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The Carfax Triangle

My Thursday night out plotted a route around Carfax, considered by some to be the centre of the city. The Carfax Triangle, as I have called it, is a crawl around three bars, which if you draw lines on a map to join them up form an obtuse triangle neatly enclosing the Carfax Tower. The Carfax must be the least successful invention in mobile communications history, so it’s a surprise that Oxford named a tower after it.


Said tower, more correctly St Martin’s Tower, is all that remains of a 12th century church, the rest of which was rebuilt in 1822 and then demolished in 1896 to allow Victorian Oxonians to drive their De Dion Boutons more easily through the city. For just three quid you can climb the 99 steps to the top, where you get a view across Oxford’s rooftops. This view should never be spoiled, as local planning law states that no building can be built in the city centre that is higher.


Varsity Club (#16)


If you want a rooftop view whilst climbing fewer steps (76), then head for the Varsity Club. It will cost you a bit more money, mind. The entrance is off the High, down one of the passageways that lead to the Covered Market, where you’ll find a door with an oar for a handle that leads to the first of those steps. Set over 4 floors in a Georgian building, this bar boasts a roof terrace, where you can sit on heated seats and admire the impressive view, admittedly from a slightly lower vantage point than the tower can offer.

looking down on the Varsity roof terrace from the tower

On this quiet night, only the main top floor bar was open, and nobody was braving the cold on the rooftop, though a few were using the heated dome pod. The bar is a comfortable place, the décor is sort of middle eastern and the music was at a level to allow conversation. The best beer offering seemed to be bottles of BrewDog Punk IPA, though you can get a draught Camden Pale Ale in at least two of the other bars.


Hanks Bar (#17)


Up a narrow staircase off Queen Street opposite M&S you’ll find Hank’s, previously known as Maxwell’s. The 24 steps will take you to a large room, with a raised bar area, a dance floor and a cloakroom which used to be the kitchen. It’s a late-night venue, so I wasn’t surprised to be the only customer in the early evening. The helpful barman pointed me in the direction of the only beer, Meantime Pale Ale, which was cold as expected but not unpleasant. If you come here on a Friday or Saturday, expect to be asked for an entry fee. I imagine it will be a lot louder and busier, but I doubt I’ll be stumping up the cash to find out.


Crown (#18)


The Crown is a courtyard pub off Cornmarket; a pub has stood here since 1364 and William Shakespeare stayed here on several occasions when he visited Oxford. The present pub, however, is not all that it seems: this was the stable block, the pub itself was the other side of the yard where McDonalds now stands, so Will wouldn’t have been able to get an Egg McMuffin for breakfast.

Fairy lights in the courtyard

Newly refurbished, though you’d need a keen eye to notice as little has changed, the Crown is run by Nicholson’s and therefore offered the best beer choice of the crawl, admittedly up against little competition. I chose a Pale Ale called Untitled, from Edinburgh Beer Factory, which though perfect in condition and colour, didn’t really pack the kind of punch I’d have hoped for its strength. A perennial favourite, Thornbridge Jaipur, might in hindsight have been a better choice.


And now I had a dilemma. To complete the triangle, I would strictly have had to return to the Varsity, but I didn’t fancy climbing all those steps again, and the alternative was a tap takeover by Little Ox Brewery at the Grapes. Sod your triangles. No contest.


Carfax actually derives from the Latin quadrifurcus via the French carrefour, both of which mean "crossroads”, though I thought the latter was a supermarket.

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