Monday, 28 January 2008
By the Time We Got to Woodstock...
The mechanics of a successful pub must be the subject of great study in Britain: where to situate the pub, how to decorate it, what beer to serve, what food, what pub games and theme nights to offer. The exact combination of these factors combine to create a place people want to spend their time and their money.
Pubologists would do well to study the Woodstock Arms in Oxford--and then do the exact opposite. I haven't done enough research to determine what is the Sorriest Pub in Oxford but the Woodstock Arms certainly deserves a shot at the title. Or it would have, if it hadn't closed last week. I was walking the dog one morning and a lorry was parked outside. The pub's furniture was being loaded inside of it. The Woodstock Arms is shut tight now, though one blackboard sign leaning against a tree across the street, announcing 2-pound drinks for all of January (a good deal, if a desperate one), was somehow left behind.
The Woodstock Arms is right around the corner from our house but I've only been there twice--three times if you count the time I stopped by on a Saturday night around 10 p.m. a few months ago to find the place locked up tight. The times I was there it was like a funeral inside, but without the laughs. Where was the bonhomie?
The day after the Woodstock Arms closed I saw a headline in the Oxford Mail: "Celeb Chef Jamie Buys Local Pub." My heart leapt! Perhaps in a few months' time my local would be a gastropub operated by Jamie Oliver. But no, Oliver's opening an Italian restaurant in the city centre.
I have been to some lovely pubs. The Trout just outside Oxford is worth a walk, though I hear it's impenetrable in tourist season. The Turf is supposedly where Bill Clinton didn't inhale. The Bear is a quintessential pub: tiny, ancient (13th century, some claim), warm and cozy. The Rose and Crown has become the unofficial watering hole of the Reuters Fellows. The Argentine Fellow Abel is trying to be adopted by the landlady. Barring that, I think he wants to be reincarnated as a beer mat, so he can spend eternity in the Rose and Crown, gazing up at the amber liquid of his dreams.
The Woodstock Arms failed, I'm told, because the population of Summertown is too old. Plus, it's on a busy road, on the other side of the town from the main shopping strip that supports a more popular pub, the Dew Drop Inn. And, of course, it had no atmosphere. Whatever magical combination of attributes that a pub needs the thrive, the Woodstock Arms didn't have it.
What do you think makes a good pub?