The Varsity Club in Oxford’s High Street is a bit of a secret, hidden gem. One that I’m not entirely sure I want to share, as I quite like the fact that I can go there and be guaranteed some comfy seating and cocktails served in the ubiquitous jamjars without having to sharpen my elbows to get to the bar. Unfortunately, they’re about to do something that will turn it into one of the must-go places in Oxford and my elbows will regain usual pointiness…
Before I give away too many secrets of the preview, The Varsity Club Oxford can be found tucked away down the first alley into the Covered Market and up a flight of stairs. It was recently known as Xscape, a slightly sketchy nightclub that always seemed to have scantily clad ladies or muscle boys in skin tight t-shirts outside entreating people in with offers of cheap drinks. Oddly, I was never entreated in, so can’t pass comment on what it was like inside! I do however, remember it as Hemingways Bistro and Bar many years earlier and remember serving drinks to the cast and crew of Shadowlands as they were filming. Years before that, it was Burlington Bertie’s – home of the best chocolate milkshake in Oxford!
But now it’s The Varsity Club. Up that first flight of stairs into a big open space with exposed brickwork, metal light pendants and a warehouse feel with a quintessentially English twist. Bookcases stand next to pixellated images of celebs such as Amy Winehouse, Margaret Thatcher, David Beckham and Russell Brand. Union Jack chairs are gathered around sheet copper tables, sofas and cushions offer a welcoming seat from where to sip your lunchtime coffee or after work cocktail. Coffee is supplied by local roastery Ue Coffee and bars of chocolate from Chicken Shed provide artisan, sugar free chocolate with unusual flavours. Cocktails (I can vouch for these!) are good, particularly The Dragon, Havana club, mint, tangerine sweetened with vanilla liqueur and topped with apple juice. I’m not so sure about the Love It Or Hate It drink, which comes with a dollop of Marmite but I suspect I’ll end up trying one!
Up onto the second floor where there is another cocktail bar, more seating but with the addition of a DJ booth and dance floor. All the floors can be hired out for private events, either separately or together.
Third floor is laid out as more of a meeting room but is also an adaptable space for however you want to use it. And then, up to that must-go part that I mentioned earlier – a new rooftop bar! When I visited, I was told to use my imagination as to how it would look once completed, but I really didn’t need to. Having such different perspective of Oxford from that height is fabulous – you get to see and notice things you really don’t spot from ground level. I spent a good twenty minutes oohing and aahing and oh, that bit must be… up there! Sit up there this summer, enjoy a cocktail or three and nibble on their soon to be launched tapas menu.
Oh, and the really good thing? You can reserve a table inside the Cocktail Lounge (the rooftop bar is on a ‘first come, first served’ basis)! So if you’re popping in on your way home and fancy a few drinks with colleagues, book. If you’re out with friends, book. Fingers crossed for a glorious summer!