All looks rosy down at the new-look Gardeners Arms

North Oxford pub re-opens with six real ales and 10 keg lines

Oxford welcomed a major new player on the real ale scene in early October with the re-opening, after nearly a year’s closure, of the Gardeners Arms on North Parade Avenue. Still owned by Greene King but now a free house, it is run by the London-based Morgan Pub Collective which also operates the Grapes in central Oxford, which re-opened in August.

Staff and other resources are shared by the two pubs, with landlady at the Gardeners being Jade Harrison. But a major change at the Gardeners is that it doesn’t serve food apart from bar snacks such as pies and sausage rolls, whereas the Grapes does serve cooked food. Under its previous long-serving tenants the Gardeners was known for its traditional food, but the pub is now very different in appearance and style although the original layout has been retained.

The Gardeners adds to the strong sense of community in North Parade Avenue.

The pub – not to be confused with the other Gardeners Arms in nearby Plantation Road, which specialises in vegetarian food – has newly installed wood panelling throughout, a brand new bar front and back bar fitting, as well as new furniture and flooring. But the other big change, apart from the bigger and better range of real ales, is the “young” feel about it, although it still plans to attract a wide ranging audience. Some of the previous regulars were there on opening night, and also there to celebrate were previous tenants David and Jenny Rhymes who had clocked up nearly 30 years at this pub and 35 years in total when they retired last November.

James Morgan of Big Smoke

Whereas previously it was limited to Greene King beers or choices from GK’s guest range, now it is free to offer an ever-changing range of independent beer on the six hand-pumps and 10 keg lines, and it also has a well-stocked fridge with some Belgian classics and more modern offerings. It is offering a 10% discount to CAMRA members while all customers can buy any cask ale for only £3.50 a pint all day, every Monday, plus a loyalty stamp card where every 10th pint is free.

The cask line-up in opening week was Harvey’s Sussex Best (now a regular, as at the Grapes), Titanic’s Plum Porter, Chadlington’s Oxford IPA, Vale Brewery’s Gravitas, and Thornbridge’s Jaipur – a mix of local and national favourites. Also on hand pump was Big Smoke brewery’s Golden Hour Pale Ale, Big Smoke (from Surrey) being run by James Morgan, son of the group’s founder Dick. By week three, the range had been varied to include draught Bass (rare in these parts), Little Ox Yabba Dabba Doo, and Oakham’s Citra.

Some of Morgan Pub Collective’s other properties are owned by Greene King, but most are free houses. James Morgan, who also helps run the collective, explained that the brewery was now looking at different ways of making some of its pubs work, and this included free-of-tie arrangements for some operators. In 2019 the giant brewery and pubs group was acquired by CK Asset Holdings of Hong Kong, which called a halt to the sale of property including pubs not fitting its usual profile.

Pictured on opening night are, from left: Tony Goulding, CAMRA; landlady Jade Harrison; Johnny Roberts, landiord of the Grapes; Oxford Drinker editor Dave Richardson; and Steve Thompson, CAMRA

The Gardeners Arms in North Parade is a welcome addition to the city’s real ale scene, and its re-opening has been welcomed by the renowned Rose and Crown which is just across the narrow street. This long-time Good Beer Guide pub and free house serves up to four real ales and a wide range of food, while the Gardeners Arms in Plantation Road has vegetarian food and has recently restored a third real ale, having cut back to two.

Some felt that the re-opened pub could have been renamed to avoid the confusion that often arises between the two pubs, but that didn’t happen. The Gardeners in North Parade joins a stable of 18 independently operated pubs in London and the Home Counties, and is in safe hands.