Guy de Maupassant used to have lunch on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower because it was the only place in Paris where he didn’t actually have to look at the Eiffel Tower. Although Maupassant and I disagree on our opinions on the iconic tourist spot, I can most definitely relate to what he’s saying. St Hilda’s College itself looks a lot like a cross between a ‘60s cruise ship’s cabin and a set from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Even the fact that I am on the river side cannot make up for some very bad architectural planning.
So I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the Hilda’s bar is, mainly since I did not have to look at the rest of Hilda’s anymore– a major advantage of this subterranean bar. The décor of the room is fairly minimal, but it retains a modern style, which makes practical sense. The space is well-designed to allow the majority of drinkers to stay in the main hall, but if you want a more intimate spot to chat, play pool or watch TV you can move into the little rooms at the back. It may feel a little like a rural community hall but that weird-guy-from-lectures-who-thinks-he’s-a-Marxist-revolutionary-despite-wearing-Ralph-Lauren is still here to remind that yes, you most definitely are in Oxford. In the main part of the bar there are a few tables and chairs, as well as leather bench seats on the sides of the bar, but most people seem to prefer standing which is actually a good idea, because, for a Tuesday night, it was fairly busy.
The bar is, I believe, one of the very few in Oxford that is student-run, and I kind of liked the well-chosen liquor selection behind the bar which was mostly still wrapped in Sainsbury’s plastic bags. The staff members were eager to please and good for chat but still professional despite being students themselves. The range of drinks is actually impressive for what is quite a small bar and the spirits they have are good quality- I didn’t feel like I was being ripped off at all. Also, as everyone always says, the prices are some of the best in Oxford and are significantly cheaper than those in some renovated “dive bar” in Cowley which your asshole friends who smoke cloves think is cool. It is, admittedly, a bit of a walk from the centre of town to Hilda’s, but if you live in Cowley I can see no real reason why you wouldn’t go for a cheap pint, a nice bar and friendly people.
If Thursday Night Bridge is your night then you probably aren’t going to come here and pay for a taxi but if you’re pre-drinking for the O2 then this is far better value than most of what Cowley has to offer. This bar easily rivals Balliol’s, and isn’t as crowded or claustrophobic. Just try to avoid looking at the rest of the buildings on your way out.