Monday, July 25, 2011

Good news, bad news, good news, bad news...

My bar owner pal JK, who was recently fortunate enough to get a paid trip to the UK (chaperoning a party of Chinese schoolkids), kindly brought me back a copy of the latest edition of the CAMRA magazine, The Oxford Drinker - which, not surprisingly, brought on a swoon of nostalgia for me.

However, much of the news in it was rather sad: many of the pubs I recall from my undergraduate days in the city in the 1980s, or from my returning spells of working (or loafing) there through much of the 1990s, have now closed, or lost their original name and character. In the early 1990s, I lived for a couple of years in a flat on Walton Street, on the edge of the Jericho area of the city. Although this district was partly gentrified by the presence of the Oxford University Press on its southern flank, and by the progressive influx of student tenants over the years, it still largely retained its original character as a working-class neighbourhood, built in the 1800s to accommodate the workforce for the few factories strung along the canal that ran up its west side: thus, there was a very high concentration of pubs, one on almost every street corner, and a few still to be found in the middle of rows of terraced housing. Twenty or thirty years ago, these were some of the best pubs in Oxford, and it was a great locale to go pub-crawling in. How many of them still survive now, I wonder?

Well, one of the first headlines to catch my eye in this copy of The Drinker was about The Radcliffe Arms, one of those fondly remembered Jericho pubs. I learned that it had closed a year ago - boo! However, it's just been bought by Arkell's, a small family-run brewery in nearby Swindon, and is set to re-open shortly - hooray! Alas, it is to be renamed.... The Rickety Press - BOO!!! I disapprove rather violently of gimmicky names for pubs: the essential character of the British pub derives from antique tradition, the fact that these places have been in business for a hundred years or more with the same name. A good name, a traditional name for a bar is one of the key elements of Great Bar-ness - an element which the buffoons taking over the Radcliffe will ignore at their peril.

I'll probably give the place a look the next time I go back, just for curiosity's sake, but I am not sanguine about what I will find.

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