Oxford’s history is a gloriously prismatic thing, full of the characters and creative minds that have called the city and its colleges home. Its older pubs, as a result, are places with more personality than most – wherever you drink, stories appear. So where to go in search of an atmospheric pint or two? Here are five of the best Oxford pubs.
The Bear Inn
Thirty seconds’ walk (but a world away) from the High Street, this wood-panelled, fire-warmed snug is Oxford through and through: on our last visit, the conversation by the bar centred on biodiversity genomics. The current building dates back to the 1700s, although there’s been an inn of some form on the site since 1242, and over the centuries its tucked-away charm has made it the bolt hole of choice for everyone from judges to royal commissioners. It’s decidedly small, which adds to the slightly eccentric appeal, but manages to keep on display more than 4, 500 neck-ties, on the walls, by the bar, even on the ceiling. On a similarly unconventional note, the story has it that the pub’s name came about as the result of a pet bear owned by an early landlord.
The Turf Tavern
For somewhere so well hidden, the Turf draws a lot of drinkers. It’s concealed down a couple of narrow, pedestrian-only alleys, although its not-so-subtle marketing line – “An Education In Intoxication” – hints at the fact that it’s long been championed as one of Oxford’s top alehouses. Its historical location just outside the old city walls (and therefore outside of jurisdiction) made it a magnet for cock-fighting and other vices in earlier times – more recently, it’s widely been accepted as the place Bill Clinton famously smoked pot but “didn’t inhale”. The low-beamed bar, where former Australian PM Bob Hawke entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1963 for downing a yard of ale in 11 seconds, remains an enjoyable hideout. There are 11 cask ales on offer at any one time.