“Do you want to meet up later for a beer?”
The answer to this question is very rarely “no”. On this occasion it was posed to me next to Carfax Tower by Rich, a one-time drinking pal of mine who now resides (and drinks) in Manchester. We’d met by chance; me heading to buy lunchtime food, and him walking the streets for an hour to avoid having to converse with fellow conference delegates over lukewarm coffee and curly sandwiches. Despite not living that far away, his visits to Oxford these days are few and far between.
The choice of pub I’d left to Rich. Unless I was very unlucky, his choice would be another pub ticked off the list. The text arrived mid-afternoon: The Chester, about 6. Good choice.
Chester Arms, Chester Street (#4)
The Chester, it turns out, was his regular haunt many years ago when he lived off Henley Street, and he was keen to see what it is like now it’s severed its pub company ties and is now independent and free. And so was I, which is just as well, as fifteen minutes before our rendezvous, he texted to cancel – an apology but no reason proffered, which is so typical of him, but at least he got in touch rather than just not turning up – and I was left to check out the Chester alone.
Back in the day, before the beer revolution, the Punch Taverns-owned pub sold Caledonian Deuchars IPA, a pleasant hoppy brew exotic enough to justify a journey south from the city. Today’s offerings are more local and each one of them still worth the trip – West Berkshire Maggs’ Mild, and two from Loose Cannon, of which I chose the Gunners Gold, served in an impressive branded tankard glass.
It’s fair to say that eating rather than drinking seems to be the thing here, and the food I saw looked superb, and definitely worthy of another visit. However, I’m somebody who likes to stand at the bar when I’m supping a pint, but I quickly got the impression that this was not encouraged and sitting at the bar was not catered for either, so I retired to a corner to enjoy my (excellent) beer, seated.
The pub itself has been altered and modernised, but not beyond recognition. The yellow brick exterior looks smart, and internally it retains roughly the same layout as previously with a central bar and areas either side to sit. A stripped timber floor, pastel shades a log burner and an abundance of fairly lights make it less ‘pubby’ than I recall, but pleasant nevertheless. And the beer’s better, though the once huge garden, which hosted beer festivals many years ago, has been reduced a little by selling a chunk of land to build two houses, the proceeds of which helped the pub get its new lease of life.
I hope the absent Rich would have been impressed by the transformation this pub has undergone over the past fifteen years. Maybe one day we will manage to meet up here and I can gauge his reaction first-hand. Sitting down, of course.