Historical Pubs: The Turf Tavern, Oxford

FrontSituated in a little alleyway just off Broad Street, the Turf Tavern is one of the big tourist sights in Oxford. Over the years Bill Clinton has “not inhaled” there, the Australian PM Bob Hawke has set an ale-drinking world record, and Inspector Morse has visited more than once. With its unique, and occasionally odd, history, handy city-centre location and large beer gardens it has become a draw for anyone visiting Oxford and many of the residents. You may be pleased to hear that it does not disappoint (unlike The Eagle in the other place, from one of my previous posts).

There is generally a good selection of ales. These tend to be of the traditional kind – you won’t find many 12% American inspired hop monsters – but there is a good mix of local breweries (like White Horse) and guests from further afield (they’ve occasionally had Hophead by Dark Star, one of my favourite beers). Being a tourist pub, there is also a decent selection of soft drinks, wine and Pimms for non-beer drinkers. Food is served and is usually above average pub food, although the menu style seems to change every few months so it may be run by someone else entirely since I last had lunch.

BobThe foundations of the pub date from the 13th century, though the actual main building is merely from the 18th. Like many old pubs, it has that ramshackle feel to it with several rooms bolted together. This is actually surprisingly small, with the bulk of the pub being made of the outdoor seating areas. There may not always be the weather for this kind of place in England, but the pub is packed come rain or shine. It is bordered by one of the few remaining stretches of the old Oxford city wall, which is kind of nice (though it basically looks like a wall, not much to see there unfortunately).

The story of the pub goes way back, well before the recent tales of Bob Hawke and Bill Clinton. It crops up as a nameless pub near Bath Place in Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure. More references and famous visitors are listed around the pub. Despite all this baggage it comes across as a lively place to go out for whatever occasion crops up, where one can simply enough a good time with some good beer and company. It should definitely be on the itinerary for any visitors to Oxford.

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