Oxford pubs, full of history, and perfect for those warm summer evenings or cold winter nights. They accommodate for all seasons and patrons.
“There can be nothing more frequent than an occasional drink.”
The pub is one of England’s greatest contributions to a decent social life. Oxford pubs are no exception; beer-stained, dark wooded, roaring fires, malt beers, celebrity touched and full of patrons.
“My happiest hours are spent with 3 or 4 old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs.”
Almost all the writers I have read about have had their favourite drinking spots in the city of spires. They have frequented, drunk, smoked and eaten heartily at each and most likely every pub in the city. The overlaps are something special and more reoccurring that most would ever realise. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis more associated in the literature of fantasy and untamed lands built their books around Oxford Pubs. Tolkien’s books on The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings conjure up ideas of Elves, Dwarves, monsters and the One Ring. Yet at the heart is the pub.
“Some called for ale, and some for porter, and one for coffee, and all of them for cakes; so, the hobbit was kept very busy for a while.”
There is even mention of two pubs; The Prancing Pony and The Green Dragon.
From the accounts I have read, Tolkien clearly enjoyed quiet times, good conversation and a great pint. Yet we should not forget that two other authors were famous for their drink as well. Inspector Morse in the midst of solving a case could be found in ‘The White Horse’, sipping on ale or whiskey. Oscar Wilde was famous for his eccentricity, which he constructed during his time at Oxford, and his love of alcohol.
“Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”
Here is a selection of excellent Oxford pubs to visit during your time in the city.
Here is a small, quaint, hipster pub that I have started to frequent more and more. When you first look at it, you think it is a shop and as you come in you are greet by beaming smiles and happy staff. Willing to discuss their locally-sourced beer and ale; all contained in the corner of the Covered Market. Run by a local Brazilian couple and a bevvy of local patrons that attend during the lunchtime rush. You are given a unique atmosphere for a pub. You can sit and watch the world go by on seats that sit on the border of the walkways of The Covered Market, talk with the owners when they are not rushed off their feet or take a beer and sit in one of the many beautiful Oxford parks.
Mon – Sat: 10:30 am to 5:30 pm
Sunday: 10:30 am to 4 pm
Unit 22 Covered Market,
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
This pub is currently being renovated and should be open to the public in 2020. It has a fascinating history. Students live above, and I used to pour pints for a living in the establishment. I have many fond memories of this dark wooded and ancient building. However, the real fame goes to the Governess, a lady that ran the pub in the 1800s for over 50 years! Yet that claim is superseded by the fact she was Alice Liddell’s nanny during the writing of Alice in Wonderland. So, this is the Red Queen’s residence. Yet, one more novel fact is that there is a very good chance the Red Queen’s patron was the joker, Oscar Wilde. He was in Oxford between 1874 to 1878 and frequented ‘The Mitre’ for breakfast. I look forward to returning to this establishment when it opens. When I worked there, there was no inkling of any fame attached to this glorious pub and look forward to informing the owners.
Eagle and Child
Speaking of Inklings, if you are looking for a location of The Prancing Pony and The Green Dragon you will not find it. However, this Oxford pub is the next best thing. The Eagle and Child was fondly known to C.S. Lewis and J. R. Tolkien as the ‘Bird and Baby.’ It is also one of several locations associated with these two literary giants and their crew ‘The Inklings.’
Here is where they would spend many an hour smoking, drinking ale and reading aloud their works to fellow Inklings. The corner where they sat is preserved as a memorial to these meetings.
Mon – Sunday: 11 am to 11 pm
49 St Giles’,
If you are looking for another location where stories have been read, you will need to go off the beaten track. To go on an adventure, to leave the safety of the city, to venture through meadows and navigate past cow pats and if you are lucky or with good GPS you can find ‘The Perch.’ A gloriously old pub; recently renovated and extended with a fantastic beer garden with a walkway that takes you onto the Port Meadow. This is also the location of Lewis Carroll’s first-ever reading of Alice in Wonderland and Port Meadow is the location of where Lewis Carroll first took Alice and her sisters and told them the tale of Alice in Wonderland.
Mon – Sat: 10:30 am to 11 pm
Sunday: 10:30 am to 10:30 pm
Binsey Ln, Binsey,
This has to be one of my favourite pubs, it has atmosphere, history, scenic views, and a building made of cheddar coloured limestone. It has plans to be renovated both indoors and out, with talks of a new bridge to connect to a small island. A perfect spot to take any date for a drink both in summer and winter. A delightful riverside pub and a relatively short walk away from ‘The Perch.’ This pub will warm you in winter with her roaring fires and dark brown ales. In the Summer, you can sit on the veranda and look out on to the river Thames but that is not all. You are spoilt by a lock, which has water gushing over the top of it, creating a constant sound and sight of a waterfall. Further downstream you’ll see a narrow and rickety bridge, which you shall not pass, and beyond that an island with a lion. Both Tolkien and Lewis were said to frequent here as well. The lion is said to be the inspiration for Aslan and the manager has told me there was a sword given to the pub from Tolkien but with all good myths has been lost to time. If you are a Colin Dexter fan, Morse was filmed here as well as Lewis. Phillip Pullman heavily features the pub in ‘The book of Dust’ with the main character Malcolm living and working in ‘The Trout.’
Sun – Thurs: 11 am to 10:30 pm
Fri – Sat: 11 am to 11 pm
195 Godstow Road,
The Kings Arms
Our final place in our Oxford pubs tour is special for many reasons. Imagine a pub with multiple rooms, large and small. Wooden floors, tables and chairs, darkly coloured, old chandeliers, a chatty atmosphere and a smell of beer mixed with history. Now use that lovely imagination, a lion sleeps under a table; Bilbo and Frodo sit in the corner, laughing, singing, telling tales of adventure; Morse and Lewis are sat, deep in thought, debating an investigation and Charles Xavier stands at the bar, showing off his powers of downing a yard of ale. A lovely image, that most would love to see in real life, and a pub connected to a lot of literature associated with the city.
Mon – Sunday: 10:30 am to 12am
40 Holywell St,
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