When the Duke of Wellington exclaimed “Being born in a stable does not make one a horse”, I doubt he had Wetherspoons in mind. In fact his unwarranted shame at an Irish origin was the exact reference, and a highly offensive one at that. Yet, beyond these hibernophobic remarks, a message stands clear. Why is it that those who frequent an establishment feel a shame at what it may define them as? I have never thought of myself as a horse (so far, at least) yet have an unashamed appreciation of my stable. This stable is, of course, the Four Candles, and unlike Jesus’, there is always room at the inn.
Moving past this literary horseplay, It seems sensible to start with the inevitable complaints. We all know them; the classic “It reeks of sick”, the more understandable “It’s too crowded”, and even the seductive arrogance of “it is full of terrible flirts”. Now, despite this sounding like a standard STEM lecture theatre, all seem fairly legitimate. There is nothing more disgusting than the glistening gag of someone’s hall dinner ending up in the loos, and its scent curling through the building. So too is it infamously crowded, second only in population density to Atik’s “cheese floor”. As for the terrible flirts, I would strenuously deny their existence, although perhaps this is more a reflection on my conversational standards than anything else. But, all this misses the point. It is not that Wetherspoons seeks to be classy, nor free from these criticisms. Instead, it centres around three key principles that need to understood – people, place and price.
Let us start with the people. The bouncers are the first you meet, and never disappoint. In my many visits, I have been graced with the ever-original “cute photo mate”, the slightly more inventive “that’s a shit haircut”, and my personal favourite, “well if you can’t even pull those doors you got no chance of pulling full stop”. The chat is top tier, even if their emotional charm isn’t. But once past the gates, you can find almost everyone you have ever met in your Oxford experience. From sports teams to subject classes, postgrads to priests, they will be all found in Oxford’s ironically alcoholic Mecca. I can certainly attest; many of those I was first introduced to in Spoons remain dear friends, and ones I am continually grateful for.
The Four Candles may have been the best thing to happen to Oxford’s social life since the admittance of women
This begs a further question- why go? Well, place is the next component worth considering. As any curious clubber will know, it lies on the perfect route towards the centre of Oxford nightlife, Atik and Bridge. The folding warmth of its doors becomes merely a convenient means to the greater end of Bridge thursday. The braised blue carpets, sweat-sticking tables and famously fake paintings make it a suitably rogue environment for the antics of an Oxford night out. So too is its layout secretly conducive to socialising; the potentially dangerous inclusion of a mezzanine makes for a perfect escape from the flurry of downstairs. Hence why once you have secured your table, you can effortlessly mingle between awkward acquaintances and future friends, as you fight your way to the bar for that much needed pint.
One cannot of course ignore the budgetary element. Whilst the Four Candles may have been the best thing to happen to Oxford’s social life since the admittance of women, it can, for repeat offenders, still pose a dangerous threat to one’s bank balance. Yet, whereas other pubs are serving the war crime that is £6 for a pint, the £1.79 Greene King IPA is the Four Candles’ saving grace. You simply can’t beat it on price, and this is where Spoons effortlessly wins. It is, after all, the main attraction – on a limited student budget, financial discipline is a must.
This was what first drew me to convert. Having been London raised, I was no stranger to excessive pint prices. There are of course Wetherspoons’ in London, although most are raucously rogue with local eccentrics, and can be deceivingly expensive. It was rather that the Four Candles had the respectable sociability of an ordinary pub, given its centrality to the Oxford night out, whilst being suitably cheap. At this point, I do seem to fall into the very establishment pose I have sought to dismantle, although as I must note, I am only now a convert, and so can merely help but relent at my past. So too can I not profess to it being an easy ride; from an allergic reaction after downing a pitcher, to the glaring distrust of the validity of my ID by the bouncers, it’s certainly been an experience, yet there seems nowhere I’d rather end up on a night out.
In short, it is, to continue my alcoholic tirade, the “perfect cocktail” of price, people and place. It seems instead a societal snobbishness that relents at supposedly uncivilised drinking (with the very standards of what constitutes civilised very much up for debate), that puts people off. In simple terms, no one is above Spoons. Of course, there is certainly more on this journey; the alcoholic didacticism of a “Spoons night” is ever enthralling, and so perhaps my dreams of an all day visit may be fulfilled. So too may my very ramblings seem like proof of a productive visit, although whilst I lament my literary sobriety, I must contend it would have added an artistic flair. Yet, it is in this I can conclude two things. First, I am not ashamed of my stable. Second, I might as well be a horse.
Image Description: The front of the Four Candles Wetherspoons.
Image Credit: Milo Dennison