New micro-pub for Oxford

Tile Shop Ale House is currently the only pub open in centre of Headington

A new micro-pub in Headington opened outdoors on April 12, and the Tile Shop Ale House currently has the distinction of being the only pub in the Headington shopping area that is open as the Britannia and Royal Standard remain closed. Apart from “nano-pub” Teardrop bar in the Covered Market, it is the first micro-pub in the city although towns including Witney, Banbury, Carterton and Wallingford have had micro-pubs for some time.

Unless you have visited one, you might well ask what a micro-pub is. Of course there is no definition but in general they are converted from shops, with a cool room rather than a cellar, small and often with limited opening hours. The vast majority concentrate on cask or keg ale from independent brewers, with a limited range of other drinks, serving only snacks and not meals.

A few offer live music on certain days (Drummers Bar in Witney – formerly Oxbrew – for example), but most maintain a quiet atmosphere with no TVs or other distractions. Before the pandemic there were thought to be around 400 around the UK with a particular concentration in East Kent, where Oxford CAMRA ran a very enjoyable minibus trip in 2019.

Tile Shop adheres to most of these principles, but the owners have such a love of real ale that they don’t plan to offer any kegs, cans or bottles, with one exception. As with many micro-pubs, the name reflects the building’s previous use at 10 Windmill Road, just a few yards from the crossroads in the centre of Headington. It currently has four outdoor tables, and as it doesn’t take bookings, it’s a case of first come, first served. A neighbouring property will permit it to use more outside space out of shop hours, and when all restrictions ease there will be up to 40 seats inside.

The pub is run by five partners – Ian Langford, Stephen Longthorp, Dan Lordan, Stephen Hoar and David Eustace – who come from professional backgrounds ranging from an electrician and graphic designer to an airline pilot. None of the five long-time friends has ever run a pub, but what they do have is a passion for real ale, a sense of opportunity and – looking at how busy it was in the first days – good business sense.

Ian was also a home brewer, but says it was “very time consuming and hard work”. Ian and Stephen first had the idea of a micro-pub because, says Ian, they were fed up with trying to find a decent, consistent pint locally.

“There are a couple of decent pubs in Headington – the White Hart and Masons Arms, for example – but the others are often hopeless, as if they just don’t care,” he explained. “We had been dreaming about this for years, and then this place with an ideal size and location came up last year. We were planning to open at Christmas but glad we weren’t able to, as we weren’t ready. We’ve done a lot of the work converting it into a pub ourselves, and all except one of us who’s retired has another income. This is a hobby.”

They were inspired after visiting other micro-pubs – in particular one in Southampton called the Bookshop, which “doesn’t pretend to be anything else” than a pub for conversation and quiet enjoyment of quality beer. The team has decided to offer two house beers, after much research, and these are both from Tring brewery in Hertfordshire – Side Pocket for a Toad, a 3.6% golden beer; and Ridgeway, a 4% slightly darker beer, both served by gravity. Hitchcox cider is also available at Tile Shop, and one lager – bottled Peroni – plus gin, vodka, and red or white wine, but the focus is mainly on real ale.

Ian Langford: What a way to enjoy a hobby!

“We tried many beers, but some were too lively for our liking,” said Ian. “We find Tring’s beers to be stable, consistent, and crystal clear right down to the last drop. We think people will like them, but we also plan to have a guest ale and will consider Oxford Brewery (formerly Shotover), West Berkshire or Skinner’s Betty Stogs.

“In time we will offer snacks such as scotch eggs, but above all we want to get back to the original idea of a pub – the place to have a chat or simply read a book, and not feel out of it.”

Tile Shop Ale House is open seven days a week, from 12-8pm, and beers are also available to take away.