Thanks to Oxford’s special blend of historic tradition, student life and English pub culture, this beautiful city has become home to numerous unmissable and unique pubs and bars, from quirky free houses dating back centuries to contemporary, chic cocktail bars in extraordinary settings. Here we profile the best bars and pubs Oxford has to offer.
Simply stepping into Angels Cocktail Bar is a heady experience. The fully stocked bar wraps around one half of the room against a wall decorated with intricate vintage wallpaper. A steep staircase leads downstairs to a second bar and drinking area, just as atmospheric and intimate as the first, with dim lighting and closely crowded tables. The bar serves a range of drinks and cocktails to set the tone for your evening, from an elegant Vesper Martini or Sidecar, to a decadent Black Star Liner, made up of espresso, Mozart Dark chocolate liqueur and Patron XO Café tequila. The latter comes courtesy of the Angels Lab section of the menu, filled with strange and wonderful concoctions imagined by the bartenders.
Bar, Pub Grub, Wine, Cocktails, Beer, British, $$$
The Bear Inn has the proud distinction of being Oxford’s oldest surviving pub, whose history can be traced back as early as 1242. The site has undergone many physical reincarnations and the pub, as it currently stands, was rebuilt in the early 17th century as the residence of the coaching inn’s ostler. As well as being recognised for its impressive historical record, The Bear Inn is also known for its somewhat unexpected yet impressive collection of old ties, representing sports teams, colleges and university clubs, as well as the large number of global visitors who have dropped by, eager to contribute to the collection. The tie snippets are now framed and line the walls and ceilings, beneath which visitors can linger over a pint of real ale on tap or tuck into a delicious Sunday roast.
Bar, Pub Grub, British, Wine, Beer, Cocktails, $$$
Classy, elegant and old-fashioned, The Duke of Cambridge epitomises the classic cocktail bar and is the perfect destination for post-dinner drinks, or to simply unwind on a Friday evening in a beautiful setting. Stepping inside, guests are greeted by dramatic, glittering chandeliers, dark polished wooden floors and curved sofas set into the wall, perfect for relaxing and socialising. The drinks menu is extensive, ranging from classic favourites such as the Cosmopolitan and Sex on the Beach, to quirky twists on the Martini, including the Crème Brûlée, vanilla vodka and butterscotch schnapps shaken with cream. The Duke of Cambridge offers a generous Happy Hour seven days a week.
Owned by St John’s College The Eagle and Child has deep roots in Oxford’s history. Fondly referred to by locals and students as The Bird and Baby, this rustic little pub dates back to the 17th century, when it was reportedly used as the lodgings for the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the English Civil War. The pub is arguably best known however, as the meeting place of the Inklings, a literary group including J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who would regularly meet in the Rabbit Room at the back of the pub to discuss their own and other works of literature. Today, the pub retains the cosy, quaint charm and is the perfect place to relax over a pint and burger while soaking in the local history.
Located in the old Frank Cooper jam and marmalade factory, a beautiful early 20th-century brick building purpose-built for the company’s jam producing needs, The Jam Factory has since been converted into a contemporary restaurant, bar and art gallery. The venue is now dedicated to supporting artists and promoting the local cultural scene through exhibiting art works, running classes and workshops, and offering a free space for live acts to perform. The bar, meanwhile, offers an extensive drinks menu, from craft beers and real ales, to a varied wine selection to suit everybody’s tastes, making The Jam Factory an excellent spot to relax over a few drinks in an unusual yet beautiful setting.
Located in Oxford’s trendy Jericho area, The Old Bookbinders is an excellent example of the traditional Oxonion pub, cosy, quirky and welcoming. The atmosphere is eccentric and full of character, with an old toy train set suspended from the ceiling and the walls and ceiling covered with music posters and memorabilia. The pub continues this theme in its events, holding regular open mic nights for locals, students and visitors to come and perform. Although The Old Bookbinders eschews the term gastro pub, preferring to keep its image and menu down-to-earth and simple, its French-influenced pub fare is undeniably delicious. Steaks, seafood and an outstanding variety of crêpes fill the menu, and can be accompanied by one of their many wines, an ale or a crisp cider.
The Rusty Bicycle has established itself as a quirky neighbourhood staple and is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations in Oxford for a pint and a meal. The interior is intimate and cosy, with charming vintage posters and postcards of bicycles hung up on the walls and chalkboards with the day’s menu or amusing quotes fixed behind the bar. The pub fare, meanwhile, speaks for itself, juicy burgers, hand cut chips and sour dough pizzas abound and the pub offers midweek specials and deals on food.
The Trout Inn is a well-known and well-loved historic pub located in Oxford’s Port Meadow, a large area of common land filled with flora and fauna just a few minutes walk from the centre of the city. Nestled on the banks of the River Thames, which runs through the meadow, the pub still retains many of its traditional features, including a listed wooden footbridge. Outside, tables and chairs in the garden area offer excellent views of the river, surrounding countryside and the pub’s beautiful stone building, while the interior boasts comfy sofas, roaring log fires and period features in a quaint dining room area.
Bar, Gastropub, Pub, Pub Grub, British, Cocktails, Wine, Beer, $$$
Located down a narrow winding alleyway, The Turf Tavern is initially tricky to find, but well worth the effort. The pub has a long list of famous patrons, from the fictional, such as Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and Brideshead Revisited’s Charles Ryder, to the real, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Bill Clinton, all of whom have enjoyed the Tavern’s maze of interconnected rooms, wide range of guest ales and large beer gardens. The pub has a year round, lively atmosphere, with locals, tourists and students alike crowding around tables to socialise and sample the traditional English pub fare. The Turf Tavern is also a popular post-exam celebration spot, so come June keep an eye out out for ecstatic students covered in confetti and cradling their first pint in weeks.