There goes another sweaty Oxford day of reading a thousand books, writing a thousand essays, crying, and plotting your future political career. You deserve a break. You deserve to go out, have fun and laugh in the face of “please drink responsibly” warnings. After all, you’ve spent all day learning facts about magnetic resonance or ancient Roman syphilis: it’d be totally counter-productive to fill some of the much needed room left in your brain by remembering the following evening. It’s time to get to grips with Oxford clubland. Essentially Oxford night life can be divided into two categories. There are the big, mostly generic, regular student nights run by event companies Varsity or Shuffle: each involved club has its own designated night in which Oxford uni stumbles out to get tanked as Stalingrad and rub up against one another. These are mostly centred around the train station on either Parkend or Bridge Street. You’ll get a taste of them in Freshers’ Week. There are also the countless clubs, bars and venues dotted all over the city which you can attend on their alternative student nights, or if you’re feeling rebellious, on a night that is not exclusively for students at all! Because it’s easy to miss some of the good stuff going on you have been generously provided a list of most of Oxford’s clubs. Good luck.
Park End: When you were taught as a child that cows go “moo” sheep go “baa” and dogs go “woof” you may also have been told that Park End goes “Spleaughh!”. This club, arguably Oxford’s finest, is not so much a club as a venue that’s sufficiently loud and poorly lit to enable you to wander around blindly on drunk auto-pilot, pulling the various people you bump into before waking up fully clothed on the floor of your room the next morning. The club is the largest in central Oxford by quite a way. It contains a number of rooms, each of which specialises in a different genre of music. The ‘cheese floor’ is probably the most popular, followed closely by the sparkly R&B (and occasionally EDM) room. However, if the choice of having either Bon Jovi or Rihanna shouted into your ear by a gyrating rugby player feels a little constricting, I recommend the thoroughly underrated Reggaeton/dancehall room. The drinks are cheap and the place is located around the club-covered station area on the street that bears its name. There is occasionally a bit of a queue so make sure to get there a bit early if you think its going to be a big night. Whilst it is seldom referred to as anything else, the club’s title actually changed from Park End to Lava Ignite a couple of years back. It is unclear whether the name is actually beckoning the earth’s supply of molten rock to suddenly combust (“Lava, ignite!”) or whether the owners simply found the title’s two words next to ‘laser’ and ‘intercourse’ in their Oxford Big Book of Exciting Words. Either way it’s a stupid name and if you call it that you’ll probably be shunned from society and thrown into the wilderness, and you’ll deserve it too.
Bridge: This is the Bridge Street version of Park End – prices, drinks and atmosphere are almost identical. Unlike Park End it has two floors which each play the same mix of mostly generic club fodder. It is also fairly large. The upper dance floor is complete with a shiny, coloured, light wall thing, as well as a pole, just in case your afternoon tute has left you keen to try out any skills that might be useful if you drop out and become a stripper. Because its popularity outstrips its capacity, Bridge has a huge queuing problem. In fact if you do not arrive early on its designated Oxford student night, expect to be handed a numbered ticket and ferried into Anuba, a nearby bar/holding pen, until the number on your ticket finally appears on the bar’s TV screens and you can actually enter the club. Not only is this system immensely irritating but it means that the clientèle, trapped in Anuba with nothing to do but drink, tend to be exceptionally unsteady by the time they actually get into the club. I once saw a man in a suit projectile vomit into a corner and then saunter back to the dance floor as if nothing had happened. It was so smooth (the execution of the chunder, not its consistency) that it was frankly awe inspiring. If James Bond swapped martinis for vodka Red Bulls then it could well have been 007 himself.
Camera: Named after its ludicrously impractical circular layout, Camera has blown up in popularity since its inception two years ago. People load up on cheap drinks whilst decent DJs play a mixture of R&B and club classics that slowly transitions into fist pumping brostep as the night wears on. Unlike most other Oxford clubs Camera often suffers from overcrowding. The narrow, winding layout of its bagel-shaped upper floor can make it very difficult to navigate at peak times, and finding adequate space to execute your elaborate, arm-flailingly sophisticated dance moves, can sometimes prove tricky. It also has a reputation for being a bit posh, presumably a result of its unnecessarily large (and poorly guarded) VIP area. Emma Watson once reserved a table there and now everyone keeps going on about it. The result of this poshness is that you see an unusual number of people in black tie, which isn’t normally a problem unless, like myself, you can’t be around people in dinner jackets when blind drunk as you become convinced that you have somehow travelled back to Edwardian England and the entire population are pompous assholes. Nonetheless, if you can avoid days when it is likely to be more crowded (go on a Friday rather than a Tuesday) Camera is probably one of the better clubs in Oxford.
Wahoo: Sports bar by day, comedy venue/club by night, Wahoo is probably Oxford’s most popular Friday hangout. Another Bridge street regular, it shares student night prices with its Varsity/Shuffle comrades. I find the layout of the lower floor quite problematic. For some reason there is always a huge, impenetrable crowd trying to get to the bar which means the only space to dance is the narrow, raised area around the edge. The upstairs, by contrast is open plan and spacious though they seem to keep it really dark for some reason. This makes it extremely difficult to find people if you happen to wander off from the group or just turn around for a few seconds. The club has also has a very large smoking area out front so you can have fun mocking people in the Bridge queue which stretches up the road and round the corner.
Baby Love: Perhaps it is the name, perhaps it is the dungeon like layout, the regular gay nights, the popularity with Wadhamites, but for some reason Baby Love is where all the cool kids go when they want to party. Here’s where the Dalston massive meets Oxford. In fact, Baby Love’s biggest student night, ‘Supermarket’, has recently been exported to a club in Shoreditch. With its self-reinforcing hipstery reputation, Baby Love can be a nice break from the relentless cheese and crew-daters throwing up in your hair that can tarnish other Oxford student nights. The club serves a decent range of marginally overpriced cocktails and plays a slightly, but not very, eclectic mix of music. And, while it could just be the ketamine in everyone’s fashionable veins, the atmosphere tends to feel pretty good. The club does suffer from one serious drawback. Its underground dance floor has quite a limited amount of space and can easily get impregnatingly tight; In the summer you may be better off hanging out in the cooler ground level bar area lest you drown in the sweat dripping off of somebody’s ironic moustache.
Junction: Until fairly recently the London Underground themed Junction was the tiki-themed Kukui. Amusingly the contractors seem to have interpreted “change the décor from Hawaii to the tube” as “leave all the thatched roof and stalls and stuff and just paint a huge underground logo thing on one of the walls”. The result of this weird combination is that being inside is rather like tripping balls by the smoothie stand in Victoria station. As one of the station area clubs it shares similar student night drink and entry prices with its Park End and Bridge Street establishments. And, in-keeping with its Polynesian roots it still serves a handful of almost exclusively rum based cocktails. Whether it will survive in this new incarnation is yet to be determined, but if does shut down again who knows what bizarre combination of themes will emerge once it reopens: I’d pay good money to go to a Hawaiian-London underground-Space cowboy bar, wouldn’t you?
And the rest: Lola Lo is an underground tiki-themed club/bar on Magdelen street, it’s very well decorated and hosts one of the major student nights but I’m not giving it its own paragraph because it’s fairly small and uninteresting and I don’t like it. The Cellar is an underground music venue both literally and figuratively. It hosts live hip-hop nights, drum ‘n’ bass, and popular dubstep night Freerange every other Wednesday. This is somewhere for people who go out to actually enjoy music. It’s really brilliant. The Purple Turtle is an underground former wine cellar that belongs to the Oxford Union and is free to all of its members. The drinks are cheap and the music slightly old school. It attracts and odd crowd and the poor ventilation can turn it into a bit of a sauna. Situated way down the Cowley road the O2 Academy is much the same as the various others dotted around the country, hosting weekly indie pop night ‘Propaganda’ and regular live acts. Until this year it held famously debauched Brooks night ‘Fuzzy Ducks’, and though local pressure may have forced the tragic end of Fuzzies, whatever new musical orgy replaces it (Fluffy Cormorants? Furry Cocks?) will definitely be worth checking out. Rappongi, named after a district in Tokyo, is a totally not Japanese themed and and occupies a very tiny club/bar on George street that is normally almost empty. Entry is always free and it has good drinks promotions. It is a place to get really, really drunk and then jump around the empty dance floor like a mentalist. Would recommend. Thirst is a bar with a dance floor directly opposite Park End, it sells cheap fish-bowls and is actually pretty good. For whatever reason it tends to be almost exclusively filled with locals rather than students but if you’ve got a group together and want a change of scenery its worth popping in. Clem’s is an OK bar and a grimy club situated near Magdelen bridge, it’s not bad but not worth the considerable journey unless you live in Cowley or the Queen’s accommodation nearby. Carbon is a new-comer that was famously forced to abandon plans to have a live zebra at its May day party earlier this year. It does interesting electronic music and has a really cool, big interior. Definitely one to watch out for.
Monday – Varsity night @ Bridge
Tuesday – Varsity night @ Camera, Poptarts @ Baby Love (Oxford’s busiest gay night)
Wednesday – Shuffle night @ Park End, Varsity night @ Lola Lo, Brookes night @ The O2 (formerly Fuzzy Ducks)
Thursday – Varsity night @ Bridge, Shuffle night @ Junction, Supermarket @ Baby Love (odd weeks only)
Friday – Shuffle night @ Wahoo, Varsity night @ Camera
Saturday – Propaganda @ The O2, Varsity night @ No.9, Shuffle night @ Carbon
To read more insider guides to life as an Oxford Fresher, check out the guide online or look out for a copy in your college fresher’s pack!