Ampleforth Arms, Collingwood Road, Risinghurst
A large, street corner pub on the Risinghurst estate, and fairly typical of estate pubs everywhere. It is split into three room, bar, lounge and pool table room, with standard, slightly tatty, pub tables, chair and benches. Fairly decent atmosphere and obviously the centre of the local community, but quiet just after openning time on a Sunday. Locals and barman all very friendly. Large range of spirits, lots of bar snacks (don't know about main meals) and a small outside drinking patio at the roadside. The beer was Greene King IPA with guests of Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Wadworth 6X. The Spitfire was very lively and took several tops up to get it to a reasonable pint, but was good and reasonably priced. Overall, a fairly decent pub, the only one on the estate (and therefore likely to be busy in evenings) but very adequate. May 2003.
Angel and Greyhound, St Clement's
Young's pub with a surprising amount of character for a pub of its largish size and location, which I heard described as having "none of that pseudo-brothel character". If you can make sense of this, then you've obviously visited more brothels than I. Feels more like a Londonish pub, which would fit with the Youngs. Toilets are immaculate but up a steep flight of stairs, which can become a hastle later in the evening. Young's don't produce the finest beer, but here it is always well kept and reasonably priced. A guest, usually Smiles, is also present. Staff are friendly, and the wooden clad decor and the lighting are conducive to a good night out with friends. Also, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit are available if the conversation dries up. Marked difference between the quiet towny atmosphere at lunch and the busy social centre at night. Just remember to buy a pint for Hamish, the pub cat. June 1999
Update: Since pretty much living here through most of 1998/99 I've been coming back here steadily every six months or so. The place hasn't reall changed a bit, although I haven't seen Hamish for a while. The beer price has risen only slowly, the only down side being that Young's have decreased the strength of Special. Still the best pub in this area, and the beer garden is excellent in summer, despite the view being resticted to the Pay and Display car park and Queen's Florey Building. June 2003.
Update: The Hobbit and I decided to explore the place for dinner, as a springboard for the re-exploration of this part of Oxford. I've popped in here about once a year since basically living here in 1999. The atmosphere is still very friendly. Youngs have now also allowed some decent guests in, such as St Austell Tribute, which was very well kept. The food was pretty much pub classics and reasonably priced. Nice sausage and mustard sarnies! September 2008.
The Black Boy, Old High Street
One of NuMorrell's "olde ale houses", with the contents of a whole warehouse of Ye Olde Tat Company scattered around the interior. The large main bar is heavy on the hogsheads above the bar, orange lighting and sepia photos of nowhere in particular. The lounge is kitted out as a "parlour" with ancient looking comfy chairs and even more wall tat. Feels a bit more cohesive than, say, the Berkshire house or Isis Tavern, but still not approaching the level of the Bookbinders, the only place where I consider that the tat balance is correct. 7-8 beers, barrels immediately behind the bar, only it appears they use the handpumps most of the time. Expensive for non-Morrells beers - 2.40 for Marston's Pedigree. Oh, and when I asked for "a pint of Marston's" this resulted in 2 minutes of confused pumpclip searching until I qualified it with the word "pedigree". "Why didn't you say so?", I was asked as my pint was pulled in a MARSTON's glass. An easy way to confuse bar staff - ask for the beer by brewery. Surely it's not that difficult. April 2002.
Update: This place, since being Greene Kinged, has ditched its real ales and gone decidedly grotty, converting into a yokels' lager boozer, most likely in response to the pub in Barton closing. Yuck. December 2004.
Update: Apparently now redone as a posh gastro-pub. A Headington pub crawl seems likely to explore this in the near future! August 2008.
Update: Yep, certainly gastro-pubbed but it takes the best bits and forgets the worst. The decor is fresh and subtle - pine, chocolate, etc - and the furniture plush. There's the main area, mostly given over to tables for food, and a smaller side room which is more like a lounge and I felt comfortable just sitting on a comfy leather sofa having a pint, in contrast to most gastro-pubs. The service was friendly, personal and impeccable and the prices, which could have been made sky-high, are actually very reasonable - about city centre prices in a suburb. The beer was a single pump - Old Speckled Hen. This was well kept, my only criticism being that the pump was electrified so that a single pull back kept the beer flowing until pushed upright. Why? Anyway, I haven't tried the food (would like to) but feel that the place can have two stars returned. October 2008.
Update: The food is excellent and the beer has increased to two pumps. When we visited there was very well kept, although a little cool St Austell Proper Job and Batemans XXXB, so two beers for the opposite ends of the spectrum. Live band on a Thursday night. Great if you want to dine, but now more than a handfull of people could fit in to have only drinks. September 2010.
The Black Swan, Crown Street
Quiet local, extremely Irish, and apparently obsessed with horse racing. L-shaped, with plenty of bar stools, and comfy looking furniture. Maybe a bit too dismal, but you wouldn't expect huge amounts of enthusiasm at a pub like this. When in Rome... I went for the Guinness, as the bitter was only Morrells Oxford (and was off anyway). Very well poured, but then two thirds of the customers were drinking it. Also a fair share cheaper than city centre pubs at 2.20. Friendly staff. Several large dogs that had been brought by customers, or, judging from the size of the dogs, several customers who had been brought by their dogs. Quiet, relaxing pint of the black stuff guarenteed, but not the best of pubs overall. June 2002
The Bricklayers Arms, Church Lane, Old Marston
CLOSED as of Spring 2011
An obviously old building tucked away in Old Marston behind the allegedly 12th century church. The large carparking area and beer garden is readily noticeable if you overshoot it slightly. Inside it is fairly open plan, and reasonably large with lots of tables, some of which are on a slighly raised area. Quite homely wallpaper and fittings - overall very nice and welcoming. One of the few pubs in the area with Bar Billiards. Cheap and good menu, and the place does feel a bit food oriented since the bar is a little small, but the beer, which comprised Adnams Broadside and one of the West Berkshire beers, was excellent. On a Sunday lunchtime after the slightly lengthy cycle out here this place was great to unwind in, and the staff very friendly. I don't suppose it attracts many people in the evenings after standard food hours but they seem to have regular live bands. If you go in, read the "New BMA health warnings for beer" on display near the bar - quite amusing, I must copy it and stick it on here sometime. September 2002
Update: Still the same, only this time I assessed it in the evening with the boss after a long day in the operating theatre. Beer has changed to the weaker Hook Norton Best and Black Sheep Best, but both were good. Nicely busy, and good atmosphere. Excellent Cheese and Onion crisps! January 2004.
Update: Yet another Marston pub to disappear, this place has been sold to turn into houses. I haven't heard whether it had run into the ground beforehand or whether it was just more lucrative for the owners to sell up. A shame. June 2011.
The Britannia, Lime Walk
Looks quite a nice, old, cotswold-stone building from the outside, and quite ectopic standing in the middle of Headington. The inside I wasn't expecting. The place doesn't look like it's seen a redecoration for twenty years or so, and probably not a cleaner for at least half of that. An unjustifiably large, deserted lounge, and a fairly spacious bar. Let's get it over with at the start - they have no real beer, therefore, it being a hottish lunchtime, I had the cider, which was reassuringly cheap compared to city centre prices. Most of the locals seemed to be going for it as well. Said denizens were friendly, and if the place had been busier there would have been a decentish atmosphere. Digital radio was playing, although not loud enough to cause a major distraction, but overall this place would struggle to overcome the surburban small working man's club feel. April 2002
Update: Has been redecorated, seems more lively and much less tatty from the outside. Must revisit at some point, but still don't hold out too much hope that they've restored real beer, although it does now seem to be an Ember Inn (which generally do have ale). July 2003.
Update: Definitely an improvement - it was absolutely packed on the Friday night I visited. The inside has been gutted and fitted out with rather too much pine, chrome and pastel shades for my liking, and the lighting is too bright, but compared to before it is wonderful. The beer now comprises Bass plus a couple of guests (just London Pride when I visited), fairly cheap and good quality. Generally sparkled by default. However, despite the bar being huge there were only 2 people serving on a busy Friday and neither of them had any idea of who was next in the queue. Turns from a dire pub to a fairly average pub, but also means that every pub in Headington now does decent beer! December 2003.
Update: Caught in a blizzard while struggling up Headington Hill, I staggered into here to defrost, leaving a small lake underneath my table. Much quieter than my previous visits, it still took ages to be served as nobody was checking to see if there were any customers. A cold pint of the now ubiquitous "Sharps" (AKA Corrs) Doom Bar was dispensed at a reasonable price. Ember Inns do a good job in places where there a fewer real ale venues but can't cut it where there is a strong ale pedigree. January 2012.
The Butchers Arms, Wilberforce Street
Fullers pub, slightly difficult to get to in a network of small roads in Headington. I was very impressed - the place feels "real" and is not gimmicky. Decor fairly quiet with Fullers posters and a multitude of beer bottles and glasses strewn around the shelves. The presence of quite a few wooden tables in the largish open-plan bar makes it feel a little food-ish. Having said that, a glance at the menu and some of the tables tells that the food is cheap, plentiful, and traditional favourites. Beer was the Fullers range - Chiswick, London Pride, ESB and Honey Dew. The Pride was excellent, but (and this is my only criticism of the pub) rather expensive at £2.30 for a 4.1% beer. The only pub I have ever seen that has an active prohibition on swearing. April 2002
Update: Very little has changed, except the draught range has expanded. In addition to the full Fullers range there is now Adnams Bitter, 5 in total. Stood outside waiting for the place to open on a firm lunchtime escape. Iondon Pride excellent, food is pub classics, good, cheap and plentiful. March 2003.
Update: Has changed hands a couple of times in recents years. The current holders are very friendly and are happy to give samplers from the range of 5 Fullers beers. The place was a little quiet on both a Thursday and Friday night and felt rather cold and vacuuous as a result. Has lost a bit of its previously great atmosphere so that, while it remains a very nice pub, it is not quite up to 5 star standard anymore. October 2010.
The Cape of Good Hope, The Plain
Formerly the "Pub Oxford":
This place went through an alarming number of transmogrifications over the last 12 or so years, finally settling down with the diabolical current one about seven years ago. First of all it suffers from the crappest pub name in Oxford. Second, it is a teenage-ridden, keg-infested "It's a Scream" (which became just "Scream") establishment. The original pub sign from this concoction with a copy of Munch's Scream which it vanished about the same time as the actual painting was nicked. I lived next to this pub for a year and felt absolutely no desire to go in. I passed it on the way home from work for three years and it held not the slightest bit of temptation. Know now that it is for you and YOU ALONE, dear readers, that I have crossed the threshold for the completion of this, the Ultimate Oxford Pub Guide (.co.uk). It is in prime student location, on The Plain on the angle between the Cowley and Iffley roads. It is a delightful custard colour outside and a rust and dark wood monstrocity inside. There is a huge TV
projector and no real beer (of course). Instead, innumerable lagers, kegs and fizzy drinks are on offer at rather high prices unless you bear the dreaded Yellow Card. It is either dead or heaving and totally horrible at both times. It does, however, have a nice view of Magdalen tower on a sunny day. 'Nuf said. January 2005.
Renamed the Cape of Good Hope
Update: With the apparent demise of demand for the grotty Scream chain, this pub has reverted back to its, I believe, original name and has a penguin as a pub sign. The inside has been substantially redecorated with rather classy furnishings and the menu is quite posh and pricey. It still is designed to cater for large numbers of people, probably mostly students but of the slightly better-off version. The drinks available are much better. There are two to three real beers, including Hook Norton Old Hooky, which was slightly pricey and also a little bit on the cool side, but was otherwise quite nice. There is also a good range of interesting continental beers and a substantial wine list. A really dramatic improvement and overall quite a nice place, but it will get packed and the service was slow and impersonal. May 2007.
Update: Continues to offer a good range of real ales, continental lagers and varied ciders to a younger crowd. The food looks quite good but expensive and the whole place is rather upmarket. The beer is still a little chilly but better than before and the staff are generally slightly friendlier and have a better knowledge of the products they are selling. Slightly soulless, but improving. April 2012.
The Cavalier, Copse Lane
CLOSED as of autumn 2010.
This place bills itself as a Sports Pub, perhaps belonging to some evil chain, but I don't know. It is a huge, obviously towny, pub that you can guess is going to have huge screen telly in and no decent beer. However, at the time I visited it was so quiet only the small bar was open rather than the huge rest of the place, and this only had a very reasonably sized TV showing England's futile attemps to escape another innings defeat. A bit tatty, and there was no real beer at all. The Guinness was carefully poured and the regulars were friendly, but it was slightly expensive. I think I saw the best bits of this pub, but still have no hesitation in awarding it only a single star for lack of Real Ale. Spetember 2002
Update: The local news tells me that this place is under threat of being turned into flats and the manager is putting signs outside asking people to "use it or lose it". I'm watching eagerly like a vulture... February 2008.
Update: Boarded up and shut down, as had been threatening for a few years now. Expect it be redeveloped soon. November 2010.
The Chequers, Beaumont Road
Fom the outside this is a beautifully attractive pub in the quaint and quiet Headington Quarry region. It is a reasonably sized building of indeterminate age, constructed out of the local stone and looking quite idyllic. However, for many years, the turn-off for my visiting was the prominently displayed "Q's" sign, indicating a den of lager-swigging pool players, and the long-established fact that this place has no real ale. Finally, on a gargantuan walk of Oxford, I decided to head here as a watering hole. I was impressed. Hey, as expected, there was no real beer, being a Carlsburg-Tetley domain, but the kegs were cheap. Inside, the decor and seating is very relaxing. A classic "L"-shape, the short part contains one pool table (it is no longer a Q's place, fortunately), while there is a dartboard the other side of the interior. The armchairs were very cosy, and perfect for resting my poor feet. Music was discreet. The menu, of the "Steak Out" type, was a meatlover's delight, especially the Unlimited Chips and doubling-up offers. Service was friendly and the atmosphere reasonably good. If they had only stocked real beer then... who knows? As it is, I feel compelled to break the habit of a lifetime and award a pub with No Beer Worth Drinking two stars. July 2004.
Update: Part of the cull of pubs called The Chequers recently. Not a huge loss, but the site has potential. Many thanks to Daniel Ashton for the tip-off. I haven't heard any rumours yet of what is to replace it, so will have to take a jaunt up there sometime. August 2007.
Update: Daniel Ashton has very kindly kept me informed about this place. It was re-open over the Christmas period as a temporary measure and people are campaigning hard to keep it as a pub and prevent it joining the many Oxford pubs that have recently been turned into flats. The building has great potential if someone could do something with it business-wise. January 2008.
Update: Dennis Who-Drinks-Half-Pints, the font of all pub knowledge in Oxford, tells me that this place is currently open, but still has a very uncertain future. Please could people keep me further informed. September 2008.
The Chester Arms, Chester Street
Wednesday night was jazz night when I visited, and was packed with people "coming in out of the rain to hear the jazz go down", in the words of the great Dire Straits. The band was good, and everyone was rocking. The pub is roughly U-shaped with a broad base to the "u" around the bar opposite the way in. Plush, with lots of wood, sepia paint to make the ceiling look old, and pictures (random) and photos (some of Oxford, mostly random). Quite confortable, and plenty of bar stools and tables. The beer was Pedigree, Greene King Abbot, and Charles Wells Bombardier. The Bombardier was the most expensive at 2.30, and wasn't the best pint of the beer I've had, but no real complaint. The service was quick and friendly despite the place being full. It feels like the kind of place that would do fairly good meals without being an eating shop, and there was a selection of good wines but you pay for what you get. Beer garden off the left-hand side of the pub. A good pub. May 2002.
Update: Visited on a Friday night as part of a firm social, and the place was packed. Yet again, a band was playing, and they were pretty good. Very smoky. Again, very quick service despite the large numbers of people. Beer now Timmy Taylor Landlord, excellent, but expensive at 2.40, and Pedigree. February 2003.
The City Arms, Cowley Road
The closure of the Firkin pubs and their associated breweries heralded the arrival of yet another dire "Scream" incarnation at this large establishment half way down the Cowley Road. It conforms that the usual real beerless, lager-swigging teenager standard, complete with the loyalty Yellow Card and the delightful rust and Oxford blue coloured walls and tatty stools and sofas. It contains three only slightly segregated areas, two of them containing pool tables of interesting hue (green is obviously so passé). The music was very loud for the number of people in there and the bar had those horrible "keg trees", the single upright sprouting about ten taps off the two branches. Even more distressingly, pot noodles were on sale behind the bar. I'm not sure if hot water was included or whether they were take-away only. To an uninitiated, non-Magic-Yellow-Card holder, the drinks were on the expensive side. No redeeming factors except the cleanliness of the gents. January 2005.
The Corner House, Hollow Way
Large Banks' estate pub on the roundabout of Hollow Way, The Slade and Horspath Driftway. Typical suburban Bank's decoration inside of postered walls and plush, red furniture. Fairly large beer "garden" on the roadside. It is split into a large lounge and a largish bar, facing each other across the central serving point. Lacking in atmosphere but pretty confortable, and there's a discrete TV in the lounge (showing "Zulu" when I visited), looking more for the bar staff's benefit than anybody else's. The only draught beer was Banks' Bitter - lively, lacking in taste as ever, but below the �2 mark, served by a one-armed man. The pub was pretty quiet at lunchtime, with very friendly elderly clientele and much less friendly younger custom. Possibly one to avoid at night. May 2003.
Update: Closed briefly towards the end of 2008 but now under new management, with pub quizzes being started in the new year. On my list of re-visits. January 2009.
The Cowley Retreat, Cowley Road
Formerly the Hobgoblin:
Yet another Wychwood pub called the Hobgoblin, this isn't quite the same as the one on St Aldate's. Owing to its location, it is a bit trendier than the ale house, but still has the necessary components of wooden chairs, benches and decor, just brighter lit and more open-plan. There are also more alcopops, but there are still four good ales on. The Abbot and the Hobgoblin were very well kept and a fairly good price. It was Sunday lunchtime and there were papers to read and a cheapish Sunday roast. Probably the best pub on the Cowley Road, although there isn't exactly much competition in the shape of decent pubs. I expect this place would get very full in the evenings and that it is trying to play to all tastes, therefore I am not going to give it four stars, although it might deserve this on the strength of its beers in the future. August 2002
Update: This place doesn't have a lot of competition on the Cowley Road. For the first time, I was there in the evening, but was rather most interested in the person I was with than reviewing the pub. I do remember that the beer was not quite as good as before: Bateman's XB and something else of similar weakness. It tasted okay, and was cheap (student discount! Not me...). In addition to the wooden interior there was a good sized covered beer garden, offering exception access to all the sounds of the Cowley Road, fire engines included. I left the place very happy, but only about 5% of this was due to the pub, which is still a decent 3-star venue. July 2008.
Renamed the Cowley Retreat
Update: A strange name for a pub a couple of miles from actual Cowley. I suppose this is where you retreat to when you want to escape from Cowley. Anyway, the old Hobgoblin has been taken over by the same group who run the Oxford Retreat (formerly the Antiquity Hall). As now seems traditional for any pub revamp, it is now done out in khaki colours, mostly greens and greys, with darkwood furniture. Neat but uninspiring. There are lots of spirits, particularly whisky, and Old Rosie cider. The bar is equipped with five beer engines but only featured three on my visit: Old Hooky, Brakspear Oxford Gold and the now ubiquitous Doom Bar. The Hooky was pretty much on the turn, which put me right off. I do hope they can get their game up as Cowley Road is crying out for a decent pub. October 2012.
The Cricketers Arms, Iffley Road
CLOSED as of autumn 2012
Small, street corner pub, that looks traditional from the outside but on the inside is painted in weird fashion with lots of random patterning and psychedelic colours. Most of the chairs, especially at the far end are more like someone's living room sofas than ones you would find in a pub. The place was empty, but this was probably because of the "big" football match on that evening. Also the only beer "on" was Greene King IPA which was decidedly on the turn so automatic subtraction of any other good opinions about the place. I was served by someone who didn't work there but was helping out the person who should have been serving, and therefore neither of us were sure about the price of the beer. I spent my pint just chatting to him about pubs in the area before moving on to somewhere where the beer was less vinegary. May 2002.
Update: Although still saying Morlands outside, the Greene King makeover appears to have visited the Cricketers and, peeking through the window, the whole thing looks a lot better. Will investigate when the chance arises... April 2004.
Update: The Greene King redecoration has got rid of the rather strange psychodelia, and hasn't made a clone the place, quite refreshingly. It has very much its own character and seems to have a committed crowd of regulars. The furniture is comfortable, but not too overly living room-esque. It also has a large dog disguised as a cow. The pool table is popular. Beer is, of course, Greene King, comprising Old Speckled Hen and IPA, with a third, empty pump. These are available, interestingly, in pint-and-a-half glasses as well. Not too expensive, not bad quality, but also not great. Far better than last time and up to the standards of most Greene King houses. The Hobbit, reasoning that no beer was better than mediocre GK beer, went for the cider, which was also reported as okay. Improved, so up to two stars. Third possibly forth-coming after a period of reflection. September 2008.
Update: I haven't been here for a while, but have been asked by the new(ish) management to give an update. The Cricketers is now a self-described "Contemporary / Retro style Music and Entertainment Bar". I'll try to get at some point to have a look / listen. January 2012.
The Cricketers Arms, Temple Road
A Morrells pub without a bit of NuMorrelling in sight, except for the rather cartoonish pub sign. Fairly large pub situated near Temple Cowley swimming pool, this place was fairly quiet when I visited. Roughly L-shaped, splitting it roughly into a bar and lounge, the bar has two fruit machines which the gaffer seems to stick more money into than anyone else. This place has got a decent pub feel, usuallly obliterated in Morrells pubs by the NuMorrelling, but other than that it is a fairly typical boozer. The Varsity was good, but a little more than I expected, but still far better value than the town centre. I imagine this pub is very popular with locals in the evenings. August 2002
The Crown and Thistle, Old Road
CLOSED as of New Year 2012
Old Road vanishes from being a busy main route at the crossroads with The Slade and Windmill Road to become almost a backstreet. Along this quiet portion, on the corner with Titup Hall Drive is the Crown and Thistle. This typical estate pub is an ex-NuMorrelled establishment, still done up according to the "Rustic Charm" archetype. The bar and lounge streched almost a full rectangle around the central servery, with large TV showing the footie and, at the same time, speakers blasting music. Since the buy-out of NuMorrells by Greene King, the beer in now Greene King IPA, very ordinary, 2.05, and some manky Ruddles keg that I've never seen before. Custom consisted of three old men and one young boy, about ten years below drinking age carrying a snooker cue case, obviously related to or known by one of the older folk. On a murky and moist November Sunday, this place served only as a watering hole. Uninspiratinal but not terrible. November 2002
The Donnington Arms, Howard Street
A large, classic looking Greene King pub from the outside, this is split into two dsictict areas - traditional public bar and lounge. The lounge is somewhat of a timewarp, with many genuinely old or pseudo-old features and souvenirs behind the bar. The regulars are keen on chess and there is a weekly "friendly" chess session on Sundays, I think. The beer was currently GK IPA, Mild and Abbot, with the pump clips behind the bar showing that they regularly go through the entire GK range. The custom was a mixture of old folk and post-grad students and the atmosphere generally relaxing. Beer was perfectly fine and very reasonably priced. The decor was a little tatty but traditional. If you want a classic sidestreet city pub in this area then this is it. April 2004.
Update: Ian Liddle of Blenheim fame informs me that this place has been largely transmogrified into a Nepalese restaurant. Thanks, and I shall have to pop along to see whether it still counts as a pub. November 2010.
Update: Jack McNaney, a regular here, has kindly written to explain that the larger lounge bar area has remained a fully going-and-blowing pub and that the managers hope to do this bit up soon, while the Nepalese food part continues to get excellent reviews. Still need to visit! June 2010.
The Duke, St Clement's
Formerly the Duke of Edinburgh, a dead and structurally unsound Greene King pub, the building remained ominously derelict for a long time. Now it has been re-incarnated and is surprisingly good compared to its outside appearance. It remains Greene King, with IPA, Old Speckled Hen and, on our visit, Ruddles County. All were slightly sparkled, but the Ruddles was quite nice and average price. A menu is served, and reasonably restrained music played. A youngish small crowd, who seemed locals here formed the custom. Decor is mostly ruby-coloured wood matched with a red pool table at the back. Quite a surprise. January 2003.
The Elm Tree, Cowley Road
CLOSED APPROX MAY 2007:
Dead by day, blasting crap music with random coloured, flashing lights and packed full of trendy young things by night. This is supposed to be a Morrells pub but neither the Oxford nor the Varsity were on so we were forced to drink Guinness while being deafened. Hopeless new barstaff who know as much about pubs as I do about fashion trends within the !kung tribe during the late thirties. Most of the main room is "decorated" with British car number plates. Why? Are they collectors' items now that the new style plate is out? The side room contained the greatest density of flashing lights, and the origin of the infernal din. This, supposedly, was the dance floor, but just contained the DJ trying to incite his appreciating audience of zero. July 2002
Update: I do like it when a horrible pub shuts down. Rumour has it that it might soon become a Chinese restaurant. May 2007.
The Exeter Hall, Oxford Road
CLOSED as of late 2008
Scruffy, tatty locals pub on the corner of the Oxford Road and Marsh Road. Split into two rooms and decorated with completed nautical jigsaw puzzles. Very dead on Good Friday lunchtime and nobody could really care less. This place seems to have a lot of live bands, especially Irish groups, which, I presume, draw in a bit more of a crowd. The ale was only Greene King IPA, which was cheap and quite good. There are cheap hot snacks such as quaterpounders on offer from the small halogen oven next to the till - quite unusual. Atmospherically pretty dead, but at least it's a real pub and has got decent real beer. A lot more could be done with this place, though. April 2003.
Update: Oxford CAMRA newsletter says that this place has, indeed, had something done to it: a complete redecoration and the addition of Oxford's first all-organic pub menu. Well, I shall have to take a look eventually. June 2007.
Update: Closed and converted to a restaurant, "The Indian Room at the Exeter Hall Pub". January 2009.
The Fairview Inn, Glebelands
Backstreet locals pub in quite an obscure location. Very older generation, this is a traditional suburb pub, completely unspoiled. The lounge is comfy and was filled with an old crowd having Sunday roasts. The beer is Courage Best and Directors, and the Best was well kept and excellent value at 1.70 a pint. Can't complain with that! Good range of bar snacks with some excellent pork scratchings, and this is another home of the 35ml measure. I felt perfectly confortable sitting on a bar stool with the friendly regulars. I expect this place varies from very quiet to packed with a crowd of people who all know each other. Quite a nice place. November 2002.
Fir Tree, Iffley Road
Formerly the Old Ale House
So this is one of the flagships of the NuMorrells Empire's pubs, formally the Fir Tree until it got transmogrified. This just goes to show how much NuMorrells knows about real pubs. I am mostly bitter about my visit here because even though I hate NuMorrelled pubs I at least expected to have a decent range of guest beers on offer, just like the Bookbinders (the only NuMorrells Ale house that "works"). Instead the choice was down to two bog standard Morrells beers (Bursar and Blue) and another instantly forgettable beer that didn't taste of anything and cost 2.30 a pint. The quirky ale house theme is taken to its greatest extent - the pub is on two split levels, mostly made of wood with tonnes of pinky red lighting, wooden barrells stacked in random places, and several lorry loads of olde tat liberally strewn thoughout. In the midst of this "ancient and traditional" atmosphere was the TV showing the football. The bar staff couldn't really care less. Clientele ranged from the perfectly friendly but football-oriented crowd to the absolutely hammered and abusive. If more ales were on like they are supposed to be, and if visited in the middle of the day then this place might just be bearable. May 2002
Renamed the Fir Tree
Update: Now Greene King and back to its original name of the Fir Tree. O tempora, O mores... February 2003.
Update: The Greene King change to the outside hasn't really done much on the inside. The olde ale house theme with random tat, mahogany and red paint is still the decoration. A filthy yard of ale glass hangs forlornly above the bar. The bar itself is on the bottom of the two layers and there isn't a lot of space to move around there. The bar staff were as bored as ever. Three hand pumps dispensed Greene King IPA, Ale Fresco (the actually quite nice Greene King summer seasonal) and Morland Bitter. Prices were quite competitive and the Morland was quite good. "Guests" apparently are sometimes available, but these all seem to be Ruddles brews, ie Greene King. The general tone of both the place and custom seems to have improved over the last five years but it's still not a great pub. June 2007.
Update: Keeps its Olde Ale House regalia and has now got more varied and interesting guests coming on. A tad pricey, however. We stopped in for the quiz, which was of the "every team should score highly but few exceptionally highly, obviously bought in, only answers written down here can be accepted 'coz we don't know anything about it" school. Food, especially the pizzas, looked good. Up a star. April 2012.
The Friar, Old Marston Road
CLOSED as of Feb 2008
Large town pub near the double roundabout of Marston. An Arkells pub, with two of their draught beers which are never of much merit, but drinkable. The pub is roughly mirror-image L shaped in bar space along the two roads it stands on with a slight extension on one of these for the pool table. Big screen TV showing the British Grand Prix when I went. Clientele seemed entirely locals, mostly drinking the lager. A bit dingy, and the beer garden is just a normal back garden with benches. Not particularly inspiring, but apparently a lot better since it reopened. July 2002
Update: This place has closed and the site has been bought by a major supermarket chain who have not yet developed the site. February 2008.
The Half Moon, St Clement's
The best Guinness I've tasted in Oxford, and I'm sure Roo would agree. Slightly older generation Greene King Pub with a heavy Irish (genuine, not "Oirish") feel and well kept Abbot. Relaxing wooden decor and a subtle atmosphere. 60s music, and quite friendly for a pub leaning much more to "Town" than "Gown". There was a huge crowd of Spannish youths in here last tme I went. When I asked the barman why they had adopted such a "not the youth scene" pub he replied that it was their last night in England. Fine. For some reason this pub always seems to have someone sitting in the side bar at any time, early morning, middle of the night, etc. The reason for this has yet to be discovered, but probably has something to do with electromagnetism, or the price of fish. June 1999
The Jack Russell, Salford Road
This is a large, confortable Greene King pub in the backstreets of the cusp of Old Marston. Typical suburban pub layout, and popular with the more elderly section of the local population, the good quality of the beer led to a pleasant Sunday lunchtime pint, but I can't imagine it being too thrilling at night. The pub is split into a distinct bar and lounge, with plenty of bar stools and plush seating in the lounge, plus pictures of the canine namesake. Greene King Abbot, IPA and Morland Original were round this side, but I couldn't see whether there were any others (O.S.H?) round the other side. Well-stocked spirit shelves and relatively cheap. July 2002
The James Street Tavern, James Street
Situated just off the Cowley Road, this place, as expected, has a very mixed crowd of people, young and old. The walls are done out in a particularly striking shade of orange, which is an odd contrast to the framed old Guinness adverts of the "The Gentle Art of Brewing Guinness". Enforced music, but generally of a tolerable genre. The pub is one room, with a pool table, etc, but is partitioned by bits of wall that suggest it was many small rooms years before. A Greene King pub, the beers were Abbot and IPA, and Speckled Hen. The Abbot was not a bad pint, but a little on the expensive side. Overall, a fairly middle-of-the-road, average boozer with odd colour walls. May 2002
Update: Finally got to have another look at this place, guided by the Hobbit. The decor has improved, with relatively comfy chairs and the dreaded orange walls have become white, so the place looks a little less odd. However, despite the maintainance of one handpump, the real beer has completely disappeared, so a fairly cheap pint of cider was had. Normally packed full in the evening, it was dead when we visited. The Greene King lease is being advertised outside, so may be under new management soon, but at this time it is NBWD and demoted to a single star. January 2009.
Update: Currently closed for a quick refurbishment. This was one of the many Greene King pubs waiting for someone to take on the management, and this has finally happened so we'l see soon what can be made of the place. March 2009.
Update:Yet another Greene King establishment to close suddenly in Oxford after the departure of the manager. Yet another venue where it is hoped "a new manager will be installed soon". Will keep an ear to the ground. June 2011.
Update:Very pleasantly renovated in a traditional pub theme with hops abounding on the walls, subdued lighting and newly partitioned into two distinct rooms. Old photos of Oxford, old beer bottles and ten real ales, largely supplied by Vale and few Greene King. Average price, quality quite good but a little cold. Discreet jukebox, not on when I visited in the early evening. There�s a couple of continental beers and lots of people having food, which looked good value. A much better quality of backstreet pub in the Cowley road area. Up to four stars! May 2012.
The Library, Cowley Road
Formerly the Brickworks:
The Hobbit dragged me in here at the end of an exploration to try to convince me that this place could be counted as a pub. For starters, it is pretty much designed to be a bar. There is a small, friendly front part with an extended, cellar-type back part that hosts DJs. Let's break it down a bit. Forget the back part. Isolate the front part in your mind. It is nice, open, warm seating area with space for about 20. There's a bar with several kegged beers and very well stocked with spirits. There's a manager, who formerly ran the White Horse on Broad Street (a very real pub), who seems dead set on making this place really work. It's all there. Yes, there's no real beer, I know, so the place is officially NBWD. Still, I like the feel of the front bar. The Guinness was well poured and, surprisingly, reasonably priced. I'm giving the place a thumbs-up and two stars. September 2008.
Renamed the Library:
Update:This establishment has changed hands and name and is now firmly trying to pitch itself at the pub end of the bar spectrum. I've still only been in the front bar, but they had installed some real beer and I had a lovely pint from Loose Cannon Brewery that was better than most of the more traditional pubs in the area. A nice renovation and WiFi access make this place somewhere to think about considering the general dearth of decent pubs in this part of Oxford. Up to a solid three stars. January 2012.
The Longwall, Garsington Road
Vacuously huge Beefeater restaurant and pub with attached Premier Travel Inn, named after Longwall Street in the city centre where Morris, aka Lord Nuffield, had his first car workshop (this pub being so close to the ex-Morris Cowley plant). Going in feels like entering the lobby of a large hotel or conference centre and then one is faced with the massive, two level eating bit, decorated with fake palm trees, etc. Around to the right is the confortable pub part, with a large bar and a beer garden. This bar area is decorated with sepia coloured walls and old mirrors in a highly pathetic attempt to make the place feel old. On offer on draught were Wadworth 6X and Tetley. The 6X was of good quality for 6X, but expensive at 2.30. There was enforced music, but not too bad, and some of the quick snack bar meals look good value. Would be good for a large group meeting, but is far too far out of the way for a simple drinking session. April 2003.
The Magdalen, Iffley Road
This was formerly the Magdalen Arms, a Qs pub with wall-to-wall pool tables and no beer. It has now been sympathetically rebranded by Firkin, who have given it a grey and silver, slightly weathered but also fairly
classy look to it. It leans between wine / alcopop and alehouse themes and therefore caters ideally for students. There is Tetley on draught pump and up to four beers in barrels behind the bar.
The beer was reasonably priced. They have plenty of Belgain beers and boast that they have some 250-odd on Tuesdays. The menu looks slightly expensive
but good. The pub is large and sectioned off into smaller areas, with a pool table towards the back and comfy armchairs and a big TV showing
Sky Sports towards the front. I expect that the atmosphere would be good on a busy evening, but it needs a little bit more time
and wear to feel similar when quiet. February 2004.
The Marsh Harrier, Marsh Road
A Fullers pub that has an extremely good reputation, having previously been a regular in the Good Beer Guide, and having been visited by Morse in one of the books. A wonderful, unspoilt, real pub split into a conventional bar and saloon. Bits of very old beam-work show through amongst the more modern construction, and this pub is cozy wtihout being overly confortable (e.g. traditional wooden benches and tables rather than plush chairs). There is a framed history of the pub and the area on the bar wall, written in the same hand as the one in the Turf, so I imagine anything written can be taken with a large handful of salt. Wonderful atmosphere, and the Fullers ESB is sublime - probably the best I've ever tasted. So what lets this pub down? The price - ESB was 2.60, which at first had me flabbergasted. This is the only thing that detracts from what otherwise would be the perfect pub, and prevents it obtaining the full five stars. August 2002
Update: Has been redecorated, apparently, knocking down a few walls. Don't suppose this will be an improvement. Must visit to see how much damage they've done. May 2003.
The Masons Arms, Quarry School Place
Pretty much an East Oxford legend, this is a good pub with a solid reputation, but keeps somewhat odd hours, not opening weekday lunchtimes (which explains why it's taken me so long to get to it when it's open!) It is also somewhat tucked away, but is a great old building in a lovely, secluded part of Oxford in the heart of Headington Quarry. Do check a map to make sure you know where you are going (you have been warned). Inside it is a single roomed, medium sized pub, with plenty of atmosphere and feeling welcoming. Loads of bar stools and the walls are covered with photos of old Headington and Shepherd Neame posters. There's a dartboard and, out the back, a garden and Aunt Sally "pitch" (or whatever you call it). Both the bar staff and locals are friendly, the beer was cheap and a choice of four - Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Black Sheep Best, and a couple of guests, including Brakspear Special when I visited. The Spitfore was excellent. The Mason's has a large function room which hosts regular events such as a comedy club and plays. Well worth visiting. July 2002.
Update: The place doesn't feel quite as great as it did until recently. It is a true free house and therefore the beer has changed considerably. The shame is the loss of the Spitfire, and therefore the excellent wall decoration that went with that. Even so, the regulars appear to be Black Sheep Bitter and Deuchars IPA - two wonderful if fairly light beers. The guests were festive at this time of year except the now ubiquitous but sublime St Austell Tribute. This place is running for local CAMRA pub of the year 2004. Don't think it cuts this, but is still a lovely local. December 2004.
Update: It did cut it! Thanks mainly to the sudden change in the method of voting organised by Oxford CAMRA, methinks. Nevermind. February 2005.
Update: Now has it's own microbrewery producing its own beer. Haven't tasted it yet, though. December 2006.
Update: No Old Bog available on this visit either, but I'll be back soon as it is in the running every year for the local CAMRA pub of the year. Varied guests well kept. This time though it was a little more uncomfortable than usual with the local crowd being a little too obviously "intruder watching". October 2010.
The Nelson, Between Towns Road
For the sake of completeness, and with a sense of boredom, I came to this pub. Having eyed it up from the outside for several years, I was utterly put off by its appearance as a typically grotty city pub-cum-social club. It has the typical, one-level, concrete-swollen exterior that is totally off-putting. Inside was better - but a typical suburban community pub. This place has its stereotypical regular lunchtime drinkers in: ancient man in a suit, couple of chaps in dirty workers' overalls, hungover girl who was last night's barmaid, etc. The interior of the pub is in the "U" fashion, with a dartboard in the left-hand arm and a pool table (being repaired) in the right, all around a central bar. There was, naturally, no real beer, with everything else being of the Carlsburg-Tetley domain. Mind you, the Tetley was ridiculously cheap at the moment compared to nearby places, and only marginally more pricey than more college beer cellars. Large TV screens positioned so that you cannot gaze anywhere without seeing one, discharged hip-hop videos and, I'm sure from the prominently displayed cardboard posters, more regularly shows football or other sports. Just all fairly typical, proper beer-less and suburban. July 2004.
The Old Black Horse
Over the past decade this establishment has morphed from an ancient hotel with a small public bar to a full pub that happens to have accomodation, so I felt I ought to add it. The pub part comprises a u-shaped room around the bar and a fairly large beer garden onto St Clement's. The inside is a somewhat scruffy, tatty, slightly seedy backstreet boozer with no real beer. The standard range of kegged lagers, cider and Guinness was available at city centre prices. A large TV to the left hand side was showing pop videos and it's the first pub I've ever been in where the main choice of reading matter is car magazines. The toilets would appear to be unisex and it would be nice if some of the customers would close the door while in there. The garden outside might be quite nice, except from the noise and pollution from one of Oxford's major thoroughfares. Really not worth bothering with. July 2009.
The Original Swan, Between Towns Road
Large Arkells pub, reputed to be haunted by a previous landlord but it doesn't look old enough. It was so named to distinguish itself from another pub called the Swan. Light, bright and airy inside, split into bar and lounge. Arkells bee motif yellow wallpaper. The 3B was quite good and �2, but not exceptional. Very little true atmosphere. Menu looks fairly cheap and standard fare. Pool table and decor make this feel like a weekend gathering pub, not a local. Strangly there is a single Dali among the old maps and prints of Oxfordshire. Perfectly tolerable but nothing special. March 2003.
The Oxford Blue, Marston Street
Yick. Done up inside like some Mediterranean bar with loads of pine, strange art and pastel shades. L-shaped, with a red pool table. No real ale at all, the only bitter being keg John Smith's at 2.20p a pint for a keg beer! They should give the stuff away. Enforced music as well. Dire. May 2002
Update: Decor hasn't change and still feels terrible atmospherically, but they have started doing Courage Best and Directors and cheap prices, so and improvement there. Also, we explored the beer garden out the back this time to avoid the pastel shades. Can't say it's worthy of more stars, though. June 2003.
Update: A huge and unexpected improvement! The decor is roughly the same but it has lost its pool table. Instead, it now concentrates on a series of very well kept beers, some of them drawn straight out of the cellar, and what looks like a very tasty menu. The barstaff knew their stuff and were very friendly, with a much improved atmosphere. The beers seem predominantly to come from the White Horse Brewery and Tom Woods, judging by the pump clips stuck up behind the bar, but I had a lovely pint of Titanic that was about standard city centre prices, so a little more than the average Cowley Road price, but generally better quality. I have no hesitation in increasing the rating to three stars, with a fourth in the offing as I would like to visit again in the near future. January 2009.
The Plasterers Arms, Marston Road
CLOSED as of June 2005
Fairly big local pub at the start of Marston road done up in the standard Morrells delightful livery. Definitely a town rather than gown place, full of old regulars, but perfectly friendly. The decor is, naturally, olde alehouse. The pub has the "Rustic Charm" version, seen also at the Fishes (North Hinksey), with stuffed pheasants, copper, and large procelain jugs marked Brandy, Whiskey, etc. Strangely also has some form of canoe hanging from the ceiling. No real atmosphere - quite emotionally cold. Beer was the standard Morrells range and Pedigree, which was fine. Standard Morrells menu, but this is one of the places also to have the 16oz steak nights. It also has on one of its doorways the YCHJCY10PFC legend present at the Turf, but I don't know whether it has been copied. Want to know what it means? Ask at the Turf. August 2002
Update: This pub has been threatened with closure and redevelopment as houses for some time now, and it has finally been boarded up. Will keep it as active for the time being but looks like the place will be demolished soon. Thanks to Huw Egginton for alerting me to this. June 2005.
Update: Now flattened and converted into housing.
Port Mahon, St Clement's
Closed in November 2008, re-open mid 2009.
NuMorrelled to the nth degree, hence plenty of wood, peanut shells, jugs, farming implements, ancient adverts, etc. For some reason, there is also a bicycle hanging from the ceiling in the front bar. Prides itself on its real ales, unfortunately it is clear that it doesn't pride itself on value for money as well (i.e., a bit steep). It's a good idea not to have food before coming here so you can eat yourself back into profit with the free nuts. Maybe have a quick pint if you're in the area, before moving to the Angel to get the drinks in for Hamish the pub cat. September 2000
Update: I should have come back here ages ago, but was finally pushed across the threshold by the Hobbit, who is a semi-regular here. First, HUGE improvement: it has dropped the "Ale House" suffix from its name, all the NuMorrells crap has been torn out and the place is comfy, clear and clean with a delicate beamed roof. The remaining tat comprises some shiny copper jugs hanging near the bar only. It's quite a music venue, leaning towards the rock end, but is not at all overbearing with this. There are the two main separate bars, upstairs off the St Clement's end and downstairs off the Jeune Street side. There's also, apparently, a beer garden out the back. Greene King beers, of course, but well kept. I had the Olde Trip, which had real character to it, beautifully deep and the nutty aspect fully captured. Up to three stars, definitely. Might make it to four at some point. September 2008.
Update: Closed rather abruptly. The lease came up for renewal and, to date, no-one has taken it up. It is therefore unclear whether it will re-open as a pub or, as has been rumoured, as a restaurant. Thanks to all my correspondents who have kept me in touch about the comings-and-goings of the Port. February 2009.
Update: Open again in what I'm told is the same format. Will have a look at some point. January 2010.
Update: We sat at the bar in the downstairs side bit just off Jeune Street. The pub quiz was in full swing, which appeared to have been lifted from a generic book. The place maintains a friendly atmosphere and tends to have the more unusual beers in the Greene King spread. The St Edmunds was quite nicely kept. The live music nights are still very popular. In the mean time, it's a good, comfortable pub aimed more towards the student market. June 2011.
The Prince of Wales, Horspath Road
A fairly standard ex-Morrells, NuMorrelled Greene King large estate pub off Hollow Way. Greene King has really saved pubs of this type by introducing better beer and a cheaper menu, as well as providing a relief from the worst of the Nu-Morrells "Ale House" rubbish. This pub consists of a largish lounge, a bar and a pool room, all "L"-shaped around the serving area. The decor is NuMorrells of the "Rustic Charm" archetype according to my classification, and there is a large TV and a collection of random books in the lounge. It does, however, have some decent atmosphere to it, and the staff were very friendly. The two beers were Greene King IPA and Abbot, were both good and cheap. The menu is similar to the NuMorrells one, but much cheaper all round, and the food was good. There are worse places to watch the first half of the Women's FA Cup Final, but then again many better. A decent, average pub. May 2003.
The Quarry Gate, Wharton Road
Fairly large, fairly typical suburban pub, with a droll but amusing gaffer. The beer is Courage Best, a bit over the odds at 2.20 and I didn't get a good view but I'm sure it was sparkled. The lounge is fairly comfortable with a few alcoves, while the bar has a big TV. On a Sunday lunchtime, the bar was packed with locals watching the footie and the lounge was crawling with noisy kids jumping all over the barstools and trying to outcompete each other in annoying the gaffer (I think at least one of these little urchins was the child of one of the barmaids). Too ordinary, beer too average, and at this time too many kids! November 2002
The Red Lion, Oxford Road, Old Marston
Very homely stone pub split into a well-defined bar and lounge. Plenty of horse-brass and genuinely old looking bits and pieces, with a seperate dining room off the lounge with waitress trolleys that make it look as if the food is more like a buffet or carvery. Friendly staff. The brewery allegiance is Greene King, and they have four or five beers of this range, taking in Abbot, IPA, Morland's Original, I think Old Specked Hen, and Ruddles County. I hadn't had Ruddles in ages, so this was ordered. It was very good, but wasn't a patch on the County brewed before Ruddles got bought up and the ABV dropped. The clientele were mostly older local crowds, and place feels more set up to cater with this, but all in all is a very good, relaxing pub. June 2002
Update: I retried this place after attempting to visit the Three Horseshoes in Marston Village just along the road but it is ALWAYS BLOODY SHUT!!! Anyway, the pub was much quieter this time, with only business-types have lunch on expenses. The beers on were Ruddles and Morland Original, and quality and price remain good. A total relaxation before getting on my worn feet again and walking back to Carfax (ouch!). July 2004.
Royal Standard, London Road
Typical NuMorrells pub, this felt just like walking into the Black Boy a few minutes walk away. This one has the nautical theme random tat like the Isis Tavern for no obvious reason. On a Friday Lunchtime the NuMorrells "Great Price" (Great in its originally meaning of tall or big) menu was in force. Tables naturally constructed out of hogheads. Two main rooms, the front bar by the door and a narrower fruit-machine enabled area which I didn't explore but no doubt contained olde tat. Beer was (surprise, surprise) Morrells Oxford and Varsity, with the standard guest of Pedigree. The Varsity was not too bad, actually, and reasonably priced. This pub is certainly bearable, and after a few you may begin to forget about the random sails hanging from the ceiling. April 2002
Update: With this being the closest pub to the JR, we popped in here a couple of times after two exams. The beer has now moved to Greene King IPA, Abbot and Speckled Hen. The Abbot was very good and much cheaper than the town centre. THe pub is much larger than I initially thought, with another large room down a few stairs - less smokey and with a huge NuMorrells wine display with random quotations about wine and drinking. The grading of this pub remains the same. October 2002
Update: The additional point here is that the food is just absolutely fantastic. Huge portions of classic pub food with inventive specials and a Dickensian style, all at reasonable prices. Recommended. No wonder it won a Greene King divisional Food Pub of the Year award on 2003. September 2004.
Update: Currently closed for Greene King-ification. Will report back as soon as it opens. November 2004.
Update: A definite improvement. The outside is less terracotta and more original. The inside has lost a lot of the NuMorrells random tat but retains enough shuffled into proper places to keep the Dickensian feel that the place tries to cultivate. The major structural change is the knocking out of the previous toilet block which means that there is a neatly segmented eating area between the bar and the dining room rather than the arkward narrow corridor. Well thought out changes for once!November 2004.
The Rusty Bicycle, Magdalen Road
Previously The Eagle:
Smallish Arkells pub buried roughly halfway along Magdalen Road. I visited on the day of a pool championship round, so I expect that this place is usually more quiet than on my trip - and it wasn't very busy then. Lots of humourous signs behind the bar, some of them crackers, others with high groan factor. There was a large speaker and PA system semi-dismantled in one quiet corner, so it looks as if they have a quiz or something sometimes. Landlord was friendly and trying overhard to start a conversation, and the locals were welcoming. Arkells don't make the best beer. 2B and 3B were on offer, and the 3B was rather bland, but quite nutty. 2.10. Jukebox thankfully remaining silent and a TV discreetly mounted in a corner with the subtitles on. Not too sure about the authenticity of the rather thin-looking beamwork. Not a bad, out of the way pub. June 2002.
Renamed the Rusty Bicycle:
Update: This pub looked fairly dilapidated for quite some time and thanks to Ali for pointing out that it was closed with a skip outside for a while. It has been completely revamped, opening as the Rusty Bicycle, with one of the Arkell family as co-landlord. Hopefully the rejuvenation will perk this place up as it has been on the "endangered" list for a while. February 2009.
Update: An excellent improvement has creating a vibrant community local. The upside has been updated but kept comfortable and full of atmosphere. There's also a fairly substantial, heated beer garden with bits of its namesake strewn around. The staff were friendly and the prices good compared to the city centre. The beer are Arkells, which are usually unexciting, but were very well kept here. The 3B was probably the best pint of it that I've had. Bar snacks look exciting, including sausages! Certainly the kind of place I'd drink in if I lived in the area. Good spread of clientele, both old and young. Up to four stars. July 2010.
The Shelley Arms, Cricket Road
CLOSED as of Spring 2011.
This pub seems to run mostly on darts. There are two boards and several matches were occuring when I visited. There are four disctinct area, with the main bar being to the right at the door, a smaller bar with leather chairs to the left, a room with two pool tables at the back with hatch service form the bar, and a slightly segregated area to the right of the main bar with a bar billards table after dart board number two. There were hundreds of packets of crisps, pork scratching, dart flights, etc. behind the bar with many darts trophies and tat. Even pickled eggs were within sight. Although there were 4 draught pumps, only one was active - Black Sheep Bitter, which was good and not too expensive. This is the first place I have seen Carling Extra Cold (what a horrible thought!). All in all, it appears a fairly ordinary working-person's pub, although it might have scored more highly if there had been more ale. April 2004.
Update: A true community pub that has shut, no doubt to be turned into housing, after being run into the ground following the departure of the licensees of over twenty years standing. Such as shame. June 2011.
The Six Bells, Beaumont Road
Largish standard Ex-NuMorrelled pub overlooking the ring road. Done up in a mixture of rustic and nautical tat by that esteemed pub company, this
red brick pub is now of course Greene King, serving IPA, 6X and Old Speckled Hen. 6X was very average and 2.10. Pork scratchings served in tiny bags. Quite foody and plenty of TVs. Elderly lunchtime clientele. Reasonably pleasant, a little atmosphere, but nothing special. On walking in, feels exactly like, say, the George in Littlemore or the Royal Standard in Headington. Oh, and they weren't particularly pleased when I handed over a twenty pound note just after opening time. Ho hum. April 2003.
The Somerset, Marston Road
CLOSED as a pub in 2009.
Large-looking Banks' pub that look like a typical spartan, cloned town pub on the outside but inside is refreshingly different. The pub consists of a long bar area to the north side and a small lounge to the south. The lounge is quite intimate and decorated as a library with one wall packed with books. This library is not overwhelming like the Plough in Wolvercote but makes for a calming atmosphere. despite being a city pub, this room feels like it should have a small real fire, onto which one could throw some of the less interesting volumes on the walls. The Marston's Pedigree was superb - extremely well kept, adn the service friendly. Also, this place oversize pint glasses - a move I regard as sensible and I can't see why more pubs don't adopt it as well (well, I do - they'd lose most of their profits if they had to give everyone a full pint, rant, rant, rave, etc.) The food menu looks good and relatively cheap if you are into that kind of thing. A very good pub with a lounge of unique atmosphere. July 2002
Update: Now describing itself as The Somerset Modern Cuisine & Cocktail Lounge. Now longer a pub. July 2010.
The Star, Rectory Road
Unappealing brickwork covers one wall, loud music is constantly played, and trendy young things come here because, well, everyone does. The only real beer, Greene King IPA, was off and the Guinness was more expensive than London prices. And they couldn't give a damn about pouring it, even though the place wasn't exactly packed. There's a decent sized outside drinking area at the back, and on certain days they have a special Indie night rather than the usual tuneless din. Wow! Average number of body piercings per capita (excluding ears): 3. September 2002
The Temple Bar, Temple Street
CLOSED as of mid 2010.
Oh God. Just as the name says, this is now a bar rather than the pub it used to be. Large outside drinking area, with tonnes of pine, aluminium and pastel shades inside, with hundreds of the keg dispensers that look like TV ariels. You know, the ones that rise from a single vertical bar and then extend horizontally in both directions with about 10 different taps. Nearly all lager, of course. No real beer. Example of typical clientele: group of four twenty-something lads playing table football with conversation as follows. Bloke A, pointing to one of table football men, "This one's Beckham", Bloke B "Nah! This one's Beckham", Bloke A "Oh yeh?", Bloke B "Well, he's wearing red, inne? And did you see me last goal 'e scored? Class, wunnit?". Dire. May 2002
Update: Well, it is really great to see a pub IMPROVE SO MUCH! As I remember it, the structure to the building has been changed. There is now a central oblong service area with the large seating areas on three sides and a narrow linking corridor with the toilets on the fourth side. The decor is relaxing pastels with lots of old Wadworth brewery signs and posters. The grotty table football has been replaced with bar billiards! It is certainly no longer a NBWD pub. Friendly staff served a choice of up to 4 ales, all of which on this visit were Wadworth. The benchmark 6X was well kept and far better than any recent pints of this beer I have in Oxford recently. The only annoying feature of this visit was the blasting karaoke. Yes, it was Friday night, but the place was half empty and why is it that the people with the worst voices always end up doing it? Anyway, a vast improvement: two stars added to bring it up to three. A fourth may be added at some point if it continues! June 2007.
Update: Has now become a bar / restaurant. July 2010.
The Three Horseshoes, Oxford Road
CLOSED some time late 2009.
This is a delightful old building, like many in Old Marston, a former Blacksmith's, apparently. I have trying for the past three years to find a time when this pub is actually open, since it doesn't seem to be at lunchtimes or most evenings. It was finally found to be "alive" at 7.30 on a Saturday night, with 2 customers and a very, very bored landlady. It was pleasantly calm, with a beautiful village pub feel behind it all: dark beams, subtle lighting, limestone walls and horse brass. However, it was dead and there was no real beer. I am imformed that sometimes the lonely looking draught pump is used, but I don't suppose the beer is up to much. I had a tasteless pint of 6X keg, which was cheap but it ought to be. Perhaps this place got busier as the eveing went on. Perhaps it is the typical villager's haunt, as is alluded to be the dart board with the local league fixtures, but then again maybe not. If it had real beer and was busier then it definitely has the background. January 2005.
Update: Stopped opening on the few evenings that it was still going. I note that there have already been plans to develop the site although so far they have not got planning permission. November 2010.
The Victoria (Vicky) Arms, Mill Lane
One of the classic Oxford summer pubs, like the Trout and the Perch, and a Morse favourite, this place stands on the Cherwell, just north of Marston Ferry Road. It is traditional to punt here, but the first time I went it was April so I cheated and took the riverside path. Roughly L-shaped inside, with the end of one of the stems of the "L" being the food serving bit. Quite spacious inside, but providing it isn't raining or Siberian temperatures everyone sits outside overlooking the river and letting the ducks waddle under their feet. A Wadworth pub with three beers on, I had Tanglefoot which was sublime. This is NOT an expensive pub, despite its location and popularity. The beer was no more than city centre prices, and I don't suppose the food, which looks good, will break the bank either. The next time I went it was with three punt-loads of staff from the Turf, loaded to the gunwales with beer to fuel our progress. The pub even provides rings to moor your boat up (plus watching the Turf's manager fall in the Cherwell was worth every joule of energy expended in punting there and back). March 2002
The White Hart, St Andrew's Road
What a gorgeous little pub this is! Just a few minutes walk from urban Headington and the JR hospital takes one into a village type atmosphere, with a fitting pub. This pub is split into three smallish drinking areas, with an "L" shaped bar. Beamwork abounds, although quite how old this is is anybody's guess. Historic photos and prints of the Oxford area. This place certainly has an old feel to it even if the decoration has been picked to give this impression. Two small coal fires add the finishing touches. Food looks good and not excessive in price, and the barman was polite and friendly. The beer is Bass plus three guests - Well's Bombardier, Wychwood Hobgoblin and Fuller's London Pride when I went. Beer kept very well - the best Bass I've had in ages. Quiet when I went in, I would expect that this place would get quite busy in the evenings with locals and people having food. A gem of a pub! April 2002
Update: The food here is good as expected - not too expensive, and large portions of pub classics, thereby adding to the character rather than making it yet another glorified restaurant. The beer appear to have moved to Everards, with Tiger, Beacon and Original on, plus Courage Directors as a guest. With so many decent pubs in Oxford becoming ruined recently, this place easily retains its five star rating. December 2002
Update: I've heard the White Hart has been redecorated. Hope this has been sympathetic - must explore in the near future. May 2003.
Update: Hasn't changed at all, except that there is now Tiger Extra Cool as well as sensible normal stuff. Prices good. Pistachio nuts available by the half. Great Pub. September 2004.
Update: While now rather unencouragingly under the management of the people who use to have the Blenheim when it was rubbish, their cunning plan has been not to change anything, except that there are consistantly a couple of guest beers and the chilled Tiger has gone. Remains a perfect pub. October 2010.
The White Hart, Oxford Road, Old Marston
CLOSED and demolished 2004
Seemingly very old stone pub with ancient beamwork and fittings, although apparently recently "done up" so I don't know what it was like before. This is a Morrells pub in the oldest tradition, hopefully too far from the city centre to attract the attentions of the NuMorells brigade. Wooden beams, wooden walls, wooden benches and wooden seats, all with a slighly worn look as if they have been used for centuries. The place was deadly quiet when I went in - just me and the person serving - so I could judge the building's atmosphere (excellent) but not the combined affect when you get some regulars in. The only beer was Oxford Blue, but was served directly from the barrel, which makes it so much better than the cooking bitter found in city centre Morrells houses. Beer as God intended, as Trev, the ex-manager of the Turf, used to say. Separate little areas contining more tables and a dartboard. This place might get four, or maybe even five stars if it were to stock a wider choice of beer and if I had been there when it was a bit busier. June 2002
Update: Closed for some time and now boarded up, boarded around and with a builing site behind. Don't know whether this means it is next on the development list. It would be a bid shame. Meantime, the run down Three Horseshoes next door has got a new sign, so it must be picking up a bit. May 2003.
Update: Demolished and now houses. RIP. January 2004.
The White Horse, London Road
Big town pub with typical open-plan set-up reminding me of oh so many Midland M&B/Banks'/random other big brewery's houses. This one is "decorated" in sickly pastel shades of light blue and pink, and yet still has extremely mock black wooden beams to try to convince people it is old. This place was a Morrells house, but is now owned by the Laurel (and Hardy) Pub company, who bought loads of Whitbread pubs, like the Turf. Beer is 6X, Flowers, and one unimaginative other. Just about every kind of fizzy girlie drink is present, with "amusing" legends on the shelves of each. Having slated the place, I must say that it would be a good place to meet a lot of people for a group night out. Popular with students (strange, that, with it being only a metric stone's throw from Brookes) and also, it would appear, with young ladies from the nearby schools... (allegedly) March 2002
Update We unknowingly followed my own advice and had a firm night out here after finishing Obs and Gynae finals. The place was full with treny young types and I failed to play well on the blue pool table so I think I'll play on the red one next time. It was convenient, it wasn't too expensive, the beer was mediocre and I don't think I can justify adding another star to its measly one star rating. October 2002
The William Morris, Between Towns Road
I viewed the opening of Oxford's Wetherspoons pub with mixed feelings. While I generally approve of the range and cheapness of beers and other drinks in these places, the absence of music and the cheap pub grub, it is all delivered in such a clinically sterile environment that the enjoyment of the cheap beer is often taken away. Also, the beer quality varies considerably. Such is true of the William Morris. It is a truly vacuuous pub in Temple Cowley with self-opening glass doors. It can best be described as a cross between a cocktail bar and a motorway service station, but with beer. The barmaid managed to serve someone else before me despite it being a quiet Sunday lunchtime and the fact that I had been the only person standing at the bar for the last 4 minutes while she fiddled with the winebottles. The beer was a choice of 6, the Spitfire being good today, and the prices make it easily the cheapest pub in Oxford, comparitive to college bars. Wetherspoons do well what they do, but are too devoid of atmosphere for me. I left to clear my head of the drone of the air conditioning. February 2004.
Update: Different time, same Wetherspoons. I have got much more into the chain as a whole recently, especially with their excellent, cheap pub grub, but still can't get on with this particular branch. The general bar staff really don't have a clue as to the order in which people are to be served, even when there's only a couple of people at the bar. The super-cheap prices slightly make up for this, however. February 2009.