Very few people that actually live in Oxford will be unaware of this place - it sorts of squats broodingly on the corner of Holywell Street, with the crowds thronging the pavement benches either side of the main door. When I was a student I spent far too much time in the place (I'm sure between us we must have paid the landlord's wages several times over), but then, after graduation, it rather fell back down the list of priorities.
Back in the late 2000s, I suppose what it did well was to jam in as many students as possible and fleece them very effectively. It was also the pub most tolerant in the city centre to the blowing of hunting horns, throwing of paper aeroplanes, and the general cavorting of the Oxford student at his most obnoxious.
The other day I went in there and discovered that it has had something of a refit - the worst of the wall stains have gone, and the mirror over the fireplace in the office has finally been replaced, getting on for 10 years after the Bullingdon managed to break it. But the refurb has been pretty tastefully done (to the usual pub-refit-by-numbers template), all slate coloured wall paint and exposed brickwork behind the bar. I must admit that when I heard the builders were coming in a couple of weeks ago I was most worried about the future of the back bar and office but, apart from the removal of several layers of grime, and the collected tobacco residue of a couple of centuries from the ceiling, it's actually emerged relatively unscathed as a cleaner brighter version of its old self. Worth a look.
The beer is Young's, so it's about as good as can be expected. Tribute remains on as a permanent guest (which it has been since I started going in there in 2006) which is good as there's only so much Special you would want to drink in your life. The menu is much smaller than it used to be, but seems to be a bit tighter. Although no stranger to the tourist dollar the kitchen seems to have raised its sights a little higher than the bowls of chili which were the staple in former years. I had a pretty decent venison and chestnut suet pudding, which actually appeared to contain some meat and wasn't quite the level of ping food I'd been expecting.
There's a wave of gentrification sweeping through Oxford's pubs at the moment. The Goose at Gloucester Green, which used to be an utter dive, has been reincarnated as the much more upmarket Red Lion, the Gloucester Arms as the White Rabbit is doing excellent food, and the regenerated St Aldates Tavern is a small-plate revelation. The knock on from this is that some of the more established pubs (whether gastro or drinker) are really having to raise their game, and it looks like Youngs are at long last getting wise to it.
The KA is what it is, it's just now a much better version of what it is. I don't think I'll leave it another couple of years before I go again.