Food & Drink

An insider’s guide to the best cocktail bars in Oxford

The Best Cocktail Bars in Oxford

As you'll expect of a city with two universities, the nightlife in Oxford bustles with energy. But the vibrant nightlife in Oxford isn't, in any way, dominated by student's joints, there's a good selection of trendy cocktail bars and cosy watering holes that are not at all a part of the establishment.

One of the first places that comes to mind is Raoul’s Bar and Liquor Store in Jericho, and it's easy to see why. This cosy lounge bar boasts one of the largest selection of liquors in the country and has been nominated for ‘best UK bar’ awards in recent years. A cocktail from Oxford's oldest cocktail bar won’t leave much change from a tenner, but then the classics are flawless, and the contemporary mixes will leave cocktail connoisseurs delighted. Head to Walton Street before midnight on Sundays to Tuesdays (1:00 am on Wednesdays to Saturdays) to see what all the fuss is about.

Raoul's Bar & Liquor Store, Oxford
Raoul's Bar & Liquor Store, Oxford

Just around the corner from Raoul's in Little Clarendon Street is another fine Oxford establishment - The Duke of Cambridge - which has been mixing great drinks in Oxford since 1981. It's as popular as ever, thanks in large part to its daily 'happy hour', or rather, 'happy hours'. During the week, you could be sipping a cocktail for less than a fiver from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm, or between 4:00 pm and 7.30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. The bar does remain opens long after happy hours - midnight on Sunday to Wednesday and 1:00 am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, to be precise.

The Duke of Cambridge Bar in Jericho, Oxford
The Duke of Cambridge in Jericho, Oxford

Head into the city centre, and on the High Street is The Varsity Club - an equally refined establishment. Split over four levels, with a roof terrace that gives excellent views of Oxford’s dreaming spires, The Varsity Club is the perfect place to share Pimm’s or Prosecco with friends. And Oxford's original roof terrace does come with its own bar, where you're served on a first come first served basis - so there's no need to book. Extensive awnings, gas burners and magically heated seats will keep you warm and dry in all but the worst of the weather. 3rd floor serves coffee, cocktails and classic food dishes. If you can, be sure to stop by the Moroccan inspired lounge on the 3rd floor. It's a relaxed and intimate space that becomes livelier as the evening progresses.

The Varsity Club Oxford
Rooftop terrace at The Varsity Club, Oxford

Sandy’s Piano & Wine Bar, just around the corner on King Edward Street, is a rather more intimate affair. Manager George and his bar staff know their stuff and are on hand to make sure the drinks keep flowing until midnight on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 1:00 am on Wednesdays, 2:00 am on Thursdays, and 3:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays. Whether from a resident pianist or a visiting jazz band, there’s fabulous live music every night which will leave you wondering why they let people in for free. If you’re looking for a romantic evening in Oxford, trust us, this is the place.

Sandy’s Piano & Wine Bar
Sandy’s Piano & Wine Bar

Nestled amongst the group of restaurants above the Westgate shopping centre - with views of the spires of Oxford - is The Alchemist, a modern bar and restaurant that offers some seriously original cocktails, howbeit served with a twist on chemistry and theatre. Behind the smoke and mirror acts are talented bartenders trained in classic drinks-making techniques, who create every cocktail with an obsessive eye for detail, orchestrated to add a devilish dash of theatre. Be quick to make up a reason to go and treat yourself. Your first visit definitely won't be the last. The Alchemist is open well after the shops have closed; until midnight during the week, and an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Alchemist Oxford - Bar and Restaurant
The Alchemist Oxford - Bar and Restaurant

Leaving the city centre and heading east, down Cowley Road, not far from Magdalen Bridge, is Kazbar, a Spanish Moroccan tapas restaurant with North African souk inspired decor - think lanterns, kilims and mosaic tables - that's just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. If you're looking for delicious cocktails, you're in for a treat. The fig and vanilla daiquiri is amazing (fruity but not sickeningly sweet), and so is every cocktail on the concise cocktail menu. When the doors and windows are flung wide open, it's a lovely corner of Oxford where you can lay back and watch the world go by until midnight on most days.

Kazbar Tapas Bar and Restaurant in Cowley Road, Oxford
Kazbar Tapas Bar and Restaurant in Cowley Road, Oxford