were actually on - Greene King IPA and Abbot (not again!), Hook Norton Old Hooky and Marstons Old Empire. Strangely for the Hobbit, no beer was consumed. It was about 10.30am, but that isn't usually a valid excuse. The beer was all less than two pounds a pint, which is very appealing in central Oxford. The staff, as usual for Wetherspoons, were, and I quote directly, "all complete muppets". We suspect there must be some form of de-training academy that they all get sent to on applying for the job. I'll be along soon to take a look and award some stars, but it provisionally looks like two. August 2008.
Update: Have got there myself now. Twice, in fact. Once for a beer-free hangover-curing fry-up (good and very cheap as above) and secondly for a cheeky lunchtime pint. It is expansive and on two levels, the second forming a balcony around the first. Feels almost like a theatre in that way. Needless to say, as a Wetherspoon's, there is not a terrible amount of subtle pub atmosphere, but at least this place avoids the clinically sterile "motorway service station" feel of most new Wetherspoon's (eg Oxford's other, the William Morris). The decor includes murals of Oxford scenes. Anyway, the beer comprises ten pumps. I doubt if they'll ever get them all on at the same time and, if they do, whether they'll all be drinkable. There's a good mix of nationals (eg Green King Abbot and IPA), regionals (Hook Norton) and locals / smaller breweries (White Horse and many others when I went). Cheap, as you'd expect, but not well kept and the staff are not either knowledgeable nor bothered. Anyway, better than most of the places on George Street and certainly good for a cheap pint and meal, with lots of offers available. September 2008.
Update: John Karban keeps us updated: "This place continues to be an enigma, typical of the Wetherspoon chain (see also the recently opened Swan & Castle). A wide selection of ales (but beware that many of the pumps have "coming soon" labels), including a few locals among the standard national selection from Greene King, and all at eye-blinking low prices. Quite drinkable too, especially if you stick to the volume sellers that don't go tepid in the lines. At under �2 per pint, and similarly-priced basic stodgy fare, you may think you've come to beer & nosh ("food" is a strong word) heaven. But something's missing. Yes it was packed on a midweek evening but the word is loud rather than atmosphere. Wetherspoon have managed to dumb down the British pub. It's the Lidl of pub chains: no frills with fair quality at a sensible price. If you're pushed for time and/or cash, or imagination, then it's the place to come to refuel;
and then move on." October 2009.
The Gardeners Arms, North Parade
Cosy narrow pub, with plush settees at the front (look out for the little dog) and tables towards the back. Neither old nor modern, a perfect balance, really. Add a jukebox of classic 70s and 80s music, discreetly playing, and you get perfect relaxation. The brewery allegiance is Morrells, but I have had Pedigree there before, and the last time I went they had Archer's Golden, and the Graduate was a bit on the turn. The Pedigree good, or "not bad" as I told the barman, who, I suspect, thought I was some kind of Mystery Customer. Perhaps it's because I always stand at the bar no matter how much seating there is. Anyway, this pub is well worth the trip. November 2000
Update: I've been popping in and out of this comfortable, friendly pub on average once a year, which is a shame because it is really very nice. It's now converted to Greene king after the demise of Morrells. There remains a small, slighty vicious dog sitting in the front area - I think it's the same one. Prices are slightly high, but not as high as the Rose and Crown across the road, and the beer was great. There are some nice historic photos on the wall in the linking part between the front seating area and the larger back lounge. Certainly well worth having a look at. January 2008.
The Gardeners Arms, Plantation Road
This appears to have been heavily NuMorrelled. I expect it was a perfectly splendid pub beforehand, but now it is a clone. Still, the Varsity was drinkable. The place was pretty much packed and it took a long time even to get to the bar. Personally, I'd rather head to North Parade or Jericho than stay here for a session. November 2000
Update: Haven't been here for a long time, but it is much better than it was, with Speckled Hen and Greene King beers on tap. The food looks quite good, prices aren't too extreme, and the atmosphere is relaxing. With the demise of Morrells now a couple of years past, the olde ale house look has started to weather a bit and now looks as if it belongs. August 2003.
Update: The real ale range has gone up to 4 or 5 varied ales, and a healthy selection of continental lagers are no installed. The room round the back has darts and bar billiards and there is a substantial beer garden. Much improved by the takeover by New Wood Inns. August 2005.
Update: Generally a very nice pub and much improved by the New Wood Inns takeover, with lovely dark wood corners, comfy chairs or proper wooden seats and a relaxing atmosphere. The kitchen, a separate entity called "The Garden", specialises in producing only vegetarian and vegan products, but as a confirmed carnivore I can assure you that there are options that a meat-eater would be very happy with. June 2006.
Update: Many varied guests of excellent quality continue to be enjoyed here. There is also a popular and reasonably challenging quiz on Sundays evenings. Watch out: this could be the next pub promoted to 5-star status! March 2008.
Update: All the staff are very friendly, the beer choice and quality is excellent and the place just has such a great atmosphere these days. The back room and beer garden are really more extensive than I remember and gives the place several distinct feels. Whether as part of the quiz team or just the two of us, I really feel at home here. Up to five stars!!! August 2008.
The Globe Inn, Cranham Street
This is the most town-ish pub in Jericho and therefore has quite a reputation as containing a close-knit bunch of regulars unfriendly, or even hostile, towards students. I visited early on a Saturday evening when there were only regulars in and felt perfectly welcome. Single room with a pool table area, and a tabled area resembling a dining room. Large TV and jukebox. Doesn't have the old feel of the other three pubs nearby, and is more shabby and down-to-earth. Beer was Morrells Oxford and another pump, presumably Varsity, which was off. The Oxford Blue was typically tastless but cheap. This pub would be perfectly tolerable on its own, but there are far better pubs near by. March 2002
Update: This place has flirted with closure for some time now and is now boarded up, so presumably will be with us no longer. Will keep on the list until this is confirmed. Thanks to Huw Egginton, Alex Dicks and the University Society of Change-ringers for this information. June 2005.
Update: Confirmed dead and buried. July 2005.
The Grapes, George Street
Confortable Morrells pub, obviously strongly influenced by the close proximity of several theatres. Very plush seating, and the ceiling and walls are decorated with posters and fliers of many musical and theatrical productions. The beer was pretty cheap, and fairly standard Morrells. The spirit shelves were very well stocked, and this is the first place I've seen that sells by 35ml measures. Certainly the best pub in the immediate George Street area, and as such I would expect it is always reasonably busy. November 2001.
Update: The Greene King takeover has made very little difference here. The pub is still intimate and confortable, despite usually being packed, and provides the more down-to-earth part of the generally rioutous George Street. Just don't get seduced into visiting the nearby kebab van. August 2004.
Update: Superb burgers, and a generally very good menu. Do try the Mastadon burger if you are feeling hungry... Beers are well kept and reasonably priced. March 2006.
Update: John Karban is impressed with the guest beers and the female barstaff enthusiasm: "Another fine example of that Oxford speciality, the narrow but long pub that manages to keep both drinkers and diners, locals and strangers, happy with a judicious mix of good beer, good food and a contented atmosphere. Pleasing to see three guest ales alongside the Greene King house beers of IPA and Abbott. An inspection on Halloween was further rewarded with the staff dressed up for the occasion, which the females seemed to interpret as undressing for the occasion, sporting little more than their best black underwear. 'Nuff said." October 2009 & March 2010.
Update: While slowly sliding into decrepitude as a Greene King pub, this place has now been given a new lease of life. Bath Ales have extended their estate margins quite considerably but snapping up this conveniently located Oxford boozer. At the moment, it's all a bit new and shiny with the obligatory pine and metal appearance, but hopefully it should even out. The beer is, at present, too cold but there's a good representation of the Bath range that doesn't often make it to Oxford, plus recently some guests. Strangely, the place has dumped everything that reminds you that there is a large theatre and therefore a possible captive audience opposite. It has the location where it should always do well. Let's hope Bath Ales can capitalise on this. Could go up to four stars if the beer improves. April 2012.
The Harcourt Arms, Cranham Terrace
Unpretentious little gem of a pub hidden away in Jericho. Youngish clientele, with a tiny little bar and a cosy, secluded feel. A Fuller's pub, not exceedingly pricey, with special offers on jugs of beer. Very well kept London Pride and ESB, plus Fuller's 1845 on sale in bottles. A nice touch is the pistachio nuts on sale by the half pint. Seem to be run entirely by a friendly, balding gentleman who gets nervous if you decide to prop up the bar. Also there is a foreign bank note collection on the wall behind the dimuitive bar, if you're into that sort of thing. March 2000
Update: After far too long a break away from this excellent pub, I finally returned as part of a firm night out, with me being useful with my intimate knowledge of pub geography. The place was excellent. The London Pride was top, the atmosphere just right, and the real fire blazing. A relaxing, cosy evening was had by all, among the old Fullers miscellania. After hovering on the 4/5-star cusp for some time now, I conclusively award the pub 5 stars. February 2003.
Update: Still great 6 months later. Really beginning to love this pub. Will visit far more often. August 2003.
Update: Always excellent for a quiet night out! Sandwiches particularly cheap, proper pork scratchings and the excellent Jonathan Crisp crisps. A must on any of my trips to Jericho. April 2004.
Update: Still amazing and opens later on Friday and Saturday nights. A "must" in the winter with its real fire. January 2009.
Update: Good things can never last forever and change is inevitable. However, the moving on of John, who had ran this place as a proper pub to the highest degree, has led to a major change in direction for the establishment. It is now aimed at quiche-eating wine drinkers. The attempt to give it a "shabby chic" look just makes it look like hundreds of other "trendy" pubs around the country, with the dark grey colour scheme, French paintings, more open plan seating and French snack menu. It feels like the dining room part of the Royal Oak, for instance. With the rearrangement of the furniture there is actually less seating, if you discount the tiny, uncomfortable stools near the bar. The same range of Fullers beers were here but not as well kept. The little food preparation area has been replaced by a big coffee machine and a glitter ball(?!). It is hard to communicate how bad it feels personally, and, I'm sure, how bad it must feel for many other Oxford drinkers who loved this place, to see the huge shift in emphasis that a change in management has brought about. Down to a mediocre three stars. June 2011.
Head of the River, Folly Bridge
Justifiably popular Fullers pub with a very large beer garden by the side of the Isis. On summer nights it is packed with students outside in between the gas burners. Beer adequately kept (ESB excellent, Pride about average), and signs of a decent menu. However, it holds very little for the discerning drinker and you only have to come here once to feel you have "done" the place to death. With such an emphasis on the outside drinking and food, I just can't imagine propping up the bar here. September 1998
Update: Over the past few years the beer prices have been rising exponentially here for the captive audience sitting out side on a hot day. London Pride is currently 2.40 and I return about once every 6 months just to check in disbelief. Still an excellent summer pub but dead the rest of the year. April 2003.
Update: Yes, the prices remain high, but I think I haven't quite done this place justice. After spending more time using the inside as a pub and ignoring the outside, especially over the winter, I am now of the opinion that this place cuts it as a good pub, with excellent quality Fullers, and doesn't just rely on its location and food for its keep. The inside is more atmospheric than I realised and is pleasingly vibrant all the year round. Also does excellent but expensive kettle chips. Up to 4 stars! April 2004.
Update: I've lived within 30 seconds walk of this pub for the last few years and, naturally, have spent a bit of time here. It is expensive - the place is a goldmine in terms of its position. However, the beer is always very good and the staff friendly. So much a pub of two halves - the packed riverside summer suntrap versus the quiet warm inside in the middle of winter or out of term time. It is a good pub, just pick when you visit. February 2008.
The Honey Pot, Hollybush Row
Previously the Albion:
Quiet Morrells pub, not excessively NuMorrelled. Front room with TV and a back room with a dart board and more seating. Three draught pumps, but only two beers on at that time - Varsity and Oxford Blue. Cheap, but not memorable. This place was dead outside term time, no idea what it is like when more students are around, but the Chequers along the road seems the more sociable venue. Front room seems reasonably recently decorated, but the bar itself is a little tatty. January 2002
Renamed the Honey Pot in 2003
Update: This place has been renamed the Honey Pot after being taken over by Greene King. It now markets itself as a 'bar and eatery' and has 'stylish decor and friendly staff'. Stylish decor seems to have involved putting in a lot of pine, candles, etc, and stripping the walls to bare bricks. The place was dead, there was enforced music, and it has essentially become a smaller, less popular clone of the Duke on St Clements'. Beer was GK IPA at 2.10, or a pint-and-a-half glass (the first I've seen) for 2.80. There were lots of cocktails on the boards and random spirits. No longer a real pub. April 2003.
Update: Just taken over by the Admiral Taverns pub company, the new management are vivacious and forward-thinking. The place was the only packed pub in Oxford on a Thursday night out of term time, with good and not overpowering music on. Still rather trandy in appearance with bare brick walls, plush seating in the front bar area. The back rooms were far larger than I remembered and there's a garden out back. The management have discovered real ale and are impressed by how well it is selling. There are currently three pumps, with Landlord proving popular and pumpclips from some varied guests on the wall behind the bar. My Brakspear Oxford Gold was well kept and about average price. There's a big range of spirits, including a good single malt range and damson gin, as well as interesting bar snacks. The staff are friendly and helpful, and appear to be planning a trip to the Wychwood Brewery in the near future. Very strongly encouraging and I'll be keeping a close eye on this place. Up to three stars. September 2010.
The Horse and Jockey, Woodstock Road
CLOSED AS OF 1ST NOVEMBER 2002.
This place used to belong to Whitbread, who have now done the typical thing of selling off loads of their pubs. This is now a prime example of a NuMorrells establishment. The random tat density is huge, with even a proper wooden rowing IV hanging from the ceiling with blades rigged. One wall is stocked with hundreds of wine bottles for reason unknown as they probably don't even stock the wine on display, and there are plenty of really-ancient-built-last-week wooden bits. Oh, and it wouldn't be complete without the barrels. The beer, Oxford and Varsity was fairly standard for taste and price, and they were doing a big promotion on that evil known as Smirnoff Ice. The bar staff were fairly brusque, and both they and the two regulars in at that time were going through the grumbles of New Manager Syndrome. Fortunately this pub is located at one of the few spots of the city where walking a maximum of five minutes in any direction one chooses will take one to a better pub. May 2002
The Jericho Tavern, Walton Street
Formerly "The Jericho":
An "It's a Scream" pub which replaced the Philanderer and Firkin, which replaced the Jericho Tavern. Swings and roundabouts, methinks. No real beer is served, Caffrey's is the only bitter, and the kegs are all expensive. Custard-coloured outside, enforced loud music, hundreds of big
screens, with terracota and custard walls. Very young crowd, mostly looking underage. Only redeeming features are two red pool tables, far too close to each other for comfortable playing. February 2003.
Update: My god! What an improvement! The talk of the area is that the horrible, underage den has been rather classily revamped and is now actually quite nice. Lots of greys and dark red go into making a calm inside atmosphere with candles and comfortable leather chairs. An interesting but expensive menu is in place. Real ale gets its pride of place with 3 or so beer (Deuchars IPA, White Horse, Courage Bitter when we visited) and the price isn't too bad. Music tolerable during the day, but I don't known about in the evenings. The toilets are over-snazzily decorated. There is a separate upstairs part which is essentially a club within a pub. Up to three stars. June 2005.
Update: John Karban kindly sends this update: "If you're walking up Walton St from the city centre, and weren't sure about the dubious delights of Jude The Obscure, then you'll probably try this place because by now you'll have a thirst on, or are getting very wet. You'll be immediately greeted by a row of handpumps with some interesting ales, including Deuchars IPA, and friendly helpful staff. Then while you peruse the menu you can take in the splendour of this place, with high ceilings, large airy windows and comfy sofas. There's also a large beer garden out the back if you chanced in here for the first of the two suggested reasons, complete with barbeque servery. The bubble shrank somewhat on this occasion when the food arrived as it didn't quite live up to its promise (but then my companion of the day is on an everything-free diet so struggles with most things apart from grass)." April 2010.
The Jolly Farmers, Paradise Street
Oxford's longest established gay pub, and one that I thought for a long time had no real ale. I was, however, proved wrong. The building is old, beamed and quaint ("Not a single wall is straight!"), although inside the decor is rather much more layed out around the old parts rather than including them. Very comfy and plush chairs throughout, and a friendly welcome when we visited. The beer was Courage Best, which was reasonably priced but not particularly good - a failing probably more of the bland beer itself rather than the cellarmanship. Good selection of soft drinks and spirits. The pub is equipped with a King Poodle that is immaculately groomed and looks rather forlorn. I am reliably informed that one can get inflatable sheep from the condom machine. April 2005.
Jude the Obscure, Walton Street
The Jude has a reputation for art on the wall and music and poetry recitals. However, Morrells have now acquired the place, so I'm not sure how much of this goes on anymore. Fair enough, this place has escaped the intensive NuMorrellsing seen at many other pubs, but it now does contain some absolutely HUGE mirrors, decked out with the Morrells lion looking more like a cartoon character than the rampant figure on the company logo. Comfy leather armchairs in places, with books, old photos and concert posters. The beer was uninspirational, but then again it was Morrells. Not quite as expensive as I thought it was going to be. This place is a "trendy" place to visit, but whether you are in to that or not, it's certainly not a bad place for a Morrells house. April 2002
Update: I wondered what the Greene King changeover would do to this pub and have been pleasantly surprised. The decor is still the same with the concert / play posters all over the walls and the large Morrells mirrors, but the beer range has reall expanded. In addition to 3 of the standard Greene King range there are at least two guests. When I revisited I had a gorgeous pint of Woodforde's Admiral's Reserve. Pub goes up to 4 stars: a great real ale pub now. April 2003.
Update: Has changed management, but this doesn't appear to have changed much. The guest beer range remains good, and on Sunday a full menu, not just roasts, is available. No longer any pub cat, as far as I could see, but the cosy beer garden out the back (with a heater) did have a robin nicking bits of bread. April 2004.
Update: Going from strength to strength! The range of ales has increased to a maximum of 10 - more than the Turf! Prices are still reasonable and the full Greene King range plus decent guest are included. Up to the superlative level of 5 stars! November 2004.
Update: The beer range has dropped down to 4, unfortunately. This is a big shame. However, when we visited none of them was Greene King (huge bonus) and they were nicely varied. I particularly remember they had Everards Tiger and a Skinners seasonal beer, both of which were 2.65 and kept very well, I thought. It was a hot summer's Saturday evening and the place still had plenty of room, even in the relaxing beer garden. Has to lose a star secondary to loss of beer range, but it's still a very good pub. July 2008.
The Kings Arms, Holywell Street
Probably the most popular student pub in Oxford. The students can keep it, they're bloody useless, the lot of them! Personally, I don't like this place. The Youngs is very bland, and overpriced for the captive audience. The place is always packed, and hence the staff tend to be a bit brusque. The toilets are down a bit flights of steps, which can be a challenge. Other than for being part of the "scene", or if you're Fergus McFuggle from Ph@rmacology, I can't see any reason to come here. And this review is quite mild compared to my previous one!. Ahem, as a clarification, you'll find that very many people like the KA but I am just ever so slighly biased as this place is the Turf's main rival and I must show solidarity. Still, I stand by what I say and am prepared to be stoned for my stoicism. September 1998, November 1999.
Update: Yes, well... After all my previous moaning years ago I have to accept that this is actually quite a reasonable pub, varying to "Quite good" outside term-time. During term it is still packed with obnoxious student types and staff who couldn't really give a toss. However, at more quiet times you'll find that the food is quite cheap and good and that the beer range has expanded to about 6 ales plus several bottles now, quite well kept and no all Youngs. It also has bags of ostrich meat. Hmmm. July 2005.
Update: The KA now comes to the foreground as it now opens until 12 every day, yet despite this is not full to the brim with grotty students during the extra hour. They have also managed to keep the beer prices sensible, and do have some nice guests. I am slowly coming round to this wood panelled, multi-roomed old Oxford pub with a lot of history and the guarentee that everyone who has been to Oxford University will have come here at some point. June 2006.
Update: I now like the King's Arms a lot, which is something I never thought I'd say. Up to 4 stars! The reasons are simple: I don't think it ever gets quite as stupidly packed with noisy students as it did in the past (yes, I've been a student, but hated this place when I was one because I didn't like being associated with the antics of some of them), the beer quality is consistently good, it is not as expensive as it might have been and the bar is open late. Youngs beers continue to be mediocre, but the KA now always has some interesting guests, with St Austell Tribute being a regular. Keep it up! February 2008.
Update: Continues to be a mixed blessing: a beautifully historic pub with good beer range and quality, compounded with a tourist trap and staff that can vary from exceptional to down-right rude. I am not altering the stars because of the beer, but am a bit miffed that when I ordered food here recently half of it failed to turn up and when I questioned this I was dealt with rather brusquely and didn't receive an apology. Anyway, John Karban tells us about the atmosphere: "Some Oxford institutions stand the test of time better than others, this one among them. Maybe it's the competition from the nearby White Horse and Turf Tavern, or maybe the prime location diagonally opposite the architectural splendour of the Sheldonian Theatre, or more likely that students don't tolerate a duff pub for very long. Whichever, this pub is one of the landmarks of the city beer scene. And not just because of consistently well-kept ale, or even the rarity of Young's in this part of the world, but also because of the in-grained character and atmosphere of the place." October 2009.
The Lamb and Flag, St Giles'
I have read many reviews saying that this isn't the pub it used to be, but not having known it before I rate it highly. Low beamed and Cotswold stone with a genuinely old feeling to the place, the pub has strong connections with many famous names from Oxford's past, particularly those of a literary nature. Owned by St. John's, this pub offers a good range of guest beers in its two bars. Lots of little alcoves for quieter discussion, and plenty of bar stools for those wishing to prop up the bar. There are usually 6 beers on, at good prices for the city centre and always of top notch quality from what is presumably an ancient cellar. Also a huge selection of crisps ("All the flavours you can think of"), nuts, scratchings and snacks. Lunch menu looks good, and the relaxing atmosphere and is perfect for a quiet lunchtime pint (or 3). In the evenings, it has the same unpredictability as the Bird and Baby, sometimes packed, others almost deserted. Recently they have had in various ales from Skinners of Truro, a brewery I am very familiar with from my regular excursions to Cornwall. January 1998 to present
Update: I'm adding an update not because anything has changed, but because this place deserves it. It has been one of my favourite pubs for ten years now. The many beers are generally cheap and always of good quality. It is always lively in here, but never packed. The atmosphere and genuine sense of an proper, old pub is well maintained without any fuss. Noel, the manager, and the staff are always welcoming and professional. A totally wonderful pub. 'Nuff said. February 2008.
Market Tavern, Market Street
CLOSED as of June 2007
Formerly Bar Oz:
First, a surprise: after years of assuming that this place has no real ale, and therefore no reason to visit, I made a discovery - there is actually one beer, currently Charles Wells Bombardier. The next news: it was horrible. Really on the turn. I'm not sure what Australian pubs are like, but this looks like any other British pub, with standard wooden bar, tables, chairs, etc. However, there are pictures and maps of the Land Down Under, pictures of Shane Warne, and a post pointing the distance and directions to various antipodean locations, and a collections of clocks, none of them working, supposed to give the time in London and various centre of habitation in Oz. Big screens for sport (currently the highly ozzie Spanish football league) and enforced music. Function room upstairs for hire. Personally I could spot no redeeming feature, but I am told they do good food. The chance of being served by someone Australian: don't joke. May 2004.
Renamed the Market Tavern in 2004
Update: Well, the name has changes, the mock Ozzie rubbish has vanished, the music has got louder and the beer - still Bombardier - is still vinegar. I didn't think this place could get much crapper, but I have been surprised yet again. dire. July 2004.
Update: I have just noticed that this place has changed its name yet again, this time to avoid confusion with the other pub of the same name on the Cowley Road. Shouldn't think it will make any difference to the quality of the pub itself. Will go when I next fancy drinking a pint of vinegar. August 2006.
Update: There are rumours that this place may be shutting in the near future, which would dramatically increase the average standard of Oxford pubs. Here's to it happening!!! Will keep an eye on it. May 2007
Update: Gone! Hurrah! Some kind of noodle restaurant expected in its place. July 2007.
The Mitre, the High
Plush Beefeater restaurant doing excellent food, but with several little pub-like rooms and a large bar. Plenty of exotic drinks (e.g.
hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream) for the wemen, and a couple of ales for me. And then another couple of ales for me, and another couple of...
(Jen notices me getting stuck in a groove and hits me over the head with the keyboard). The beer is not excellent, usually being 6X, Flowers (IPA and Original) and Boddingtons. Out of these there only ever seems to be two on at any given time. It can never aspire to have a proper pub feel to it, but paradoxically it is better the the Turl, its pub attachment. Lots of pine and college crests in the bar bits. November 1998 to present
Update: About time this place got an update. The restaurant continues to be an excellent steak venue. The bar part now seems less connected to the restaurant and has separate staff, now including the illustrious William Andris Wood RA. The beer is currently London Pride plus another and remains quite reasonably priced and generally improved in quality. The bar side can be either totally packed or empty with the staff working at the same pace in both conditions. Haven't had a look at the bar menu for a while. I'd definitely drink here rather than the pointless separate Turl bar, especially when it can still be gently ticking over when the rest of the city centre is packed. November 2007.
Update: It seemed for a while that not only was this place slipping off the radar as a restaurant but the real ale on the bar side was being wound down as well. This is no longer the case. The multiroomed bar (each section a little too large to count as snug, nook-and-crannied) was packed on my most recent visit and the beer range has been modernised. Three fairly well kept, rather generic but not rubbish, beers are dispensed and are not hugely over-expensive. Before I knew it, five pints has slipped down very easily. Don't discount it as a place for a reasonable pint in historic surroundings. January 2012.
The Old School House, Gloucester Green
Cunningly situated right next to the coach station and linked to the information office, this place is a tourist trap at lunchtime and either deathly silent or teenagers' (yes, they are eighteen really!) disco by night. As the name suggests, this was once a school and the building feels old with a fair bit of atmosphere. The ceilings are high and there are four separate rooms with names like "Beaumont", all decorated with old prints of Oxford, classical busts and various random tat. Included with this stately home appearence is the pool table, soccer video game and inforced music. The beer is Greene King Abbot and IPA, both of which are reasonable in price and fairly bland. The menu looks quite good and cheap, and is how they make their money by day. Okay for lunch, I suppose. July 2002
Update: I thought for a while (and was quite happy) that this place was closed but it turns out that it just not open very often. Infact, it doesn't seem to be open any time except Friday and Saturday evenings when the ghostly quiet is replaces by disco music. Yeeees. February 2008.
Update: Oh, yes. Now definitely closed (tiny blackboard inside saying "pub closed") and half of it turned into a curry house. No loss at all and I'm glad the issue has finally been resolved. September 2008.
The Old Tom, St Aldate's
This place seems to have survived being NuMorrelled pretty well, probably because of its small size (they could only fit so much olde tat in). Confortable front bar with a more eating oriented room at the back. Roof lined with cigarette cards and such like. The best kept Morrells in the centre, this pub is convenient if you are waiting for the bus. Being on the miniscule side, it can get filled up very quickly at night, but tends to be fairly quiet early evening. Various pictures of Christ Church choir, if you like that kind of thing. A more touristy pub of this location would probably have a whole wall devoted to Lewis Carroll. Thank god the Tom hasn't. This is a very good pub and every time I go back to it I am more impressed, especially in comparison to most of the other Morrells pubs about. Rumours of after hours lock-ins are unconfirmed, however. February 2000.
Update: Greene Kingified but relatively unspoilt with a nice beer garden and weekly live music. The food is good and the beer quality very reasonable. Now GK Abbot and IPA plus a GK-approved guest. I hate the GK monopoly in Oxford, but this place ignores most of the corporate nonsense. November 2004.
Update: Oh well, the change has come at last. The Old Tom has been made Oxford's first non-smoking pub. Whether you are for or against, you can imagine that this will significantly change how a place is run and what the customers are like. The inside has been stripped out and painted in a sterility of white against white. The prices are higher and I no longer see the place as packed as it used to be. Down to 2 stars. May 2006.
Update: The menu is now almost entirely Thai. While this might be decent food, there is no avoiding the fact that a once very good pub has become an eating shop. June 2009.
Update: Apparently currently owned by the same person who owns the Radcliffe Arms in Jericho, which became a bar and Thai Restaurant and is now demised. Still haven't had a good excuse to drink here for a while. July 2010.
O'Neils, George Street
I've finally been convinced by friends that this place is a pub, so have added it to the Guide, having avoided it like the plague for years. Let us review that evidence so far: a big chain of "Irish" pubs (i.e., they have Guinness and put up Guinness posters and occasionally have other Irish things, like, erm, potatoes), late license, always packed, bouncers on the doors, crowds of drunken teenagers talking about how they are going to go there next. Not especially appealing. Anyway, once inside, it conformed to what I expected. Guinness posters. Occasional quasi-Irish random tat in corners, big screen TV. No real beer, but Guinness. Every lager under the sun. Oh, and, of course, the now universal Magners. Even thought I was there on a Saturday evening with the Euro 2008 football on, it wasn't too busy - I was obviously too early for that. So, the inevitable Guinness was given a good amount of time to settle, but was expensive. That's about all that can be said about that. The food looked pretty good. I left when I got elbowed away from the bar by someone ten years younger than me. At least it's over and done with now. June 2008.
Update: I am told that O'Neils now do some real ales. Joy. I shall have to go back to look. June 2011.
The Oxford Retreat, Hythe Bridge Street
Formerly the Antiquity Hall:
L-shaped, quite large pub, done out in dark wood. Don't be fooled be the name, though, this place certainly doesn't feel like it has been preserved from antiquity. One "limb" of the pub contains a TV and a pool table while the other is the main drinking area. Deathly quiet when I went in, this place feels like it would have a fairly youngish crowd in rather than city gents popping in while waiting for the train. Hancocks HB and London Pride, reasonably priced and both pretty good. Enforced music, but not too loud. No real high points, but then again no real lows. January 2002
Renamed the Oxford Retreat in 2007:
Totally restyled and refurbished for a different class of clientele. This is now a cocktail pub and gastro-joint with plush seating and an extensive, expensive menu. There are bouncers on the doors pretty much all the time and it gets pretty packed. When I returned to this place I was second in the queue to get served but it still took twenty minutes. First, all the bar staff combined to go through the routine of producing the four cocktails ordered by the group in front of me. All but one of the staff then buggered off to the end of the bar to have a natter whilst the one remaining guy, with no eye for bar-sense whatsoever, stood waiting for a few seconds before offering to serve the people who had just walking in through the door. Having made slight amends with the honesty of the customers thankfully being displayed,
the only beer was London Pride, served from a sparklered pump with no pump clip. It was reasonably expensive but adequately kept. The live music was good but a little intrusive. In summary, this new incarnation probably does well what it is catered to do, but is not an all-round pub. Keeps its two stars. March 2007.
The Red Lion, Gloucester Street
Previously the Fuggle and Firkin:
Fairly typical Firkin pub, trying and failing miserably to achieve an ale house feel, mostly due to the huge emphasis on food and the open plan set-up. I actually drank the Guinness here as I was so unimpressed by the bitter range. Food plentiful but pricey. Blah, blah, blah, mumbled rantings about pubs not being what they used to be, etc. I cannot imagine coming here for just drinking. May 1999.
Update: Now the Goose at Gloucester Green, cunningly part of the Goose chain, a Wetherspoonsesque subdivision of Six Continents (once Bass Retail). As such, it is a pine and aluminium, air-conditioned pseudopub, with very cheap meals and a selection of very cheap real ale. Bass was about 1.50, completely uninspiring, but a happy five pints were consumed when I visited here on a firm night out. Bouncers on the doors: why? The upstairs area has been retained, but is no longer a dark wood, shady alcove but a glass goldfish bowl. Oh, well, suppose I shouldn't complain about the prices. January 2003
Renamed the Red Lion in 2008
Update: Well, it's apparently now not a chain pub and the new owners have made a big song-and-dance about how great this place is going to be under the name of the Red Lion. And, erm, well, pretty much nothing has changed at all, really. It's still large, overpopulated, unatmospheric and just generally the kind of place you only go to in groups of twenty or more. The beer remains cheap compared to other city centre venues (around the �2 mark in 2008!) but ill-kept rubbish. When I visited they "had" Bass (off), Landlord (off) and Marstons Pedigree, which was utterly mediocre, but always is anyway. It would be nice if pubs actually improved sometime. June 2008.
Update: John Karban writes about a rather more positive experience here: "This place has probably had a makeover since the last visit as everything was smart and in good nick, even extending to the young and trendy clientele. The Bass was also on form. In contrast to some nearby pubs this place was heaving on this midweek visit. The food menu looked the standard freezer-to-microwave fare but it's hardly the place for a romantic meal. Come to think of it, few Oxford city centre pubs mix good beer with good food, so that's no criticism. October 2009." John recommends an increase to 2 stars. I shall have another look soon and decide on this.
Update: The place has new management and has been thoroughly redecorated. The Hobbit reports that it is trying to become a gastropub and it has sent me an email inviting me to try the food. The Hobbit reveals that it is a lot smarter and clearly aiming to get more foody people in, but later in the evenings continues to attract the bouncer-requiring clientele that characterised the venue beforehand. June 2011.
The Rickety Press, Cranham Street
Originally the Radcliffe Arms
Legendary in student folklore for the cheap and cheerful meals available, leading to this pub being very busy all day long. I first visited this place late evening, i.e., post-food, to discover that huge screen sport is annoyingly shown. Beer: Pedigree, Theakston's XB and Courage Best, served sparkled, although they took it off when asked with the speed of someone who is reguarly asked to. Roo has later proclaimed the Guinness to be poured well. Perhaps owing to the youngsh crowd and huge screen TV this place feels more "modern" in atmosphere than it should for an obviously oldish pub. March 2000
Update: Cheap, decent food still in place and surprisingly quiet only one week out of term. Beer quality slightly improved and prices around average for the area. December 2002
Update: Food remains excellent value, beer up to four decent brews at good prices and the place still remains remarkably quiet mid-weeks and outside termtime. Perhaps people are beginning to forget about this place? Their loss! September 2003.
Update: This pub has clearly been struggling for the past couple of years, seeming to lose most of the passing student trade and losing its good reputation for cheap food. The last time I went in it felt distinctly unwelcoming and the beer range was reduced. In an effort to save it from possible closure there is currently talk that part of it is to be made into a Thai restaurant. This is to be welcomed if it preserves a good pub, but otherwise might turn it into a replica of the Old Tom. Down a star. August 2009.
Update: My comparison to the Old Tom was strangely prophetic: they were taken over by the same person. The back part was fully converted into a Thai restaurant and nobody went there. Locals want the pub to re-open but it's unlikely to in the current climate. July 2010.
Renamed the Rickety Press
Update: Arkells have taken over and used the winning formula established with the Rusty Bicycle. A slightly stupid name, but at least it takes into account local history. The refurbishment is very much to my satisfaction. The lighting is subdued, there are comfy red leather sofas and bookcases abound. At least one table is in the shape of a pile of books. The new look has certainly brought back the atmosphere and the place felt immediately welcoming and like a decent boozer. As I always say, Arkells don't make fantastic beer, but there were four well-kept ales on offer, as well as their own pilsner. The snack menu contained homemade produce. I really like this place and, with the closure of the Bookbinders and the blighting of the Harcourt, this is now easily the best pub in the heart of Jericho. Four stars. Might make five if they add a guest beer. June 2011.
The Rose and Crown, North Parade
Extremely quirky pub matched by an equally quirky, mad but friendly landlord who greets each customer like a long-lost friend. Beer a bit spartan - Adnams bitter and Burton Ale (I was expecting a few more) and these were expensive but very well kept. Extremely impressive array of single malt whiskies and an ancient till, with a predecimal pricing system in operation (Burton Ale 46/-). Beer garden looks inviting. Pistachio nuts also available by volume. I wonder if the books on the shelves are just random tat or are the landlord's library. November 2000
The beer has now changed from the superior Burton Ale to Marston's Pedigree - a change for the worse. Also the prices have started to rise above the faily high prices of before, it now being 52/- for the Pedigree. Still a beautiful, unspoilt, quirky pub with a covered patio area out the back, but if the prices continue to go up then I will be forced to deduct a star. January 2003
Update: Sorry, a promise is a promise. This is still one of the most lovely and atmospheric pubs in Oxford but is now just far too expensive. The beers have settled down to Hook Norton Old Hooky and Adnams Bitter and Broadside. The Hooky and the Broadside are now at the unbelievable �3 a pint mark. That is just too much. Down to four stars. Shame. October 2005.
Update: Beer prices continue to rise - now 3.50 for broadside! This really is a stupid amount of money and is slowly turning me off this place, as atmospheric and friendly as it is. Our pints were also of distinctly average quality on this occassion. Still haven't tried any of the sausage-based food yet. August 2008.
Update: One now officially needs to take out a mortgage, with a twenty percent up-front deposit, in order to buy a pint here. Yes, I appreciate it is a free house, and therefore it is more expensive to get beer in, but they really do seem to be taking the piss now. The beer isn't especially amazing anyway. February 2012.
The Royal Oak, Woodstock Road
A pub that is a right little rabbit warren, with several cosy, secluded rooms. I was a regular at this pub for about a month after anatomy tutorials in the Radcliffe Infirmary just across the road. Therefore, the Oak was cunningly located. The beers are usually along the 6X/Adnams/Burton/Tetley/Speckled Hen line. Variable pricing that doesn't seem to be based on ABV. There's a pool table buried around the back somewhere and a large series of eating alcoves cunningly hidden away from the real drinking areas. This place gets the approval of a seal. February 1999 to present
Update: Oh dear, oh dear. This olde worlde pub has been done up over November of this year and when I stuck my head around the door recently all the wood appeared to have been boarded over and painted in pastel shades. Immediate investigation is necessary; expect this place to lose stars! December 2002
Update: I was right. The redecoration has not been kind. The old wooden areas have been mostly hidden or boarded up and the new pannelling is a boring magnolia. The candles lit in all corners make the place look more like a teenage girl's bedroom than an old pub. Enforced music is now in place. Even more disgustingly, the beer prices are now through the roof at around the 2.60 mark. Only two of the four were on. This has ceased to be a good pub. January 2003
Update: OK, so I've calmed down a bit after my blood pressure broke the world record last time I came in. I've been in a couple of times for firm drinks since and have had good sessions. The music is only in bits of the pub, and the high beer price was an anomaly for a winter ale. The four beers are Bass, 6X, Greene King IPA and Everard's Tiger. The Bass is 2.30 and consistently good, and the bloke whose been serving there both time this month seems to know his stuff. Some people would also welcome the fine selection of continental beers now available. Menu is more light, tasty Mediterranean stuff than the decent pub fare of before. Not as bad as I thought it was, but it just doesn't feel the same as before. February 2003.
Update: No!!! Changed my mind again! After paying 6.90 for a pint of Bass and a single vodka and tomato juice I have decided that this place is truly evil again and hope not to visit again. Well, not for a few months or so. September 2003.
Update: I bloody wish I could make up my mind. I got elbowed back in this direction by Daniel "Try This, It Tastes Of Old Socks And Pineapple" Mitchell, who had had some nice beer here. The much-hated redecoration has settled down and now looks quite good. They've done away with about half of the candles and tea lights, fortunately. They also do seem to be concentrating on keeping good quality beer, with varied guests. They also have quite a few continental styles and the staff are always friendly. I sat in the main front bar (where I used to hide after anatomy tutorials ten years ago and stare at the Russian barmaid) and had a lovely couple of pints of Bass at a reasonable city-centre price. They also had Brakspear Bitter, Black Sheep Best and, unfortunately, an empty pump which I had hoped would have something nice in it. I've put this place back up to the original 4 stars that it deserves. Don't let me change it again, please. June 2008.
The St Aldates' Tavern, St Aldate's
Formerly The Hobgoblin:
Universally aclaimed, this Wychwood house is ideally situated, relatively spacious and convivial. Selection of the consistently good Wychwood brews and guests, with very many pump clips displaying the variety of guests they have had in the past. Decor is olde ale house-ish, but not too overdone (hint, hint, Mr NuMorrells!). A fair mixture of town and gown is seen throughout the week. Prices are generally good for the city centre, there is a fine selection of snacks with real pork scratchings, and the menu looks alright as well. The Gents is down a flight of steps, like the KA, which can throw your balance a bit. November 2001 to present.
Update: A update on the pub itself in recent months is to follow, as I have been frequenting it. However, I have received word that it is soon to be rename the St Aldates Tavern following a buy-up. We will see how this affects the place. December 2004.
Renamed the St Aldates Tavern
Update: As promised I have returned after it has now been renamed but is otherwise unchanged. I was advised by the Ozzie bloke at the bar that a minor redecoration is in order and that the name change was only because the new company owning the Hobgoblin on St Aldates' and the Hobgoblin on the Cowley Road thought it was confusing to have two pubs the same name. They might get confused, but I don't suppose too many others are. Anyway, back to the pub itself. The pub is fairly large, with an expansive bench-strewn lounge area at the front, then the bar, then a small bar-stool-type area down a few stairs. The range of beers is good, nearly all from local breweries, and at a good price. An additional discount is available to CAMRA members on the beer. Above the bar the ceiling is plastered with a huge number of beermats and pump clips. The food is pretty good, although I was puzzled recently in seeing "Homemade chicken" on the menu. A busy pub, but never packed and well worth a visit. February 2005.
Update: This place has fallen off the radar a little bit, and when I last went in had only one beer on - a rather mediocre pint of London Pride. It is also claiming a "Deadly History since 1263" or some such ridiculously early date and whatever it actually means for a building that is Victorian at earliest. Anyway, down a star as it is no longer the beer puller it used to be. March 2006.
Update: Pretty much returned to what it was like as the Hobgoblin, with the modern nonsense forgotten and back to 4 decent beers, often local ones from White Horse or West Berks. So back on the list of city centre pubs to visit regularly, but I still need to get a feel before deciding on returning it to 4 stars. November 2007.
Update: Closed down around Christmas and New Year but then failed to re-open in January. It had been going through a pretty rough spell and could frequently be found empty on a Friday evening. Anyway, a group of the regulars took on the challenge and it re-opened in April 2010. Looks, unfortunately, like it is mostly getting only its regular crowd back but on the whole more people seem to be going through the doors. Will explore in the near future. June 2010.
Update: The current independent owners have tried to keep it looking and feeling the same as the original Hobgoblin. On my visit it was mostly a local crowd and the place had the slight odour of unwashed body. The jukbox and the TV were both on at about the same, loud volume, with the TV playing MTV, so the audio barrage was slightly nauseating and headache-inducing. The same number of draught pumps exist except there were only 2 beers on: Wychwood Hobgoblin and (a hugh surprise!) something calling itself Morrells Varsity. As all Oxford pub visiters know, the Oxford family brewery of Morrells shut several years ago and the beers were brewed for a while elsewhere, but as far as I was aware (and there's no mention of it in the Good Beer Guide 2011) they were no more. Anyway, whoever makes it, it was reasonably priced but totally bland. This place shows just about evey football match on TV, so may be best to avoid at certain times. Overall, it's a slightly rough-and-ready replica of its former state. September 2010.
Update: The local-owned incarnation didn't last very long. Yet another recent Oxford pub closure. June 2011.
Update: Another venture in this excellently located city centre pub. The current version is rather more a modern, gastropub venture, with flotsam-type tables and dribbly candles but this sits quite well with the old established wood panelling and I quite like it. The beers consist of four local Oxfordshire brews, occasionally swapping one for a guest from further afield. These are not too pricey and are quite well kept. The food is a little more dear than standard pub fare but not full-on gastropub expensive and the quality, from what I've tried and seen, is as good as any pub in Oxford. So far, it has been pretty busy every time I've been in or walked past, so hopefully it is a sustainable venture. One to watch for a possible fourth star. January 2013
The Swan and Castle, Castle Street
Wetherspoon's third venture in the city, situated exactly where a new pub should be, plumb in the town centre and next to the crowd-drawing modern complex at the castle site. This area has been crying out for years for a pub that offers a choice of ale and is an ideal crawl distance away from the Blenheim, the only decent alehouse in the St Ebbe's quarter. Large, air-conditioned, open-plan generic Wetherspoons building with some patio tables overlooking the castle. Generally light and airy with toilets down an elaborate staircase. On the whole, both the bar itself and the quality of the staff are higher than the average 'Spoons and the eight handpumps generally are all filled, unlike the Four Candles. clearly this place has been governed from its opening by an experienced pub landlord. The beers we have had have all been well kept and are available at standard Wetherspoons knockdown prices. We haven't seen any suggestion yet of beers being shoved on just before their use-by date. In general attracts a slightly broader and more sedate clientelle than the average 'Spoons (of which the Four Candles is typical) and I've had no problems there, frequently enjoying the cheap and extensive menu. John Karban adds: "Occupying a plot in the Oxford Castle retail development backing onto Castle St, this is the newest addition to the Wetherspoon chain in the city centre, replacing a short-lived nondescript bar/eatery which obviously wasn't as funny as its former name suggested. Spacious and airy with comfy seating stretching around three sides of the central bar, this is nonetheless a Wetherspoon. Apart form the layout, everything said about the Four Candles and Wetherspoon establishments generally applies here too. On the positive side, it's the only place in the revamped Oxford Castle complex where you can get real ale of any description, let alone as well kept and cheap as Wetherspoon manage to do it. It's possibly the best pub for beer in the SW corner of the city centre, given that competition comes from the likes of the Castle Tavern and Jolly Farmers. Actually, it's not bad for food, either, especially if you consider the price/quality ratio; you get a mains here for the price of starters in most of the other restaurants in the Oxford Castle complex. Thanks. June 2010.
Three Goats Heads, St Michael Street
This is the kind of pub you could walk past every day of your life without noticing. Inside I am sure I haven't explored it fully, apparently there are two bars. Feels out of place, but the atmosphere is good. Also the cheapest pub in central Oxford and a surviving bastion of Sam Smith's. My old mate Stew discovered this place while on interview (knowing him, owing to its cheapness) and insisted on dragging me in. Being of the Scottish persuasion he also forgot to ask them to take the sparkler off for me. Not bad though. Must go back there some time. March 1998
Update: After a mere five years I have finally returned here, this time without the penny-pinching
half-Scot who enthused about the place the last time (sorry, Stew!). I cunningly also explored the upper bar as well as returning to the lower bar. It was Saturday night. Both tiny bars were packed. Both bars had only one person serving, one of which had little comprehension of English. I spent more time queueing than drinking. The Sam Smith's was still extremely cheap, still mediocre and still sparkled. The pub also has very few familiar spirits or soft drinks, having its own brands for almost all of them. The upstairs has a couple of large columns and a weird colour scheme, almost Egyptian. Odd. This places drops from average to poor in my estimation. July 2002.
Update: I now have it on good authority from Rob at the Turf that this place has stopped doing all its cask beers. It is therefore NBWD and reduced to one star. April 2003.
Update: Finally I have confirmed this for myself. The cask beer has vanished, but with several exceedingly cheap keg options. The double stout is well worth a try, as are a couple of the others. After receiving complaints that this pub does have beer "worth drinking", I should like to clarify that the NBWD label is applied to pubs that have no real ale and therefore almost invariably receive only one star in this guide. This place, however, has an intersting variety of beverages worth sampling, it just doesn't really cut it for me as a nice pub. August 2004.
The Turf Tavern, Bath Place
Since arriving in Oxford, this has been my favourite and regular pub. One of the oldest pubs in Oxford, with perhaps the oldest surviving pub architecture. It is a classic rabbit-warren with low beams, bare stone walls and rambling roof. Three patio gardens are blessed with charcoal braziers in the winter. The two service points, two sides of a single bar built around the old fireplace, sell 11 real ales and a real cider from a fifteenth century cellar. Prices have always been reasonable for a city centre pub that is also a slice of national heritage. Agreed, the Turf isn't to everyone's taste, and I am not blinded enough by my familiarity with the place to realise that the bars can get far too overcrowded leading to slow service, and the food is a bit too formulaic and overpriced. Despite this, I would regard this place as the real ale hub of Oxford. VOTED "THE NATION'S PERFECT PUB OVERALL WINNER 2007" AND "PERFECT REAL ALE PUB 2007" IN CONJUCTION WITH ABBOT ALE, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, CLASSIC FM AND THE PUBLICAN. December 1997 to present
Update: After many years under the aegis of "The Guv'nor", Darren Kent, who maintained the Turf's position, established by the amazing "Uncle" Trev Walter, of the premier real ale pub in Oxford, the times are a'changing. Darren has moved on and the relief manager was a bit of a joke (someone who had never run a pub before and had never dealt with real ale suddenly in charge of one of the most prestigious pubs in the country, famous for its beer). The newly appointed landlord and landlady, who until recently ran the Grapes on George Street, seem to have got use to what the Turf is about very quickly and it looks like the transition will be pretty smooth. July 2009.
Update: John Karban gives a more impartial (I've been a regular here for 13 years) but just as glowing review of this fine establishment: "Quite simply, the best pub in Oxford. Bar none. Never mind the quaint setting hemmed in by more recent buildings on all sides, or the wide range of places to sit and sup, both inside and out, or the excellent food with good sized portions (albeit at prices to match), this pub manages to keep all its wide range of ales in tip-top condition at all times, and the staff know what each beer is like (and will let you taste if you're still not convinced). One draught cider also available. Fiendishly hard to find for the novice visitor, but an oasis of "Gemutlichkeit". Sorry, there's no English word for it, but the Germans manage to sum up the whole picture in one. 5 gold-plated stars." July 2010.
Update: The Turf, for the past two years or so, has unfortunately slipped into a "rest on one's laurels" state and doesn't seem to make a effort any more. The beer range is constricted massively to Greene King and a small stable of formulaic guests. These are never in top condition as one could always guarentee in the past. The staff seem to have no continuity with the Turf in its mightiest days and the management seem constrained to Greene King policy rather than being able to express the unique features of this flagship pub, which deserves the respect to be run as IT SHOULD BE RUN, not as some distant office uber-manager thinks that it should. I am NOT happy and rarely go there anymore, instead prefering the Madding Crowd or the Blenheim, both places that maintain excellent quality ales all the time and are run by people who understand their pubs. I hear that the management is changing again in a few weeks: this could make things a whole lot better, or a whole lot worse... May 2012.
The Turl Bar, Turl Street
CLOSED June 2011
This place is a kind of tack-on extension pub to the Mitre, and is really not worth bothering with, unless you are a bulldozer driver with too much spare time and a warped sense of humour (sorry, rant over). The beer is generally kept less well than in the restaurant, and the atmosphere certainly isn't the same. My feeling is that this place can't "make up its mind" about what it is supposed to be. Is it really supposed to challenge the other pubs in the area for custom, or is it just music-filled, pool table enabled, tack on to the Mitre for the more spirited to retire to after a steak. I'd sooner drink in the restaurant, I'm afraid, or go to a real pub. March 1998
Update: Pretty much the same, except that the place is often run by my good friend Sir William Andris Wood, which doesn't make it any more of a pub, but does give me someone to rave to about how much potential has been squandered in what is actually a lovely old building. No real beer anymore. February 2008.
Update: Lincoln college have closed it to turn into more accommodation. No real loss, but it joins a worrying stream of recent pub closures. June 2011.
The Victoria, Walton Street
Closed at some point in 2007 - Re-opened Feb 2008
Completely unnoticable Banks pub at the north end of Jericho. Inside, it needs a damn good clean but has quite a few confortable chairs in the lounge. It also has an upstairs area with the dartboard, etc., that is shaped in a square looking down on the main lounge. Only the ordinary Banks' when I went in, a bit more expensive than I thought it would be and typically bland. The landlord made the local news when he decided to start charging 85p for a glass of tapwater. Not much to be said about this place: it's not terrible, but there are plenty of much better pubs in the area, it being one of the most pub-dense regions in the surrounding fifty miles. July 2002
Update: We came back here after an email tip-off (thanks!) and it has most definitely improved from the rather grotty place it was before. The inside has been spruced up considerable and a snug opened. Furniture is comfortable and the clientele attracted much younger. The Bank's and Pedigree quality has improved, prices are quite good and they quite willingly took the sparkler off the tap when asked. Live music. Modern art upstairs. The ceiling is a joy to behold - à la Cistine Chapel but with God and Adam clashing pint glasses. Definitely better! October 2005.
Update: I can't say when I'd noticed when this place closed, and I don't think I believed it at first and gave it some time to see if it would re-open. It seems strange that this place would close because it had become quite good and was fairly busy. If anybody knows why it should, could you please let me know via the website email address, thanks. February 2008.
Update: No sooner had I finally "officially" made this pub closed on the website then I hear, mostly from Dan Mitchell of Turf fame, that it is open again, and it's as if nothing has changed. Pleasantly busy on a Friday evening, I must admit that this place is growing on me. Beer remains Banks, which is generally harmlessly mediocre, but with a guest, at this point Jennings Cumblerland, which went down well. Again, if anyone can explain the extended closed period, I should be very happy to know for my own academic satisfaction. March 2008.
Update: John Karban sent in this more recent look: "About as far up Walton St as its reasonable to be expected to walk for a decent beer (don't even think of trying to park in Jericho), this split-level multi-room pub is well worth the trudge. Don't be fooled by the small garden patio on Walton Street itself as the sign on the gate firmly points you around the corner to the pedestrian entrance with main bar. You have to negotiate several flights of steps both down and up before arriving back at the garden. Rare to see Jennings ales this far south but the beer is none the worse for its journey and there is also a guest beer on rotation. Didn't venture further than a bowl of chips off the menu but they were excellent, served with all the trimmings. April 2010."
The Wharf house, Speedwell Street
CLOSED as of late 2006
Extremely spartan pub that feels a bit like someone's front room. Highly local crowd, everyone was known to everybody else, this place feels like progress has passed it by. Wooden floor, wooden tables, wooden chairs, wooden everything, with posters on the wall that are several years out of date. The beer was excellent, though, with the barman nipping out the back to tap it directly out the barrels. Hook Norton Best, RCH Pitchfork and two guests. There also seem to be several other specials, like a wheat beer (NOT Hoegaarden!), a real cider and a perry. All very cheap as well, the cheapest for a long way. One feature of the 21st century that has happened here, which I have not heard of in any Oxford pub so far, is that they accept Euros. Just the place to go to get rid of your holiday change, then. Overall, very different, but I wouldn't advise going in as a crowd, all wearing college clothing. January 2001
Update: Tony Flatman, the esteemed gent who runs that place by himself, has announced that he will soon be leaving. The place is unlikely to a pub after this. This will be a sad day for Real Ale in Oxford. July 2006.
Update: Now closed, boarded up and awaiting its fate. Likely to be knocked down, but local people are putting up resistance, it being a building of "historic significance". March 2007.
The Wheatsheaf, the High
Another pub buried off the High, this is far better than Chequers. Wooden beamed walled, with photos and prints of old Oxford, this place has great atmosphere, although not as old as pubs like the Bear and the Turf. Beer is Flowers, Old Speckled Hen, Boddingtons, plus two directly tapped barrels of guest beer. Kept well, but slightly over the odds in terms of price. My parents recommend the food, apparently. Evening has enforced, although decent, music, particularly 70s and early 80s rock. I quite like this, others may not. Apparently it has an upstairs room with a pool table, huge TV, etc., but I haven't found this yet, and never want to. Quite often they have bands in, particularly Jazz and Folk (I'm surprised Roo hasn't gone more often!). A good pub, that never become too busy and is well situated. June 1999
Update: The Wheatsheaf has now undergone a dire redecoration and apparently the staff are livid and the regulars are deserting it. I had to go in to see how much it has been mucked about and the answer is quite considerably. The shape hasn't changed but all the old wood has been replaced with magnolia-painted walls and a carpet has been layed. The kitchen section appears to have been made smaller, and they have got rid of the two guest barrels with shelves for extra alcopops and wines. Do the people who order these redecorations actually know anything about pubs? Still does Flowers plus two guests, so is a respectable pub, but one star deducted for the severe reduction of atmosphere. October 2002
Update: The Wheatsheaf has inheritted the crowd from the Gloucester Arms since that has closed. This has busied the place up a bit, but also changes the overall feeling. It still hosts very popular gig nights in its upstairs bar. The major problem, however, is that the beer quality is atrocious. There is a range, at the moment comprising Greene King Olde Trip (pretty horrible), Greene King IPA ('nuff said), Everards Sunchaser (mediocre) and some dark, winter-warmerish thing that neither Dan (of Mitchell fame) nor I can remember. The best option is cheap bottles of Newcastle Brown, to be honest. Down to two stars. September 2008.
The White Horse, Broad Street
One of Morse's and my favourites, this place is another of the classic Oxford taverns. Embraced by Blackwell's, this place is absolutely tiny, but even when it looks completely full to the gills, more people manage to squeeze in. Beer comprises 6X, Adnams bitter, Ind Coope Burton and Greene King IPA, all very well kept and cheapish, and Roo informs me the Guinness is pretty good. Looks to have a pretty cheapish menu, but this is a double-edged sword because the place gets packed at lunchtimes with American tourists made hungry by their photographic exploits and exhausted by architecturitis. If the Turf was suddenly to vanish after colliding with the Anti-Turf, then I would drown my sorrows in the White Horse. If you see someone apparently sinking into the ground behind the bar, don't worry, that's the way into the cellar. Erm, through the trap door. They don't tunnel their way through or have to dynamite a small hole every time. That would disturb the regulars. December 1997 to present
Update: After promising to pop in here again to see the changes, I can now report that the White Horse has finally reached its full potential. The beer range has expanded to six, all of them good, with Timmy Taylor Landlord now added to the others permanently, and a frequently changed guest beer. This seems to have improved popularity no end, which had been waning in recent years, and now the place is reliably full most evenings. Always having loved this pub but feeling there was a bit missing, I now have no hesitation in adding an extra star to bring this place up to the full five. Excellent! August 2002
Update: Beer still excellent, and Graeme, ex-Turf assistant manager and also formally boss of the Wheatsheaf, is now in charge. Good news all round! August 2003.
Update: Graeme has gone to run the Somerset on the Marston Road and Gareth, the new chap, is a very good replacement. I am frequenting this place more often these days as my esteemed friend and great artist Mr William Andris Wood has moved from working at the Turf to here. This place is still as great as ever and missed out on being Oxford CAMRA Pub of the Year 2004 by one vote. February 2005.
Update: Gareth is moving on after a short but most welcome stay. In addition, after the redecoration of the Turf with the evil Greene King colours and beam repainting, my personal beam has moved to here, like an admiral hoisting his flag on a different ship. June 2005.
Update: After a fine few months run by Mike Bateman, this place has finally changed for the worst. It is now a tenancy, run by those who have recently sterilised the Old Tom, which means that the range has decreased, the prices have rocketted and most of the regulars have left as they do not like the changes, myself included. Smoothies?!? Tealights in the table in a pub made entirely of wood?!? Needless to say, the previous dedicated team of staff have now either left or intend to. The White Horse has fallen at the next hurdle, dropping to the levels of mediocrity. Come back, Graeme!!!!!! June 2006.
Update: The tenants now have had time to settle in and realise what the pub is all about, and the great William Andris Wood has returned to the place, so much is returning to how it used to be. It has such an instant, all-pervasive atmosphere that I had really missed in the last couple of years. It particularly struck me how great this place feels, while drinking a few pints of well kept St Austell Tribute. The food is reportedly excellent and they do take away fish and chips! How odd! Anyway, back up to 4 stars. We'll see about the fifth later, while I make this place a semi-regular of mine again. July 2008.
Update: The Horse has pretty much reclaimed its previous regulars and is almost the pub it was before. Beer quality remains excellent and they are starting to vary the ales a bit. The food is also great. Back up to its full 5 star rating. January 2009.
Update: John Karban adds to the description of this legend: "Despite being a passing tourist magnet (Morse, smallest pub in Oxford) this place has managed to keep quality consistently high so appeals equally to the indigenous population. Serves the core range from the eponymous brewery plus a guest beer, all in excellent condition, albeit at tourist prices, �3 a pint at time of visit. The food looks good too and one wonders at the size of the kitchen given how tiny the rest of the pub is. December 2009"
The White Rabbit, Friars Entry
Formerly the Gloucester Arms
This place is a rock pub, so don't go if you expect a quiet night out where you want to be able to hear yourself think. The sound set-up, however, is good if you are into the music, and certainly LOUD! Full of leather-clad, long haired head bangers, but certainly no antagonism is felt. Also, there were at least four ales on offer when I went, mostly along the standard Tetley / 6X / London Pride line, but relatively cheap at around the 2 quid mark, and well kept. They also sell beer by the quart (2 pint glass to you metric people). Decor, as one would imagine, is rock posters, and murals of ghoulish and skeletal bands. Quite infectious, I was stomping away towards the end. January 2002.
Update: Music still excellent, beer still remarkably cheap at around the two pound marks! The only thing that stops this pub getting four stars is that the sheer volume of the music would not appeal to everyone, or, indeed, not even to myself all the time. But when you feel like an eardrum-bursting blowout... January 2004.
Update: I spend a fair bit of time here these days, mostly because it is the easiest place to find Oxford's premier old school Goth, the esteemed William Andris Wood. The beer quality is somewhat mediocre to dusty, the beers being Spitfire and Bombardier. Prices have naturally crept up. They also have a well attended quiz night on Sundays, that I've found quite fun and not as cerebral as some of the other Oxford city centre pubs. February 2008.
Update: Closed rather abruptly. The reason depends on whom you talk to, but it would appear to be a problem between St John's College who own the building and the licensee, although it's run by the Spirit Group and I don't know what they make of it. I suppose they'll now be seeing whether it's viable as a different pub. April 2008.
Update: Re-opened under new management late 2008 and not a lot has changed to the overall feel. It's still a rock pub, attracting almost all the old crowd. However, it is even tattier than before as it got slightly trashed at the "closing party" and hasn't been done up since. The real beer, which was quite dodgy on occasions in the past, has changed to Bass, Hook Norton Old Hooky and a third and is reasonably well kept and quite cheap for the city centre. Quite good news there! I'm told that they are probably going to start doing food again soon once the new management gets settled. Thanks as ever to Sir Andris Wood, my Glock correspondent. January 2009.
Update: John Karban kindly sends an update and describes what sounds like an encounter with Cheddar Valley cider: "Maybe Wednesdays are designated "quiet days" in Oxford, a bit like train carriages where no mobile phones are allowed, so it was an eerie feeling to walk in to be greeted by no more than subdued music from the PA. At least my companion and I were able to discuss the beer range and quality while still in the pub, rather than on the pavement outside. There was also a new draught cider on one of the handpumps which the bar staff were keen we tried but decided not to, probably wisely, not so much due to its incandescent orange colour, but more to its indeterminate strength ("we're not sure, around 10%, could be higher"). It's not the place to take your new girlfriend to, but if you fancy a decent pint of Old Hooky then you've come to the right place." October 2009.
Renamed the White Rabbit in 2012
Update: Has just reopened under the name of The White Rabbit under totally new management in what is described as a family run free house. I presume the name is an Alice related venture. I found it the same as modern, "clean" pubs pretty much anywhere. Why every new pub insists on being decorated in an identical white, olive green and forest green colour scheme is quite beyond me, but this place followssuit. The lighting is low, with candles on every table and is certainly more sanitised then the Gloc ever was. The music was rather drone-ish and a bit too loud for the number of people in there, which was a reasonable number of diverse groups and age spread. There were three beers on offer: two from White Horse and a seasonal Batemans. The White Horse Bitter was fairly cheap but excessively frothy and thoroughly bland, especially as it proved to be the end of the barrel. Pizza and homemade dough balls as snacks were on offer. The walls contained varied pictures of Oxford with one corner being more Alice related. All in all, it's the same as every modern wannabe gastropub, not unpleasant but Oxford already has several pretty much the same. January 2013.
The Wig and Pen, George Street
CLOSED over summer 2003 and converted to "COPA" bar
This is usually the kind of pub I really hate, with most of the space being given over to food, and, horror of all horrors, it has an upper floor. It was with some trepidation, then, that I got dragged in one day for a meal... and found out that this place was actually rather good. Getting the foody thing out the way first, the menu was good, and they were running a two meals for a fiver doo-dah. On to the more important things, we hit the place during happy hour, and I was pleased to see that it has a decent selection of well-kept ales, so that was me for a couple a pints of Bass at 1.50 a time! Therefore, the place is very à la Wetherspoon's - no nonsense food and cheap beer. If you weren't eating, the bar looks just the place to while away the hours, gazing out on the hustle and bustle of George Street, contemplating the wibbles on the wobble of life. Not a "real" pub, but quite tolerable. October 1999
Update: Still much the same after all this time. Bass still okay and cheapish, and the upstairs provided enough seating for our firm outing. February 2003.
Update: Damn! Turned into Copa, a trendy wine bar thing. This has retained the general atmosphere of the wig, added in some extra continental beers, expanded the menu and made it even more popular. It has, however, also ditched the real ales and employs bouncers no matter what time of day. The new licensing laws will also be bringing extended opening, we hear. August 2003.