Tony’s Travels: North Oxford

Please note: Some pubs were visited before rules on social distancing were tightened up

It is hoped over the coming months that we can update readers with how pubs are coping in these difficult and challenging times. September saw me in Jericho, starting at the Old Bookbinders. A wait to be seated and sign-in system were in operation along with the Greene King app, while hand sanitiser would be in evidence everywhere I visited. The Bookies is a very well-run house, with top class French-themed food being served in a socially distanced scene. Up to three beers from GK or its guest range are normally on the bar.

Just around the corner a superb Fuller’s corner local, the Harcourt Arms, was dispensing London Pride and also Hophead from Dark Star, a small brewery Fuller’s now owns. No food is served, as this is a proper pub. A sign-in system and socially distance queuing, well supervised, were in operation. It was nice to be served at the bar, with everyone being very patient and then moving to seats in the pub or popular garden.

The Arkells-run Rickety Press is always busy with a good sign-in and wait-to-be-seated scene. Good food was being served along with Arkells IPA, but in normal times up to three real ales could be available.

Moving on to Walton Street, the Jericho Tavern was once the city’s top music venue. This time it was busy with a surprisingly older audience ranging from 18 to 40 (the writer excepted!), whereas normally it appeals mainly to students and the younger set. Again a sign-in and seat allocation system was working well and there were three real ales on the bar – Brakspear Gravity and Oxford Gold, along with Timothy Taylor Landlord. 

Almost next door is the busy Greene King pub Jude the Obscure. Again it was very well-run that evening, including the successful repelling of a (too large) group of Sixth Form schoolchildren celebrating the start of a new school year. The sign-in system here was on an app or a laptop, with no pen and paper. IPA, Old Speckled Hen and Olde Trip were on the bar along with two very tasty Lilley’s ciders. Food was being served and a choice of football and cricket was available on TV in the corners. 

Just up the road is the Victoria, with that superb upper balcony above the main bar with an equally superb ceiling. Marston’s used to be the beer choice here but this changed at the beginning of the year, and what a surprise to find Shotover Oxford Porter on the bar. Again a good social distancing system was in place and for a weekday evening, the pub was busy.

Just around the corner from here is the Gardeners Arms in Plantation Road (not to be confused with the Gardeners Arms on North Parade Avenue – see below), this Good Beer Guide-listed pub being a free house owned by St John’s. Two beers were on the bar – Brakspear Gravity and White Horse Luna’s Citra – plus a tasty Rosie’s Pig cider. It is open every lunchtime (12-10pm on Sundays) and vegetarian food is served 1200-1430 and 1700-2100. This was the first pub to insist on facial coverings right from the July re-opening, with a distinct strict rule on being in safe surroundings.

Moving on to other parts of North Oxford, the Dewdrop in Summertown now soldiers on as the only pub in the area following the closure in March of the Bicycle Shed. I was only there for a drink, but it has a very good greeting and sign-in procedure with table allocation or armchairs. As the pub was quiet a very sensible and safe option allowed me to quickly choose a beer and pay at the bar, Brakspear Gravity and Purity Ubu being the choice. Food service appeared good with a one-way system throughout this M&B pub.

The Anchor, just north of Jericho, has enjoyed a good following for quality food this last couple of years and I am pleased to say this scene continues. The small public bar around the side was more of a shop/delicatessen when I visited, with Wadworth Henry’s IPA and Horizon on the bar.

The Gardeners Arms, North Parade, a wonderful locals’ bar, has been run very well by Dave and Jenny Rhymes for nearly 30 years. This Greene King house had a real surprise, Southwark Brewing’s Thames Pale Ale at 4.6%, along with GK guest ale Wainwright and GK house beer Gardeners Ale. There was a more relaxed but very safe sign-in and social distancing procedure here with the scene changing by the hour, and at busy times it has a one-way system and careful serving of food.

Across the narrow street, Andrew, Debbie and Adam Hall have run their free house the Rose and Crown for well over 35 years, and nothing much had changed till Covid-19. Now a very safe scene means a somewhat lonely time inside, with only four persons per table in the large covered patio. Sign-in and table allocation here is at the highest level, meaning you could be disappointed at busy times. The beer and food scene is much as before with Hook Norton’s Old Hooky, Adnams’ Southwold Bitter and Shotover Trinity. 

The M&B-run Royal Oak on Woodstock Road is a very spacious pub with various rooms and outside areas, so appears to be well placed when coping with a reduced footfall due to social distancing. Again a good sign-in, seat allocation and one-way system were working well. Along with food service, the beer choice was Timothy Taylor Landlord, Marston’s Pedigree and Sharp’s Doom Bar. 

Obviously the beer range in most of these pubs is almost halved, with a thin choice until breweries get back to full production and demand is increased. There is also less seating capacity, and the lucky pubs are those with any type of outside area. Our reports are only meant to give you an idea of what to expect, as things can change by the week.