Alongside Radio 4 and Simon Amstell, a weekend afternoon ale (or cider) with mates at a pub is one of the great delights of living in this country. Pubs form such an important part of British life and you can’t (and shouldn’t) avoid them.
Somebody told me that Oxford boasts something like 100 pubs inside the ring road. It’s amazing how many of them you can manage to visit over a couple of years without really trying. So the pubs listed below are just the ones I like, or they’re at least notorious enough to merit their own wikipedia entries…
The Eagle and Child : (aka “The Bird and Baby” or “The Fowl and Foetus”) on St Giles. This is where C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkein used to hang out. Not my favourite, but the snugs by the front door are the perfect venue for a friendly argument on a winter evening.
The Bear: Serving beer to thirsty students since 1242, the Bear is notable mostly for its age (old even by Oxford standards), a framed collection of 5000 ties and its inconceivably small size.
The Hollybush Inn: situated on Osney Island, this unpretentious local pub is where Radiohead (and the Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band) played their first gig.
The Head of the River: at Folly Bridge, by the Isis in the centre of town. Chow down on a good solid pub lunch while watching tourists fall out of their punts.
The Hobgoblin: one of the only pubs I can remember on Cowley Road (after an evening on Cowley Road many people don’t remember much). Sponsored by Oxfordshire’s Wychwood Brewery, it’s one of the few places in the city you can rely on getting a pint of Hobgoblin. Yum.
The Jolly Boatman: another waterside pub on the Oxford Canal near Kidlington. Good but not outstanding food and a reasonable beer selection. The real attraction of this pub is that it’s an easy 7 mile cycle trip up the canal path from the city – the perfect activity on a cool summer’s day.
The Trout Inn: a nice 30min walk up the Isis to Godstow brings you to rightly famous Trout Inn (mentioned in Brideshead Revisited). Popular, and hard to get a table. In summer, the Aspalls Organic Suffolk Cyder is highly recommended. In winter, try their venison hotpot.
The White Hart: A good alternative to the Trout, in the nearby village of Wytham. Fantastic menu. In summer, you can play the traditional Oxfordshire pub game “Aunt Sally “
Jude the Obscure: A late contender for best pub in Jericho, without the chi-chi atmosphere of some of the other Jericho bars. Revolving selection of ales.
The Turf Tavern: Nestled down an alley between Hertford College and New College, the Turf is impossible to find for Oxford n00bs, but worth the effort. It’s good fun elbowing your way past the crowds of undergrads to access the bar and its exceptional rotating menu of real ales.
The Lamb and Flag: owned by St John’s College, but don’t let that stop you. It’s cosy and unpretentious, and empty out of term. Try the Lamb and Flag special ale if it’s in season.
The Kings Arms: at the far end of the Broad, this pub is all-student, all the time, and most of the leading politicians, lawyers, writers and scientists of the realm have propped up its bar at some point. It’s old, uncomplicated and most of the really serious work of the university takes place here.
The Wheatsheaf: Wheatsheaf Passage, just off the High near Carfax. Lots of bands, good jazz nights on Thursdays with rotating UK/international artists. Go for the music, not the beer.
The Jericho Tavern: Walton Street, Jericho. Local bands play here, and it’s where Radiohead and Supergrass first gained a following in the early 90’s. Ridiculously popular on Friday nights. Unless you’re a Jericho resident, you’re likely to only ever come here if you want to hear the music.
Which are the best of these? Well, if you had just one day in Oxford, I’d definitely take you to the Turf. Unless you were a favourite aunt or a parent, in which case I’d reserve a table at The Trout or the White Hart for dinner. For a quiet everyday pint away from the tourists and students, Jude the Obscure ticks most boxes in terms of atmosphere and drinks selection.
Remind me again, why the heck am I leaving Oxford?
*This blog supports responsible drinking. Respect alcohol, respect yourself. Enjoy local pubs in moderation.