Taxi Noir: Going Back to Prison
I’m sure many of us are fantasising about re-visiting our favourite pubs, restaurants and hotels. I know I am; I can’t wait to get cracking. I’m particularly looking forward to an early visit to my favourite hotel, the Malmaison in Oxford. It was the last hotel I stayed in before the lockdown.
Malmaison specialise in converting historic buildings into hotels, and this is a cracker. The conversion from grim penitentiary to modern upmarket hotel is amazing. Many of the original features have been preserved: the landings still exist as recognisable prison landings – though the staircases are closed off by clear Perspex. There’s a nice grassy outdoor bar area where the exercise yard was. It’s generally a bright, modern, building; but with lots of dark, atmospheric little corners.
I’m not going to list prices – which are always subject to change – and I’m not going to say there are prices to suit all pockets. It’s an expensive hotel. I only visit when special deals are running. When I visited in March my wife and I took advantage of Malmaison’s Sunday Stopover deal. The deal is if you spend £75+ in their restaurant you get a double room at an advantageous rate: at Oxford it’s £45, but in many towns it’s £25 (we had a very nice stay at Malmaison in Birmingham for £25, though the building isn’t quite as impressive as Oxford Prison). There’s a choice of room-styles in the different parts of the prison. We normally take one of the cheaper rooms in the old House of Correction. We’ve always had a really nice room, though you can upgrade to a room converted from three cells. Along the cell-lined corridor along from the restaurant there’s a cell left as it was when the prison closed in 1996.
The basement restaurant is classy and atmospheric. I always have the steak as it’s cooked so beautifully. As we need to spend at least £75 we always have a bottle of wine and desserts. This means I can’t cane the beer in Oxford’s many great pubs, but the meal at the Malmaison is a fine evening in itself. It’s hard to keep any dinner bill below £75 in Oxford anyway. Most of the tourists have been bussed out by dinnertime, leaving the remaining hard-core visitors to enjoy the city like a local.
I haven’t the word-space to list the attractions of one of England’s greatest cities, but for me it’s about the academic ambiance, the riverside, and the pubs. The Inspector Morse connections add further interest: on a previous visit I bought an Inspector Morse guidebook and I’m still working through the list of pubs that were featured on the TV show (Morse tours are also available at a reasonable price). The prison was originally part of Oxford castle. You can and have a tour of the castle and walk up the steep grassy mound (fee payable).
The hotel is situated right in the city centre, close to the train station. City centre parking is very hard to find, but on-site car parking is available – at an exorbitant cost. I only attempted parking in Oxford once. I recommend the park & ride if you really have to drive. The park & ride sites are situated at various locations on the edge of the city, and there’s usually a smart modern bus waiting to whisk you into the city at a reasonable price. I buy a 24-hour ticket.
Oxford’s a great city to visit at any time of the year, and an overnight stay at the Malmaison is a unique experience. I normally avoid hotel chains, but Malmaison have got this spot-on. Every time I’m there I think that a nice gesture could be to offer ex-prison inmates a particularly good deal. In fact, I might write to them with my suggestion.