The Parakeet flies into Kentish Town
The Parakeet flies into Kentish Town
1. Rejoice! NW5’s Oxford Tavern is reopening
This handsome Victorian pub at the heart of Kentish Town Road suffered prolonged closures through the Covid lockdowns, but has been thoroughly reimagined for 2023 as The Parakeet by locals Steve Ball and Riz Shaikh. They’re the guys behind a fair few other successful venues that have had quality makeovers, too, including Camden Town’s Blues Kitchen and Jazz Café.
2. The food is going to be a big deal
For this new venture, they’ve only gone and teamed up with a couple of chefs formerly of Shoreditch’s Michelin-starred BRAT, ensuring there’s quite a buzz about this new 60-cover dining destination arriving in the neighbourhood. Ben Allen and sous chef Ed Jennings promise to deliver things like poached oysters with pickled elderflowers; braised leeks with pecorino and smoked mushrooms; and wood-roasted rabbit with kohlrabi and curry leaves.
3. It’s going to be a proper local too, though
Rest assured, while the smart new gold leaf signage that went up the other day hints towards the ambition for some fairly serious eating tasking place in the former billiard rooms at the back, a whole section of the huge ground floor bar room will remain separate from this, and continue to be used as a more traditional boozer. It’ll have a focus on decent beers on tap and a few tasty bar snacks, offering a warm and welcoming space on the high street for locals to hang out in throughout the day.
4. The new name is for the birds
The pub’s moniker nods towards the famous bright green, loudly squawking tropical birds that now number in tens of thousands across the capital, with a particularly big presence (is that a flock? A company? A pandemonium?) spread across nearby Hampstead Heath. London lore has it that perhaps Jimi Hendrix released the very first one, or that some escaped from the location movie set of Katherine Hepburn’s African Queen, or even that Highgate resident the late George Michael might inadvertently have been responsible. Which is all fun nonsense, but however it happened, the birds are now very much a part of the local community.
5. The new name is causing trouble
Esteemed local historian Gillian Tindall recently wrote a mildly stinking letter to the Camden New Journal bemoaning the change of the pub’s name from The Oxford (which in fact was its previous name but one, as it only later reinstated the ‘Tavern’, but we’re not pub pedants, honest). Her reason for objecting to the change was the immediate area’s historic ownership by Oxford’s oldest college, and having a pub on this site referencing that since at least the 1771 census (although the current building was also known for many years in the early 1900s at the Oxford Vaults)
6. But wait, it’s been named after birds before!
Ah yes, the heady days when the pub was known as The Vulture’s Perch. We remember hurrying past here in the 80s and 90s, when closing time often included a brawl spilling out into the street. It was certainly a lively local, and much loved. Rumour has it that none other than global tycoon Richard Branson took over for a time, with a view to launching a chain of Virgin pubs, but he never fulfilled that particular hubristic ambition.
7. It’s also been called The Jorene Celeste
She was a popular fashion model back in the 1930s, so when her grandchildren took over running the pub in the early 2000s they decided to name the place after her. Randomly enough, for some years during this period it was the known meet-up location for LondonFurs – yes, the people who have a thing about dressing up in cute, furry animal costumes.
8. It even had a dad name
In 2021, the pub’s previous owners, West Berkshire Brewery, ran a nationwide Father’s Day campaign to nominate one special bloke to have the pub renamed after him for a day. The promotion, which made national news, saw all the signage changed to The Levins Arms, in honour of 65-year-old David Levins, whose face even featured on the swinging sign out front.
9. Regardless of what it’s called, it marks the entrance to a historic estate
Tindall’s letter does remind us that the pub sits on the boundary of the former Christ Church estate, fields that made up part of the larger Manor of Cantalowes since 1547. Camden History Society tell us that in 1689, a property where the pub now stands boasted a barn, a garden and orchard, plus a conigree – otherwise known as a rabbit warren. In that year the land was sold to the ancient Oxford college, who owned it until the 1950s.
10. The upstairs room will be a jazz hotspot once more
Jazz at the Oxford has a reputation on Camden’s music circuit for offering a rare intimate space in which to enjoy world class musicians playing up close and personal. When the pub suddenly closed last year – right in the midst of their programme of events as part of the London Jazz Festival, no less – the passionate volunteers who run the weekly events had to find an alternative venue in a hurry. Thankfully the Assembly House, a stone’s throw up Kentish Town Rd, stepped in (you’ll find the gigs on there until April). A triumphant return to their beloved room will take place this spring, and with the new owner’s connections to the Jazz Café, we could see The Parakeet thrilling live music fans as much as the foodies…
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