Company that re-opened the Grapes last week confirmed as new operator
Greene King has announced that Morgan Pub Collective, which only last week re-opened the Grapes in central Oxford, is to run the Gardeners Arms in North Parade Avenue with a target date to re-open in late September. Previously unknown in Oxford, Morgan and associated companies run about 15 pubs in and around London, the closest to Oxford being recent acquisition the Argyll in Henley-on-Thames.
Some of its existing pubs are already leased from Greene King, but most are totally independent and all have a focus on real ale, simple food and a slightly quirky atmosphere. Drinkers at the re-opening of the Grapes on August 3 were impressed not only by the wide range of beers but by the tasteful décor (old prints, maps and mirrors) and the turntable playing vinyl LPs.
The Gardeners Arms in North Parade Avenue – not to be confused with a pub of the same name in nearby Plantation Road – closed last November after long-serving landlords David and Jenny Rhymes retired. Greene King announced plans for a revamp which may involve relocating the bar, and published an image of how the modernised pub might look. “Greene King are looking to transform this site by investing in the property to create a wet-only business that can contribute to and enhance the local area,” it announced. “Offering a range of premium draught products, mixed with an extensive wine and spirit selection.”
But it seems Greene King was struggling to attract interest, as the original asking price of £42,875 up-front and £50,000 annual rent was later reduced to £36,625 and £35,000 respectively. Leasing the pub would make sense for Morgan, as it owns a catering company supplying food from a central point in the London area and distributed by van, so having two pubs in Oxford means the Grapes is no longer out on its own.
Whether Morgan decides to introduce food remains to be seen, as the original kitchen might need to be renovated or relocated. Founded by Dick Morgan in 1974, it has a family link to the Big Smoke brewery and pub group of Esher, Surrey, but according to the “pub for let” notice the Gardeners would remain a tied pub serving only Greene King or guest beers.
Re-opening of the Gardeners would be welcomed by the Rose & Crown, the long-term CAMRA favourite just across the narrow street, which is very much a traditional pub with a focus on real ales and pub food. There is plenty of wealth in North Oxford to support two pubs in the same street, and having two pubs with a different range of drinks would attract people into the area while also visiting the pubs of nearby Jericho.
A Greene King spokesperson said: “We are delighted to say that this much-loved pub is due to re-open at the end of September following a full refurbishment, inside and out. It will be a wonderful community pub run by experienced pub operators, and we’re looking forward to welcoming everyone in to enjoy the new-look Gardeners Arms.”
No mention is made of possible renaming of the pub, which would end confusion with the other Gardeners Arms, a free house, less than 10 minutes’ walk away on the Jericho side of Woodstock Road. But renaming the pub might make sense, as it would be totally different in character and probably clientele to the pub that closed last November, meaning it would effectively be starting from scratch.
Both pubs were so-named due to the market gardens which covered this area until the mid-19th century, with the Plantation Road pub being built around 1830 and the North Parade Avenue pub in 1872. Both were owned by Oxford brewery Morrells for many years, but while the latter passed to Greene King, the Plantation Road pub, leased from St John’s College, is a free house and the first vegetarian-only pub in the city.
David and Jenny Rhymes spent nearly 30 years at their pub in North Parade Avenue, making it a cosy, homely and very welcoming hostelry with a broad range of clientele. They were described in a previous Oxford Drinker post as “a fine example of utter dedication to a pub and its customers, as they have worked seven days a week, often from around 7am to midnight, for more years than they care to remember”.