Oxford nightlife is a unique experience. While all the clubs in Oxford struggle to compete with the rest of the country, we have what we have, and my relative ratings of each are below. If chosen properly and approached in the right way, Oxford can definitely ensure you have a very fun night out.
1. Hanks Cocktail Bar, 10/10
Free entry most weekdays means this club takes the top spot. The banging reggaeton music makes up for the lack of lights and guarantees a good night of dancing. This is an attractive venue, with plenty of comfy seating, elegant ceiling lights, and friendly bouncers – make sure you bring your ID and you are good to go. Drink prices are eyewatering, but other than that you are guaranteed a good night. Slight disclaimer that this club does attract an older cohort of graduate students and the like, so some may think it odd, but this is no different from the weekends at Atik or Bridge when the locals descend in droves.
2. Atik, 9/10.
Perhaps the biggest club in central Oxford, Atik is one of my personal favourites. There is something for everyone here – the Cheese floor with its light-up dancefloor, the Curve room with rap, and the main floor with a variety of music genres. There are lots of sofas, a few bathrooms, and lots of bars. If you make the most of Broke Mondays, it’s a very affordable night – just be cautious on Park End Wednesdays and over the weekend. Atik loses a point for the long queue that forms outside it, and for the dismal smoking area, which is just a fenced-in area of pavement. A good attribute is their impressive security, with metal detectors and wallet searches which mean it should in theory be safer than clubs like Bridge or Plush, which lack these extra measures.
3. Bridge, 8.5/10
Bridge, whose clubbing experience I call “clubbing in a corridor”, has a certain charm even in and amongst the crowded dancefloors. Downstairs is a nightmare for any sober clubber, as the lack of personal space is enough to be unsettling. Upstairs has a more generous dancefloor area, and lots of seating. Added to this is the huge smoking area outside which is a standout feature of Bridge – its trellised walls and canvas roof mean this is an all-weather outdoor area and can be perfect for taking a break from the heat and intensity inside the club. A new bar has just opened outside too – what more could you want?
4. Bullingdon, 8/10
Renowned for its themed nights, the Bullingdon makes up for its average appearance with a healthy calendar of events that has something for everyone. From ‘Fluoresent Adolosecent’ to ‘Haute Mess’, this club really goes the extra mile to entice you into Cowley. Unlike Glamorous, the walk is well worth it. While drinks are pricey, the two rooms of the club offer variety: the packed dancefloor, though “pushy and shovey” as some have described it, has great vibes, while the other room offers a more relaxed social area with sofas. Just be prepared to have no personal space on those themed nights, and also to encounter many Brookes students – if for some weird reason that’s an issue for you.
5. OXO Bar, 7.5/10 (for pre-drinks)
Cheap cocktails and decent music. OXO isn’t a club, but it is a good warm-up stop for pre-drinks, and really has lots to offer. The seating and theming are rather boujee, and I approve of its proximity to the Four Candles, Atik and Bridge. A great location, and great prices, at least from Sunday to Thursday. The student deal includes cocktails for £2.50, a real bargain for Oxford prices. It might be difficult to find a table on some evenings, but not impossible.
6. O2 Academy, 7//10
Apart from the regular silent disco or a music gig, there really isn’t much reason you would end up at the O2 Academy on a night out because, quite simply, you can’t. However, this venue a notable mention as it offers to Oxford what no-other place does. A proper large-scale live music venue. It is located in Cowley but is definitely still walkable, and the generous selection of kebab vans along the way will help you on your walk back.
7. Plush, 5/10
While I should love Plush, I find it hard to enjoy. The club is located in the basement of the Oxford Union, and as a result is cramped and crowded. The dancefloor is tiny – genuinely really small – and on some nights it gets so hot that sweat gathers in droplets and drips from the ceiling. The vibe in this club changes drastically with the days of the week – from ‘Tuesgays’ and music to match, as well as events like ‘Drag and Disorderly’, to the weekends with a mix of people – think rugby lads.
8. Spirit, 5/10
I still haven’t worked out what this club is meant to be, other than that you can get to Bridge through it, and, in doing so, skip the Bridge queue. I am unsure if it counts as its own club, but with an entrance next to Atik, it is nearer to there than to Bridge.
9. Glamorous 2/10
Aside from the venue’s recent controversy, I don’t know how to describe this place. It is half-club, half-bar, with a basement floor open only on select days. The drinks aren’t too expensive, and the music isn’t too bad, but there’s nothing to justify walking into Cowley just to go to this club. It is free. But so it should be.
Thirst is my go-to club if the queue for Atik is too long and the winter night is feeling particularly cold. It has handy glass walls which allow you to assess the queue for Atik before you decide to brave it. Other than its warmth, Thirst is a no-go. Tiny, awkward and hardly warranting the title “club”.
Events at Freud are amazing if you manage to get tickets to one. Normally costing around £10 for entry, this venue offers you a black-tie fantasy for a fraction of the cost of a ball. String lights dangle from the spacious chapel room, while the old stained-glass windows are a subtle nod to its history. With live jazz bands and plenty of space, tables and facilities, there isn’t a reason not to love it. Don’t be put off by Freud’s appearance in the daytime – at night it is transformed to become my favourite venue in Oxford. If your ticket includes a free drink, be very grateful; the drinks here are some of the strongest on offer in Oxford and make surprisingly good value.
Spoons is the only place other than college bars that is affordable on a student’s budget. Whether to visit the Four Candles or the Swan and Castle is always the question. Indeed, you may find yourself moving between the two in your search for a table. Personally, The Four Candles has an aura of grandiosity, which can be charming, but it normally remains packed and trying to get to the bar can be a challenge. The Swan and Castle is more modern and has music – apparently a normal thing, just not where I’m from – and this one has a more chilled atmosphere. However, with both being about the same distance from Atik and Bridge, there isn’t much between them as a pres spot.
3. The White Rabbit
They have reasonably priced pizza on demand and heated outdoor seats lit with pretty lights.
4. The Mad Hatter
Any Alice in Wonderland fan will adore this bar and its theme. Usually hosting live music events, they have a nice variety of custom cocktails and normal drinks. While it can be quite cramped, the atmosphere is worth it.
Image Credit: Arvind Shakya via Pexels.
Correction: Changed the wrongful attribution of ‘Drag and Disorderly’ from the Bullingdon to Plush where the event is actually held (4th November 2022).