Alastair and Martin's Web Site Oxford Pub Guide



= Star deducted from previous review. = Star added from previous review

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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
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 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
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 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
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.

Please email suggestions, pub news and comments to Martin @ Oxford Pub


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