Round One: The Rusty Bicycle
Dodo Pubs started out in 2009, when we found a down and out boozer in the back streets of East Oxford and decided to take it on. It stank of stale smoke and old dog and looked like granny’s living room, but what did we know? We shrugged our shoulders and cracked on with the renovation, and the Rusty Bicycle was born.
Within a few months the neighbourhood seemed to have embraced the Rusty, and before we knew it the place was filling up night after night. We figured we’d better start serving some food to soak up the booze, so we dug out an old electric 4-hob range cooker that looked like it’d fallen arse end out of the 1940s and fired her up; she worked first time. Word spread, and we quickly realised that we’d need something more heavyweight to cope with demand… so we invested in a proper commercial kitchen.
The rest is history: by the end of the second year, the Rusty Bicycle was firmly established at the heart of the neighbourhood, where it’s remained ever since.
Round Two: The Rickety Press
Just as we were starting to think about the next step, the Radcliffe Arms in Jericho came up for sale. It was run down and poorly maintained, but we put in a bid anyway, and to our surprise found ourselves with another pub… time to get busy again!
This time we thought we’d try something a bit different, and the Rickety started life as a gastropub. It was fun for a while: we got a Michelin Bib Gourmand a couple years in a row, made it into the Good Food Guide, and cooked some really nice grub. But as time went on we began to realise that we didn’t actually like the whole hoity-toity gastropub thing very much – it just wasn’t our vibe.
We decided to be true to ourselves and replicate the Rusty’s success. We underwent a redesign and started serving up a more straightforward menu of delicious pizzas, burgers and bowls. Today the Rickety is a neighbourhood pub where you can walk in anytime with friends or family and grab an honest plate of food and a drink or two… just how we like things.
Round Three: The Bottle of Sauce
With the Rickety ticking along, we figured it was time to make our lives a little more complicated again and find a third pub to take on. Luckily, the perfect place fell into our laps: a massive site in Cheltenham that would give us the opportunity to do all the things we’d wanted to do with the Rusty and Rickety but hadn’t had the space for.
Of course, before our grand plans could take shape, the place needed a bit of an overhaul. As our bank accounts drained, the pub filled with shiny new things, and finally, in December 2017, we flung open the doors of the Bottle of Sauce (that’s cockney rhyming slang for horse, if you hadn’t already noticed).
We marked the occasion with a massive party, and true to Cheltenham’s festive spirit, we haven’t really paused for breath since. There’s always something happening at the beast that is the Bottle, whether it’s our rebel knitting club meeting for a midweek natter, a New Orleans-style jazz extravaganza, or our monthly Saturday yard sale. The Bottle of Sauce plays host to events that bring the local neighbourhood together… and, of course, serves up damn fine food and drink.
Round Four: The Up in Arms
Back in Oxford, we started casting around for a new project. In a stroke of serendipity, we were approached by the community in Marston: their local pub had shut, and they’d been campaigning tirelessly ever since to prevent the building from being turned into the inevitable flats. We said we’d take a look.
Long story short: we loved the pub, the people and the neighbourhood in general, so we put in an offer and crossed our fingers. Fast-forward to April 2019, and we were opening the doors to pub number four.
When it came to naming the latest addition to the Dodo family, it was important to us that we honoured the spirit of the community that had saved the pub from becoming flats – hence the Up in Arms, a nod to their refusal to accept yet another lost local.
Along with the usual Dodo fixtures, plus a few extras, like a coffee hatch and a shipping container stage, the Up has an absolutely massive suntrap of a garden, making it our first proper summer pub. And it represents something important to us. We’ve realised that saving pubs like the Up in Arms for the community is where our heart is. It’s what we’ve been doing all along – both the Rusty Bicycle and the Rickety Press were also at risk of becoming flats – and we want to keep doing it.