The Turf Tavern - Inspector Morse's Favorite Oxford Pub

Almost hidden - but insiders know where to find this traditional English pub

The Turf Tavern, Oxford
••• Outside the Turf Tavern, Oxford's famous hidden pub. Jim Linwood ccl

The Turf Tavern could be the hardest pub in Oxford to find but it's worth the effort.

People in search of an authentic and traditional English pub experience manage to keep The Turf Tavern buzzing despite it's almost secret location. Visit any day of the week and you'll find it full of university students, academics, local families and visitors from all over the world in search of Inspector Morse's favorite boozer.

Worth the Search

The fictional detective, created by Colin Dexter and featured on the long running British television series, was only one of this pub's famous customers. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were reputed to stop in while staying nearby. It's also alleged to be the place where, during his Oxford University days, Bill Clinton didn't inhale.

Turn down New College Lane, across from the Bodleian Library. Pass under Oxford's much photographed Bridge of Sighs and turn left into St. Helen's Passage, an alley so narrow you may not be able to spread both your arms. It used to be called Hell Passage. In Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited Charles says, "The Turf in Hell Passage knew us well."

The passage widens and narrows as it turns corners. About 150 yards along -- just as you think you are lost -- the tiny, 17th century Turf Tavern comes into view. Go straight ahead through a tiny, green door or follow meandering passages to the right and left into beer gardens.

The Turf isn't Oxford's oldest pub but parts of its foundations date from the 13th century. Inside, as with the best traditional English pubs, it is a warren of small, oddly shaped rooms, connected by narrow passages, small staircases and two small, busy bars.

To Drink

Despite being a managed pub ( meaning it is run by a brewing company), the managers - Greene King have maintained the character of a freehouse, offering a wide range of real ales and beers.Guest ales are kept on tap, with the selection changing daily.

Wine is available by the glass and bottle and champagne by the bottle.

Orange juice, soft drinks and coffee are dispensed with as much good cheer as alcoholic beverages.

To Eat

Main courses range from traditional English pub dishes like cumberland sausages and mash, beef and ale pie, and fish and chips, to burgers and salads. Sides include great triple cooked chips. Desserts are traditional and solidy English -- sticky toffee pudding, Eton Mess cheesecake, triple chocolate brownie. I like the dipping doughnuts with strawberry and apple dipping sauce.

Special Features

Wrapped by other buildings on all sides, the pub's three outdoor beer gardens are comfortable year round. Charcoal, in large braziers, keeps the beer gardens even cosier and customers are invited to toast marshmallows over them -- especially popular with kids.

Insider Tip

Don't miss the mulled red wine. It's a pub speciality in the winter.

The Verdict

It's a rare pub, nowadays, that manages to be crowded with locals yet cheerful and friendly to strangers at the same time. Take the trouble to find this wonderful, atmospheric pub.

Turf Tavern Essentials

  • The Turf Tavern
  • 4-5 Bath Place, Oxford OX1 3SU
  • Tel: +44 (0)1865 243 235
  • Website
  • Open: Every day 11am to 11pm
  • Food Served: Every day 11am to 9pm 
  • Prices Moderate