I’m not as nostalgic as I used to be. I really miss that. But this was a change to wallow in some pub nostalgia, as we travelled the southwards from Walton Manor along Walton Street, a place I used to frequent many moons ago.
Note that pub visits 6 (Royal Blenheim), 7 (Grapes) and 14 (White Rabbit, where we ended up after Walton Street) will all feature in future crawls so are not reviewed here.
We picked the sunniest day of the year so far for our expedition, and we began at the Anchor, which, as you will know, is not on Walton Street at all, but at the top end of Kingston Road.
The Anchor is a fabulous Deco building, built in 1937 by Halls Brewery, and recent refurbishments have enhanced the period features and made this a very pleasant destination. A large part of the pub is given over to fine dining, but the public bar area remains, with a roaring log fire, a welcoming host, and three Wadworth beers. Taking advantage of a ‘try before you buy’ offer, I tried and subsequently bought a pint of the spicy and fruity Winter’s Tale served in a handle glass.
This part of Oxford is something of a beer wasteland. I’m certain the estate agents prefer to use terms such as “leafy North Oxford”, but from a pub point of view, there’s nothing else north of here, and you have to go to Summertown to find anything to the east. Maybe such a huge catchment area is why the pub seems to be thriving, and its food offering seems ideally tailored to the local market.
The only way to find another pub reasonably close to the Anchor is to walk south, so we did. We called in at the Grog Shop, which still proclaims “Best Beer Shop in Oxford says CAMRA” in big letters beside the front door. I believe CAMRA did say this, in about 2003, but in fairness, the range of bottles here is still pretty extensive. However, you can’t drink here, so we crossed the road to the Victoria.
The prize for the “most improved pub on the crawl” has to go to the Victoria. New ownership (the same as Raoul’s and Cowley Road’s Big Society) has given a new lease of life to this quirky former-Marston’s pub. The Vic has everything you could wish for in a pub – a garden, a terrace, a snug, a cosy bar and a ceiling mural. Yes, check out the ceiling mural; it depicts God reaching out to hand Adam a pint of Banks’s Bitter, just like the one in the Sistine Chapel (though the original might be a Peroni, I can’t recall).
Neither God nor the welcoming bar staff could hand me a Banks’s on this occasion, as the beer choice is no longer in Marston’s clutches, and today boasted a house beer by Shotover, and guests from Wild Beer and Loddon. Adam might have left that forbidden fruit alone had he been offered a choice this good, and then he wouldn’t have got chucked out of the Eden Project.
Branca is to Jericho what Rapid Hardware was to Liverpool. For those who’ve never heard of Rapid, let me briefly explain: they started out as a small shop, and they expanded by buying up the shop next door, and then the one next door to that, and so on, until eventually they owned the whole of Renshaw Street. Which was great, except it took a day to find anything in its maze of staircases, passageways and doorways, and another day to find your way out again.
Branca hasn’t yet managed an expansion on this scale, but it has acquired the deli next door, and then moved the deli to the former chip shop next door to that to expand its restaurant into the vacant space, and they’re all linked by steps and doorways in true Rapid style, though with fewer wheelbarrows and better decor. Further expansion might be difficult, as the well-established Jamal’s is now their neighbour.
The circular bar in the original corner building remains, and although this is a restaurant, you can pop in here just for a drink. The wine list is extensive, the beer list less so. We opted for a Camden Pale Ale, cleverly sold in a 250ml measure to disguise just how pricey it is.
Phoenix Picture House (#10)
Apparently, having a beer in the Jericho café is “not normally what people do”, and although this never normally puts us off, on this occasion we went elsewhere. Over the road to the Phoenix Picture House, to be precise, where we ignored the enormous “BAR OPEN” sign to ask the staff at the entrance whether the bar was open. It was.
The bar is upstairs, small and cosy. The choice of beer – all bottles - includes some Brew Dog, a few Belgian and a full range of Shotover beers, and their chocolatey Porter was excellent.
Jericho Tavern (#11)
The Jericho is a famous music venue that spawned the careers of Ride, Radiohead and Supergrass, and then threw it all away by becoming a “Scream” pub. Thankfully that aberration has been corrected, and not only has music returned upstairs, but so has real ale.
It’s very much worth visiting again.
My chosen pint of the three available was Sharp’s Cornish Winter, a superb milk stout. There’s a choice of keg beers too. The atmosphere is relaxed; the blue paint scheme and low level lighting add to the relaxed feel. I also like the Fawlty Towers-like staircase up to the gents.
Jude the Obscure (#12)
The Jude was the first pub I visited when I moved to Oxford – at the time, a Morrell’s house run by enigmatic landlord Noel Reilly – so I have fond memories of it from twenty-plus years ago. It had a bohemian feel; art exhibitions, plays, poetry readings, music, and late-night lock-ins. And a choice of Bitter, Varsity or Mild. Now owned by Greene King, the pub has sadly lost some of its character, if not quite all of its characters.
We were pleasantly surprised to find Otter Bitter on the bar, a most welcome choice if you prefer ABGK (anything but Greene King), as everything else ale-wise is theirs, including a slightly out-of-season Rocking Rudolph.
Although drinking beer is the closest thing I get to a religion, I rarely get to practice my faith in an actual church. But you can in Freud, which was built as the Church of St Paul, Walton Street (architect HJ Underwood) in 1836 in the Grecian style, complete with fluted Ionic columns and pediment. Well almost, as strictly it’s a former church, having been a bar for more than thirty years.
Those Ionic columns make for an impressive if a little weather-beaten entrance, and inside the vast volume is largely untouched an unrestored, the main feature being its unusually high copper-topped bar. It’s a cocktail bar first and foremost, but there is a limited beer menu, from which I picked a bottled Pilsner Urquell.
“What this place needs is a micro-brewery”, suggested Steve.
And he was right. If it had one, I would come here to worship far more often.