Whether it’s an intimate affair with your partner, after-work drinks with co-workers, or a big night out with friends, discover the best cocktail bars in Oxford with this insider’s guide from people who live, work, play and study in the city.
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 students’ joints. There’s a good selection of trendy cocktail bars and cosy watering holes that are not at all a part of the establishment.
The first place that comes to mind is Raoul’s 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 the ‘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 delight cocktail connoisseurs. Head to Walton Street before midnight on Sundays to Tuesdays (1.00am on Wednesdays to Saturdays) to see what all the fuss is about.
Editors update: Raoul’s is not quite ready to reopen its doors since it closed them for lockdown. We can only hope they’ll reopen in the not too distant future.
Also in Jericho is Freud Cafe Bar, located inside the majestic Saint Paul’s church on Walton Street. They’ve been serving legendary cocktails there since 1988, alongside delicious and freshly made soups, salads and sandwiches during the day.
With its hauntingly high ceilings and decadent stained glass windows, this old church in Oxford’s historic Jericho neighbourhood has become a favourite meeting place for friends, families and two generations of university students.
Around the corner on Little Clarendon Street is another fine Oxford establishment – Duke of Cambridge. They’ve been mixing great drinks in Oxford since 1981. And 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 4.00pm to 9.00pm (4.00pm and 7.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays). The bar does remain open long after happy hours. Midnight on Sunday to Wednesday and 1.00am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, to be precise.
In an increasingly busy world, The Oxford Wine Café is a small haven of quality in Jericho, where you can meet friends and enjoy the wines you want at a great price. Ok, so it’s a wine bar and not technically a cocktail bar. But so what?
They do love their wine. And there’s a large selection at great prices because they believe that wine should be fun and that everyone’s tastes are different. Tasting is a subjective experience, and they’re keen to introduce you to wines that suit you personally.
This small, independently-run bar, also in the Jericho area of Oxford, offers a comfortable atmosphere for a cocktail or two. The bar offers a range of unique cocktails you won’t find anywhere else, along with their twists on classics.
The menu includes vintage flavours that charmed taste buds from the 19th to the early 20th century through to modern classics that no good cocktail menu should be without. And the knowledgeable, professional bartenders are always on hand to create custom made cocktails for you.
Head into the city centre, and on the High Street is The Varsity Club – an equally fine 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.
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 3rd floor serves coffee, cocktails and classic food dishes.
Sandy’s, just around the corner on King Edward Street, is an altogether more intimate affair. The bar staff know their stuff and are on hand to make sure the drinks keep flowing – until midnight on Sundays to Thursdays and 3.00am 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.
Hank’s is a late-night bar in Oxford, born from a dream of delivering the good things in life. Great drinks, great food, great fun, late nights. As well as an extensive bar list and cocktails, Hank’s offers freshly made pizzas and sharing platters.
The recently renovated venue has a large bar area surrounded by intimate booths, plus a bookable upper room – making it an ideal place for a catch up be that with a friend or as a large get-together. It’s a popular venue for dancing and drinking, with a brilliant party atmosphere. Get there early to avoid the queues on busier nights.
Nestled amongst the group of restaurants above the Westgate shopping centre – with views of the dreaming 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.
The Alchemist is open well after the shops have closed – until 11.00pm during the week and an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays. Be quick to make up a reason to go and treat yourself. Your first visit definitely won’t be the last.
Over on the west side of the city centre is Thirst Bar, a friendly local late-night independent cocktail bar that has been on Park End Street since 1999. Split into four areas, the main bar has quite the selection of cocktails included in the famous Stupid Hour, and adjacent is the opulent chill-out lounge available for bookings.
Outside, there’s a large heated terrace with plenty of comfy seating that also has its own bar, plus it’s covered to deal with the British weather. Back inside, the dance floor regularly hosts DJ’s playing an eclectic mix of Dance, House, Pop, Indie, Hip Hop, Charts and R&B music, so get your dancing shoes on.
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.