Kicking off in style
The first rule of organising a pub crawl is that you put the best pub last. Put it high up the batting order, and people will (rightfully) think “this is as good as it gets” and be reluctant, or flatly refuse to move on. So, when you’re organising a crawl round 170 pubs, it’s a schoolboy error to pick three of the finest in the city for your first night out. Oops.
In my defence, pubs 2 and 3 were determined by a new-year CAMRA gathering, so I only really got to pick the first, and I wasn’t going to choose some crappy dive or somewhere with mediocre, or worse still, no beer to kick the whole thing off.
Lamb and Flag, St Giles (#1)
Actually, my plan was to head off to the Royal Oak, which geographically would make more sense in the bigger scheme of things, but when walking past the Lamb I felt compelled to pop in for a pint.
And I have a connection with the pub which possibly made it eminently suitable as the opener. I was also aware that change might be in the offing here, as the unidentifiable thing that St John’s advertised for sale – some sort of middle management deal - has apparently been bought, by person or persons unknown. Quite what this new investor will do, or what they’re being asked to do is unclear, but it’s 20 years or more since the pub had any sort of makeover (I know this as I did it myself, hence the connection), so a lick of paint or even a change of direction could be a possibility. So I took the chance to have a pint of a fine ale, by Tring Brewery, leaning on my bar in the front room, a bar which by no coincidence is the perfect leaning height for myself. The combination of hushed conversation in a panelled room, more gentlemen’s club than pub, was a gentle but satisfying start to my quest.
Gardeners Arms, Plantation Road (#2)
I like to approach the Gardeners from Woodstock Road (hence the choice of first pub) as Plantation Road is a pretty little lane, and at night in near total darkness, the pub stands out as a beacon to tempt you off the beaten track. This particular Gardeners – there’s another on North Parade – has a fully vegetarian menu and always has four good beers, on this occasional including three of the dark variety. It’s unusual to say the least these days to get such a choice of dark beers amongst the plethora of pales, and I plumped for the ever-reliable XT Porter, a good call. The 100% record on this crawl of
drinking in a panelled room was maintained here, as we admired the ever-growing collection of pump-clips and vinyl album sleeves that neatly fill the gaps where the panelling finishes and the ceiling begins.
Rose and Crown, North Parade (#3)
As we (CAMRA, and we were a “we” now as I had company) had a meet up planned at the Rose and Crown, we went directly here after leaving the sleepy Plantation Road. The second Gardeners would have to wait until another time.
The Rose is a family run business with more than thirty-five years at the helm here, and with nearly as long in the Good Beer Guide, you can’t go far wrong here. On this occasion we found Debbie making pizza in the courtyard oven, and son Adam serving up pints of Hook Norton Greedy Goose (in a handle, of course) at the bar.
To compliment my tasty beer, I chose what is in my opinion Oxford’s finest pub dish, and the ultimate accompaniment to an ale or three, namely a pint of sausages. Served with mustard (excellent), ketchup (not really for me), and a small bucket of thick cut chips, it is what it says – a dimple mug pint glass stuffed with sausages. And if you’re wondering how many fat pork and leek sausages you can fit into a dimple mug, the answer is six. Which is exactly the same number you can fit in me in about three minutes flat. Like I say, Oxford’s finest pub dish.
Having lived around the corner from here for ten years, I have a soft spot for this part of the world. And there are few better places to end up after a pub crawl than the Rose and Crown. Come to that, there are few better places to end up after leaving the house than the Rose and Crown.
So, a successful, relaxed start. Only 167 more to go.