Oxford Night Life
Oxford is renowned for many things: erudition, grand architecture, literary greatness, to name a few. With all of this in mind, Oxford often comes across as rather…quaint. But you can’t have a city with more than 40,000 students without some uproarious nightlife. Please enjoy this brief tour of where to find a party in the City of Dreaming Spires.
ATIK / Park End
Despite having two names, ATIK / Park End are the same venue. The confusion over names is rooted in history and petty rivalry. The club’s official name is Atik, but once upon a time it was called Park End and is located on Park End Street. These days, students of the University of Oxford call it Park End, and students of Oxford Brookes University call it Atik. Rivalries aside, Atik / Park End boasts a 70s, 80s, and 90s room, a cocktail space, and a tiki bar. A solid choice for any night out.
There’s a club like it in every student town. Before I arrived in Oxford for my MSc, I was studying at University College London, where we had a similar experience called “Loop”. In Edinburhg, it’s “Hive”. And in Oxford, it’s Bridge. The music are bangers from ten years ago, the drinks are cheap, the floors are sticky. When someone suggests going to Bridge, you are obligated to groan loudly but secretly, you know you’re going to have more fun here than any other club in the city. Bridge has excellent themed nights and even if they can be a little cheesy, you’re sure to enjoy.
Hanks has a reputation for being the “postgrads” club. As far as I can tell, there is no particular reason for this other than everyone agrees it should be so. Conveniently located next to Carfax Tower on Queen Street, Hanks is a cocktail bar which becomes a club in the evening. Maybe it is because I arrived in Oxford as a post-graduate student, but I find it has a more relaxed energy, somewhat shielded from the nervous energy of an undergraduate Fresher’s week. This is not to say that post-grads can’t party, and a Friday night at Hanks is the perfect testament to this.
Though the name my draw an eye-roll from those familiar with the infamous secret drinking society, The Bullingdon holds its own for live music and a chilled atmosphere. Showcasing live music for more than 20 years, The Bullingdon is the perfect place to grab a cocktail, and see some of the best live performers Oxford has to offer.
The Varsity Club
The Varsity Club is where you go when you want to impress someone. Hidden in the rafters of the Covered Market, The rooftop bar of The Varsity Club offers perhaps the best view of Oxford’s skyline. As it’s in the centre of the city, you don’t get the traditionally framed view of the Dreaming Spires. Inside, you feel as though you are among them. An excellent place to bring a date, celebrate a big day, or just enjoy a night out in style, The Varsity Club is Oxford’s most stylish night-time venue. And don’t worry about getting too cold in the winter. The bench seats of the roof bar are heated!
The House has a commendable collection of cocktails and a central Oxford location. Like Hanks, it is a cocktail bar which opens a dance floor in the later hours of the evening. I would not recommend The House for a night of serious clubbing, but if you know in your heart that you are liable to a bit of a boogie after a drink or two, The House might be the perfect venue for you.
Formerly known as the Purple Turtle, Plush is Oxford’s only gay club. Tucked away on Frewin Court just off Cornmarket Street, Plush offers an excellent range of music including R&B, hip-hop, indie, and pop. The ambiance inside a stone Oxford basement is the final ingredient for an incredible night out.
There are some 20,000 students at Oxford University, split amongst 39 colleges. Many of these colleges have a bar and all of them have a common room in which an impromptu bar can be set up. Every so often, colleges open their doors and go all out, throwing big parties in these communal spaces: the infamous BOP. BOPs, (short for “Big Open Party(ies)”) are a staple of the Oxford student experience. BOPs will often be themed, and students encouraged to dress up. My own alma mater, St Catz, hosted a rather spectacular “under the sea” themed bop where several students had a crack at a mermaid costume.
The most notorious of Oxford’s bops (at least as a post-graduate) was Linacre’s Sexy Subfusc, where post-grads don their sub fusc (the academic robes of Oxford which put everyone in mind of Harry Potter) with subtle (or not so subtle) alterations to increase their allure. Tickets are known for being difficult to come by, so make sure you have a Linacre indsider to secure your place on the guest list!
Port Meadow is neither a club nor a bar nor a BOP, but it nevertheless deserves a mention on this list of Oxford’s night-time hotspots. Especially for the past two summers (which, for some reason, may not have featured quite the same extent of nightlife as in previous years), Port Meadow comes alive on warm summer nights. Every few meters you will find a circle of youths, picnic blankets forming a tentative shield against the sometimes boggy ground, cheap alcohol flowing freely, and the music from a dozen portable speakers blending into a chaotic symphony. It’s messy, it’s uncomfortable, and you’re likely to develop grass-stains on your jeans, but it makes better memories than any ten pubs you care to name.
- Adam Johnson, Catherine’s College Alumnus