The Turf Tavern: A Hidden and Historic Oxford Pub

If you are looking for a pub with a rich history, a cozy atmosphere, and a great selection of drinks and food, you might want to visit the Turf Tavern in Oxford. This pub is not easy to find, but once you do, you will be rewarded with a charming experience that will make you feel like you have stepped back in time.

How to Find the Turf Tavern

The Turf Tavern is located at the end of a narrow winding alley, St Helens Passage (originally Hell’s passage), between Holywell Street and New College Lane, near the Bridge of Sighs. Running along one side of the pub is one of the remaining sections of the old city wall. Due to the illegal activities of many of its original patrons, the Turf sprang up in an area just outside the city wall in order to escape the jurisdiction of the governing bodies of the local colleges.

The entrance to St Helens Passage is marked by a small sign that says “The Turf Tavern”. You can also enter Bath Place, a cobbled pedestrian lane, off Holywell Street. Either way, you will have to walk through a series of small rooms and corridors before you reach the main bar area. The pub is surrounded on three sides by delightful patio courtyard beer gardens, where you can enjoy your drinks and food in the open air.

The History of the Turf Tavern

The Turf Tavern is not Oxford’s oldest pub, but its foundations and use as a malt house and drinking tavern date back to 1381. The low-beamed front bar area was put in place sometime in the 17th century. It was originally called the Spotted Cow but the name was changed in 1842, likely as part of an effort to extinguish its reputation as a venue for illegal gambling activities.

The pub is frequented primarily by university students (of both Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University). It has also been visited by many famous public figures, such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Blair, CS Lewis, Stephen Hawking and Margaret Thatcher. It is also where future Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke set a Guinness World Record for consuming a yard glass of ale in 11 seconds in 1954. The Turf Tavern also claims to be the location where future American president Bill Clinton, while a student at University College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, famously smoked “but did not inhale” marijuana .

The Turf Tavern was also featured in the ITV TV Series Inspector Morse aired between 1987 and 2000.

What to Expect at the Turf Tavern

The Turf Tavern is a Greene King pub, which means it offers a range of beers from this brewery, such as IPA, Abbot Ale, Old Speckled Hen and Belhaven Best. It also has a selection of wines, spirits, cocktails and soft drinks. The pub serves delicious pub food with family and friends, free WiFi, gins, ales, cocktails and vegan, vegetarian and non-gluten options. You can choose from traditional dishes like fish and chips, burgers, pies and roasts, or try some of their more adventurous options like short rib pizza, dill pickle pizza or prime rib poutine.

The pub has a friendly and welcoming staff who are happy to help you with your orders and queries. The atmosphere is lively and cozy, with low ceilings, wooden beams, fireplaces and quirky decorations. The pub is also dog-friendly, so you can bring your furry friends along.

The Turf Tavern is open every day from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm. You can book your visit online or by phone. The pub can also host private events and parties for up to 100 people.


The Turf Tavern is a hidden gem in Oxford that offers a unique and historic pub experience. Whether you are looking for a place to relax with a drink, enjoy a meal with your friends or family, or learn more about the history and culture of Oxford, you will find something to suit your taste at the Turf Tavern. Don’t miss this opportunity to visit one of Oxford’s most charming pubs.

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