By Jack Marley-Payne
A visit to the college bar is halfway up the stepladder that joins sitting in your room with your balls out drinking a cup of soup from a pot noodle container to an actual establishment. It aspires to be the latter and thus includes a barman/woman and various bar utensils. Crucially, though, it is inhabited exclusively by members of its own college, so (as usual in the Oxford bubble) there is a fair gap between it and the real world.
With no outside influence, everything that is Oxford University is distilled within a college bar. Things happen there that couldn’t be found elsewhere, mainly because the townsfolk would react violently. Much mess is made as wacky drinking games are played, members of the rugby club make very loud noises and fairly niche, degree-related topics are discussed to the boredom of everyone else.
The college bar also enjoys a sort of symbolic status. The number of people who go in it and the amount they drink is often equated with the social capabilities of the college’s members: “I can’t believe how dead it is in here: the freshers are so boring” is sadly a common utterance. Such comments seem a little unfair – I’m sure a socially connected person would have things to do in different places without having to schedule a trip to their native venue too often. Still, it is a place where one can go if there are no other plans to hand, since there’s a high chance that people you know will be there to entertain you. It is after all quite comforting to have such a reliable source of amusement readily accessible..
On the other hand, it can soon lead to a stagnant nightlife. Going to the same place time after time can get quite depressing but nevertheless addictive. Unlike the Parkend clientele, most people know each other and are therefore unlikely to sleaze on or start a fight with you, for fear of later shame. But sometimes you need to go somewhere new to break out of a bad mood. Also, the bar really is an extension of the college and so is not able to create its own atmosphere, which is one of the best things about a normal pub. After a full day of work and other rubbish, one wants to escape Oxford during one’s eves.
Of course all this whinging is straight up hypocritical. I go to the college bar regularly and so do my friends and I probably enjoy myself more often than not. It would be tempting to draw some trite conclusion involving moderation, but I’m not so sure. I guess it’s an unavoidable part of my, and, odds on, your, life here, and we just have to accept the occasional mediocrity that it entails. After all, as the Cheers theme-tune states, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.