“North Parade has been described as one of the most interesting little streets in Oxford.” In actual fact this street just behind St Antony’s is so much better than this tepid little line on Wikipedia gives credit. North Parade is the reason that six days out of every week I stay within yards of College. The reason is simple; it has everything one could possibly need and is almost inconveniently convenient. There are hangout sites for teetotallers and those who enjoy a tipple. Places to grab stuff while you’re on the hoof and venues for more of a sit down dinner. There’s a last minute’s worth of shopping at a couple of convenience stores (slightly closer to us on the Winchester Rd side of College than East-West Provisions) and specialty produce shops. All this crammed onto aprox. 136.27 metres of virtually pedestrian road (though do watch out for the occasional car).
If you have not been to Brew by the end of your stay at St Antony’ you have failed as an Antonian. In the mornings it is quiet and subdued, students rushing through their next lecture’s readings over a much needed cup of coffee. Throughout the day it is welcoming and cosy. The staff are always really nice, dividing their time between making a mean cup of coffee and leaping to the storefront to provide a non-stop stream of classic tunes chosen from a stockpile of vinyl records.
Then there’s Chez Gaston Creperie. I love finding an excuse to take people to this place. Go for the crepes, but the pasta is so great too. Keep in mind that it may take a while to get your order, because this is actual real food. There is a man making you a crepe from scratch in the kitchen round the back, not squeezing it out of an eight year old airtight packet with “microwavable” labelled on in it.
The Rose and Crown is everything you could hope a pub to be. It has good ale, snacks and food, and a great atmosphere. It holds claim to being the oldest pub in North Oxford (for whatever that’s worth), founded in 1863 (newish by Oxford standards). If you’re lucky you might catch a party of Gilbert and Sullivan singers jamming on the piano, and if you’re even luckier (and have a couple of quid on you) you might manage to get your hands on the pubs outstanding spiced pretzel bits.
Finally, a confession. I am notoriously the worst person to eat cheese around. I am a picky, pernicious pedant when it comes to it. It is not my fault; I spent last year splitting my time between cheese making and cheese mongering. The result is me being unable to abide certain friends of mine who insist squelching out a glob on Tesco Value ‘mozzarella style’ “cheese” on their salad. Hence, the existence of 2 North Parade Produce has proved to be a lifesaver. They not only sell the best cheeses this side of Oxford, but also have a selection baked goods, booze and veg. This would explains why certain shopping lists of mine contain simply the words: Stichelton, brownie, parsnip.
If for some reason you decided to only go to North Parade once in your life, then make sure it is during the Street Market. It happens every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month from 10am to 2pm. It is everything I’ve described above times three and outside in the ever-fairy-light-spangled street. It’s a recipe for fun, and most probably, overspending on really worthwhile local produce.
Bonus Feature! If you’re feeling exceptionally adventurous then have a jaunt (10 minute cycle) over to North Parade’s sister street, South Parade which, as logic would have it, is directly north on the Woodstock Road. The South Parade is home to many a quirky and exciting venue, not least of which is the Wine Café, home of all types of booze including but not limited to specialty wine (duh), beer, and assorted spirits. It manages to pull off a cosy feel for such a spacious place. Oh, and did I mention it has live jazz on Sundays?
But, I digress. Point is; medieval Oxford isn’t the only Oxford. St Antony’s is not teetering at the forgotten edge of a flat universe. There is much to see in the streets neighbouring us and even further afield. The North Parade is so close I not only encourage people to check it out, I’ve also tasked myself with at least visiting every establishment on it. So before you trudge down to the old town, remember, equally titillating stuff lies just a stone’s throw away.
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