Spring re-opening a possibility for Oxford pub after 18 months of closure
Closed pubs have been a blot on the landscape for years, but Tap Social is bucking the trend as it makes final preparations to open its first pub as soon as Government restrictions allow.
The White House on Abingdon Road, just a 10-minute walk or five-minute bus ride from the city centre, was a long-time Wadworth pub and community local that had become rather run-down in recent years. Tap Social, the Oxford-based brewery that has gained a great reputation for quality beer and innovative thinking since opening in 2016, has taken on the lease from building owner Brasenose College and has a free hand to introduce the changes it wants.
And what changes. As passengers on double-deck buses have been able to see (the lights were kept on), the interior has been totally gutted, stripped back and restored, to create a bright, welcoming pub offering maximum flexibility for the trying trading conditions of 2021. Not only does it have a large outside space, but the upper floor used previously as a function room will now be open all the time with its own bar.
A brand new kitchen has been installed, and in a break with normal practice Tap Social will brew a cask ale especially for the White House and make available a second cask ale sourced from another local independent brewer. Otherwise it concentrates on craft keg and switched to cans rather than bottles last year, having only brewed cask ale before for the Oxford beer festival.
If the White House can re-open in spring then it will have been closed for 18 months, meaning it has been off the scene for a long time. South Oxford has few alternatives, however, the only other pubs along Abingdon Road being Greene King’s Duke of Monmouth, and the independent Hubble and Home, formerly called Home, the Crooked Pot and the Berkshire, which re-opened under new management last summer (see Pub News).
But in a good example of Tap’s innovative thinking, it started to offer take-away at the White House even while building work was going on, with a portable bar known as the “horsebox” dispensing coffee, cakes and cans which, until the latest lockdown, could be consumed in the garden. Tap announced re-opening of the pub for one night only on New Year’s Eve, with a DJ and menu provided by outside caterers, but this fell a victim to lockdown.
Tap director Tess Taylor says: “Having the horsebox meant we got to know our neighbours, and now we have established a presence people are getting excited about our opening. Now we have a bit more time to finish things off and fully fit out the bar, and hopefully we can open as soon as we are allowed. With two cask ales, and 10 keg lines both upstairs and downstairs, there will be plenty of room for social distancing.”
The success of the fairly basic facilities at the brewery tap room, on a trading estate off the Botley Road, augurs well for the more relaxed surroundings of the White House. While music and comedy nights, with outside caterers, will resume on weekends in Botley, the White House looks set to be the place to chill every day of the week with the large upstairs bar a major plus.
Tap Social has not revealed much about its menu yet, but it will be informal, innovative and available for takeaway too – and a previously independent bakery is now part of its offer. Opening of its first kitchen will mean new training and career prospects for the young people it recruits as day release or prison leavers, as a key part of Tap’s philosophy is to support people trying to turn their lives around.
“We still have people on our books who have come from a criminal justice background, most of whom are currently furloughed,” says Tess. “We are setting up programmes for the White House kitchen with Spring Hill prison, near Aylesbury.”
Tap’s directors have all worked as lawyers in the criminal justice system, and their push to see reform is reflected in the names of canned beers in their current core range – Time Better Spent IPA, False Economy Lager, Cell Count American Pale Ale, Jobsworth Session Pale Ale, and Inside Out Stout.
The brewery is suffering like all the others in lockdown, but its spirit is undimmed. At Oxford CAMRA we can’t wait to see Tap Social work its magic on this neglected old pub – and the availability of cask ale is a definite bonus.
Also see the post Some Relief for Pubs – but what about breweries?