07 November 2009

The Turf

It's difficult to choose my favorites among Oxford's pubs, but The Turf Tavern ranks among them. Tucked away in the very heart of the University, walking down New College Lane, one can miss its entryway if one blinks the eyes. In fact, I stumbled upon it entirely by accident one day while I was exploring the twisting and ancient sidestreets and alleyways between New College and All Souls. If one is fortunate enough to find narrow St. Helen's Passage (formerly Hell Passage!) and peek down the way, one will see the familiar dark green sign with gold lettering welcoming the hungry (and thirsty) to sup.

The easiest way to find St. Helen's Passage is to look for the famous Bridge of Sighs (so named because of its similarity to the eponymously named bridge in Venice) linking the buildings of Hertford College, and which stands as an indeliberate marker for the spot.

Coming out from the brisk cold of an Oxford winter, you'll find a cozy, warmly lit, bustling interior, with low beamed ceilings and all manner of nooks and crannies in which to wedge oneself and one's chums, eating and drinking to each other's health. The beer garden in the back terrace, with its row of umbrella'd wooden benches and braziers, is another place to fill the stomach with fish and chips or bangers and mash while looking on the old city walls. Rumor has it a poor soul in the form of a grey lady wanders the terrace only to disappear into the stone ramparts...

Because it was once the site of illegal gambling, the public house was built just outside the walls to evade the colleges' legal jurisdiction. Having rehabilitated its image after a century or so (with the help of a name change--it was originally called the Spotted Cow, but renamed Turf Tavern to rid it of its unsavory associations), it once again became infamous, thanks to a certain United States president who allegedly "did not inhale" on its premises.

Inspector Morse's favorite pub, the Turf plays regular host to Rhodes Scholars along with other students from both Oxford and Oxford-Brookes (not to mention the odd tourist or two).

The Taps of Turf Tavern, boasting twelve real ales and draught cider

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