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Despite grotty student dives and the inevitable high-street chains, Oxford’s rich history, distinct districts and burgeoning food scene mean that its pubs and bars are an eclectic bunch, hopping from the ancient to the achingly hip. Backstreets around the town centre are a warren of centuries-old hostelries; bohemian Jericho invites quirky, laid-back lounging; the Cowley Road blends multiculturalism with affordability, and the winding Thames means countless opportunities for a waterside pint.
Yes, it’s been around since the 80s, but Freud’s cavernous, Greek-revivalist church setting – complete with pews, stained glass, crumbling stone and vast floor-to-ceiling drapes – is still as much of a draw as it ever was among Jericho residents and students craving a cut-price cocktail.
Impossible to miss at the edge of Folly Bridge, Head of the River may not be a foodie Mecca, but it is a quintessential waterside boozer offering visitors much more than drinks-by-numbers or slabs of historic character. Extensive outdoor seating along the riverbank makes this Oxford’s most popular summer drinking spot.
The House is a slick, modern cocktail lounge tricked out with fat chesterfield sofas, curving leather banquettes and fluffy shag-pile rugs – perfect for a dressed-to-impress crowd who come here to sip a full range of classic, premium and innovative cocktails. Upstairs is an unexpected, chill-out games room featuring pool, darts and even a library.
Just like the Jericho district, this eponymous pub manages to mix quirky and boho with a touch of smart cool. Stripped floors, brick walls and monochrome art grace a lively local that’s famous for showcasing up-and-coming bands. Radiohead debuted here, and John Peel looks down from the walls on the current crop of hopefuls.
The looks say Moroccan, the tapas says Spanish, but Cowley Road stalwart Kazbar is no less intimate, exotic or fun. Frequent happy hours and a vast selection of sprits, cocktails and beers pull in sophisticated yet budget-conscious partygoers.
Funky cocktail cool and Slovakian cooking are a less-than-obvious match but, free of the late-night drinking crowd, Moya’s discerning regulars beg to differ. The mixology is serious stuff and far from predictable, with kind prices and generous measures. Those not into mixed drinks can grab a Slovak beer or one of 20 milkshakes.
A friendly destination for real ale fans in the city centre, the White Horse Brewery’s first pub offers the area’s best selection of locally produced beer. Thankfully this hasn’t attracted a crowd of pint-swilling anoraks – hoppy draughts are apparently all the rage with a decent selection of pub grub.
Other than a wall-mounted bicycle protruding from the first floor, The Rusty (as it’s known) is a pub free from gimmicks and pretension. Friendly landlords, artwork on the walls, great beer, good food, cosy fireplaces and board games – it’s not exactly electric, but that’s just how the chatty staff and regulars like it.
Despite being tucked away between winding back alleys, the venerable Turf Tavern is pretty easy to find. Tourists, students and locals make up a mixed crowd who spill out into the sizable beer garden from the corridor-like interior – most of them clutching pints of real ale from an impressive selection of pumps.