Oxford has some of the best and most interesting pubs in the country. This is what one must always remind oneself when in the city centre, surrounded by former independent pubs that have had to join a bigger family to survive or to diversify away from their humble origins. The overbearing prevalence of Greene King, Youngs and Wetherspoons is indeed something to lament, and their growth has done little to slow the pub closure rate (which currently stands at over thirty-one per week). To the well-known and well trodden ground of the familiar Oxford ‘classic’ pubs, this must not seem to be such a threat. But beyond the ancient walls of the Turf or The Bear, finding a character-filled pub that is both non-commercial and under appreciated is a difficult task. Luckily, the Rose and Crown is just such a place; a place which restores confidence in the future of independent pubs.
On first appearance the Rose and Crown scores highly. Situated in the centre of North Parade Avenue, this distinctively pink pub is well placed amongst other small but successful independent shops. On this street alone there is a highly recommended coffee shop, Brew, and a lovely small market that occurs here every other week, perfect company for a pub that retains a sense of being different from the rest. This sense is quickly confirmed on entrance to The Rose and Crown. Inside, the decor is eclectic and eccentric, interesting in a thrown-together way whilst ensuring no individual piece looks too out of place. The wood panelling and old bookshelf give the place a cosy feel to it, which is not too hard to generate when the general area is as small as it is. I would imagine that inside The Rose and Crown it would be hard to fit more than thirty people before the atmosphere changed from busy to cramped.
However this is not a problem for the pub, because one of its key features is the attractive and secluded beer garden behind the smaller inside area. The outside is almost as eccentric as the inside, situated between two ancient sign-covered walls with an awning that is extended above as the evening draws on. The garden is also ideal for smokers who don’t want to have to feel like they’ve been kicked into the middle of nowhere in order to indulge. The combination of the small but cosy inside, and the secluded and unique outside, means that the whole of The Rose and Crown has a refreshingly individual character, exactly the break from the commercialisation of pubs that I have been looking for. This pub has stayed true to its ways over the last one hundred and fifty years, and the character it now has takes some beating in Oxford.
The range and quality of the beer however does not quite match that of the atmosphere. With three cask beers permanently on, and another on rotation, the quantity is good for the size of the pub, but it still cannot compete with the best in Oxford. Despite this, the pints we had were well kept, and there is an extensive range of malt whisky behind the bar. Beyond the ale, the bar was well stocked, with European bottled beers and a small but carefully considered cider range (including Westons on tap). The big problem comes with the price to pay for having such a character filled pub; the pints are very expensive. At £3.90 for the Old Hooky, it is one of the most expensive pubs in Oxford to drink at. This is in seeming discrepancy to the food menu, which whilst offering generally uninspiring pub grub, does at least do so for a reasonable price.
These points do therefore take away from The Rose and Crown, which otherwise would be the sort of place that I would frequent all too regularly. It is a refreshing and intriguing place, one that any classic pub lover should go to, but with the understanding that it will cost them for its independence. Ultimately though, if this is the price to pay to avoid drinking in chain pubs, then so be it.
PHOTO/The Rose and Crown