It can be difficult to distinguish truth from myth when it comes to discussing the Oxford Bar, but one aspect of its history, which is all-too-often ignored, is its significance as a watering-hole favoured by Scottish writers and artists, a tradition dating back to the 19th century, although it’s been drawn into the public eye more recently by the Ian Rankin ~ Inspector Rebus connection.
Prior to which, the pub’s literary fame resided with the late – and legendary – Willie Ross, whom many of the Scottish Renaissance writers were wont to visit when they felt that they were becoming something of a side-show for the literary voyeurs in the Abbotsford and Milne’s bars.
One of the best known of this group, Sydney Goodsir Smith (no mean drinker!), once found himself – on a hungover Saturday morning – badly in need of refreshment. Somewhat unsure of his immediate surroundings, he wandered into what looked like a bar and – reassured by its open brass fittings – ordered a large drink. The look on the bank teller’s face must’ve been worthy of note but Sydney told the story against himself for years afterwards. No doubt he would have approved of a local’s observation as The Ox being “the only pub I know with an emergency entrance”.
The Ox’s tradition of attracting writers and artists continues to the present-day (Ian Rankin included, who pops in now and again), along with the broad spectrum of customers who make the Oxford Bar what it is and always has been: a real pub for real people.