On a recent weekend break in Oxford I got to experience rather a lot of pubs. I was there for an organised pub rally which involved visiting quite a few of these establishments, as well as trying out some of them out (for research purposes you understand) the night before.
I have reviewed The Turf Tavern separately as we spent quite a bit of time there and had lunch. It is a popular and busy old fashioned pub tucked away in the old part of the city.
The Copa of Oxford is a large pub on George Street. It is fitted out in a modern style, and looks like a chain pub. It is a Greene King pub, but didn’t have the character of pubs like the Turf Tavern. It would not be my first choice to re-visit purely on lack of atmosphere. There is nothing wrong with the staff, service or facilities. It offers wi-fi and food, and it seems to want to target local city workers, but as we visited on a Sunday, I can’t be to sure.
The Head of the River is by Folly Bridge on the river (unsurprisingly enough). It is a little bit out of the centre town, but rather a pleasant pub. They offer food, but we didn’t partake on this occasion. There is a large beer garden overlooking the river, and I think it would be a very pleasant way to spend a few hours. Toilets were clean and well stocked with all that may be required. Service at the bar was efficient, but drinks prices were slightly higher than in some of the other pubs. Décor wise, it is very clean and simple, with a lot of rowing memorabilia and related pictures on the wall, but not cluttered.
Four Candles is a Weatherspoon’s pub on George St, near the Copa. It is quite a large pub, quite spacious with lots of tables, and space at the bar. It is much like any pub in the Westherspoon chain in that it can lack atmosphere but its drinks and food prices are very cheap, which is why people visit it, although when we visited on a Sunday evening, it was comparatively rather quiet. The pub’s ‘theme’ is dedicated to comedian Ronnie Barker who went to near the site of this pub. There are various plaques on the wall recalling the local history as well as Barker’s childhood and career, complete with full dialogue from the famous four candles/fork handles sketch.
The Lamb and Flag is on St Giles, a little way up from the main shopping area. It is a quaint old style pub, with absolutely no frills. The floor is bare, the tables are simple wooden ones with mismatched chairs and there are plenty of old beams. This is not to say that the pub has seen better days – it is clean, tidy and well maintained. The mismatching furniture only adds to the character in my opinion. There are lots of nooks and crannies to huddle away in with a group of friends for a little private get together. The drinks were competitively priced, with a variety of interesting beers, some of which were better received than others. Snacks include nuts with a side dish to put your shells in and ‘real’ pork scratchings – apparently one that still has the pig’s hair on is much desired and our Yorkshire born companion was very satisfied.
Three Goats’ Heads is an unusually named pub on St Michael Street, just off The Cornmarket (the pedestrianised shopping street). It has a ground floor bar and an upstairs bar but I only tried the downstairs one. As there are large steps to get in, and the pub is quite small and narrow I would say that this isn’t very good for wheelchairs. The downstairs area is quite small, but was not busy when we stopped here early one Saturday evening. It is a Samuel Smiths bar, and generally I find their prices very good. They don’t use the same brands of cola and soft drinks as the other chains, and I understand that their beers can be a bit hit and miss. Worth a try for a quick drink if you are in the area, but don’t go out of your way to come here.
The Wheatsheaf is situated off a little alley off the High Street and you need to be very observant to spot it. The main ground floor pub is typical old-pub style with dark beams and whatnot, but we were here as we had heard they did interesting live music upstairs. It costs about £4.50 to get in and on this particular Saturday night, we were ‘entertained’ (I use the word in its loosest sense) by three acts that could be best described as…interesting. I doubt any of them will be troubled by commercial success anytime soon. Drinks were reasonably priced with a good selection of beers. If you are coming here for the music I recommend getting there in good time if you want a table.
The White Horse on Broad Street is the smallest pubs in Oxford if not the world. If you are at all claustrophobic I don’t recommend this pub as you are likely to have a panic attack trying to get past the bar and tables to the lavatory. Saying that, it is a charming pub, if quite tourist heavy, and apparently a popular destination for the TV character Inspector Morse. The staff behind the bar are very friendly and chatty which makes this pub memorable for something other than its minute size. Apparently they also do food here, but I wouldn’t want to be the person who has to carry the plates through the pub. There are lots of interesting signs and pictures on the walls if you have the space to be able to turn around and look at them. Apparently the beer is very good too,
The Angel & Greyhound is a little way out of the centre of town on St Clements. It is a spacious, airy pub that still retains some character, despite not being as old as many other pubs in the area. Décor wise there are lots of local photos on the walls, and plenty of games to play. Some people were playing The Game of Life when we arrived. Toilets are up a steep, narrow flight of stairs.
This is by no means a definitive list of pubs in Oxford, indeed it is not even a definitive list of the pubs I visited (I have forgotten the names of at least two). Although some pubs may be a bit hit and miss, and vary in busyness at certain times, I think it is fare to assume that you are never too far from a nice watering hole in Central Oxford.