Oakford Social Club, 53 Blagrave St, Reading RG1 1PZ.
Love it or hate it, Reading’s hipster hangout the Oakford Social Club is a one of a kind. An independent with real personality, it’s BLAH, BLAH, BLAH… Horse piss. Here’s another way of describing it: ‘It’s an eclectic urban pub’. Sound like corporate wankspeak copy and pasted from some company website? Well, that’s because it is. The Oakford is part of pub megachain Mitchell & Butlers’ ‘Castle’ range, you see. Their schtick? To look cool and edgy and, well, ‘independent’. It’s a gip, basically.
Don’t get us wrong, The OSC – as no one calls it – does have an identity. And it’s an infinitely better booze shout than your Be At Ones or your All Bar Ones. But let’s not trick ourselves into thinking it’s some sort of charming local indie outfit that deserves love and loyalty for the sake of it. It’s a just chain place, like everywhere else in this bloody town. It just plays The Maccabees.
That said, it’s just reopened after a refurb. Let’s see what’s it’s like now…
Location: Being opposite the station makes it a good shout as a meeting spot for train types. And being on Blagrave Street makes it a stone’s throw from Friar Street. And a more impressive stone’s throw from Broad Street. It depends how far you can throw a stone, really.
Service: Let’s cut to the effin’ chase, shall we and address the elephant in skinny jeans and hi-tops in the room… What’s the most polite way of putting this? ‘The service at the Oakford is FUCKING AWFUL’. Yeah, that’ll do.
Well, we say ‘is’. It definitely ‘was’. We’ll give the place the benefit of the doubt post-rejig. Only the waitress service was noticeably better. Bar-wise it was hard to say as it was opening night and free drinks vouchers turned the bar area into a bit of a free-for-all shitshow. But from what we saw, things might just have improved. It certainly seems more professionally run now than in times past.
Drink Selection: Bloody good. Fridges are well stocked and there are more draughts than you can shake a limited edition Bon Iver LP at.
Price: ‘king LONDON PRICES! Urgh, we can’t even moan about that anymore, can we? 330ml cans of wankybeer are just a fiver now. Drinkies aren’t cheap, but they’re no more expensive than elsewhere.
Staff: As we say, from what we’ve seen of late there seems to be a marked improvement. Staff now appear to understand that they’re at their place of work with duties to perform. As opposed to at a gig with mates or waiting to audition for ‘Surly Badly-Dressed Tosser #4’ in an episode of Holby City or something.
Food: The menu’s been scaled back and made even more casual. Burgers aren’t served on plates, they’re just wrapped up in paper. Like what places in London did six years ago. Chips come in over-sized dishes and nachos are served in a shoebox, along with smooshed-up hash browns (inexplicably referred to as ‘cash browns’ on the menu). Because that’s cool, presumably.
The grub we had was reasonably priced and tasty enough. The old menu was a little more exciting, but we’ve had some shocking waiting times in there before. This time – no delay at all.
Atmosphere: It’s a funny one, the Oakford. It can be heaving or dead. With no real rhyme or reason to it. Weekends obviously attract a larger crowd, but that’s no guarantee of it being busy. A post-work drinks crowd liven things up of a weekday, but only between 5pm and 8pm. Gigs and DJs can pep it up too.
Beer Garden/Smoking Area: There’s seating for smokers out the front, offering wonderful views of the sides of buses. And an area out back which has been given a bit of a scrub.
Toilets: THEY’VE DONE ‘EM UP! Often the facilities get left behind on a refurb because of how expensive they are to refit. But they’ve been sorted. They even smell nice.
Plus there’s a new chaise lounge in the ladies for those female patrons who, after going for a wee, like to recline like Middle Aged Deep South souses who smoke using cigarette holders and drunkenly come on to the help by intentionally moving their silk dressing gowns aside to expose a breast.
Sorry – we came over all Tennessee Williams there for a moment. What were we saying? Oh yes – they’ve tarted the bogs up.
Events: Free gigs from up-and-coming bands (many of whom have gone on to big things) are probably the jewel in the Oakford’s crown. Adele once played there, don’tcha know? Mind you, so did Macauley Culkin and his pizza-themed Velvet Underground covers band. So, y’know.
Check for listings.
Decor: It’s a bar that’s been refurbed in 2016. So, obviously, it’s all various different shades of this fucking colour:
Pub Games: No darts or pool or anything. We didn’t spot any board games, but you’d imagine it’s the sort of places that encourages ironic games of Boggle.
Seating: The big slouchy couches are gone, making it a little less welcoming, but there is more seating in there now. The booths at the back are still in place, mind.
Punterwatch: An uneasy mixture of tired recruitment consultants bundled in with student types. Pretty much a wall of this:
It’s worth poking your head in to see how it’s changed, but it’s not exactly a revolution. Most of you know what the Oakford’s all about anyway, don’t you? So this review was fairly pointless. We always get a pang of existential woe at the summary part. We just want to do the best by you. We hope we haven’t let you down.
See you later.