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Street's upmarket move alters image
Five years ago it was branded “vomit alley” due to constant problems caused by binge drinkers.
But traders and business leaders say Oxford’s George Street is turning around its reputation for late-night drunkenness.
The change comes as the latest in a string of upmarket chains to move to the street has announced it is to open its doors in June.
Gourmet burger chain Byron, which has 22 outlets in London, has chosen Oxford for its first restaurant outside the capital.
In 2007, George Street was labelled “vomit alley” in a report by Jesus College’s principal Lord Krebs, following problems with binge-drinking.
But yesterday Graham Jones, chairman of city centre traders’ group Rox, said the street was now the prime location for restaurants and had lost its former reputation.
He added: “In the past, some people aged over 40 were put off from coming into George Street, because they feared being confronted by groups of youngsters overdoing the drink, but that’s no longer the case.
“The clubs are in Hythe Bridge Street and Park End Street and George Street must be the Oxford location with the most restaurants.
“Perhaps the turning point was the arrival of Jamie’s Italian about four years ago, which sent out a signal to restaurant chains outside Oxford that George Street was a good place to do business.”
City police commander Supt Chris Sharp said: “There have been significant improvements in all areas of the city and especially in George Street.
“The Nightsafe initiative, which operates in the city, has ensured targeted resources of both the police and local authority wardens.
“This has maintained visibility and a deterrent to inappropriate behaviour.
“That, together with recent joint campaigns raising awareness of the issues that result from excess alcohol, have all contributed to a better atmosphere and to a safer city centre.”
Byron’s restaurant will open in June in the former Garden Images shop, just a few yards away from Gourmet Burger Kitchen.
Byron was founded by Tom Byng in Kensington High Street in 2007 after he got hooked on hamburgers during a four-year stint living in America.
Mr Byng said: “We have wanted to bring our hamburgers to Oxford for some time and it’s exciting to have at last secured the opportunity.”
Spokesman Claire Strickett added: “I’m sure there is room for another burger chain in George Street.”
She added that the building would keep its original 1930s facade.
Byron’s arrival was welcomed by New Theatre spokesman Diana Hackett, who said: “People like to combine a trip to the theatre with a visit to a restaurant, so it’s great that they will soon have even more choice.”
A 10-bedroom boutique hotel, called the Bocardo, is being opened two floors above Jamie’s Italian next month and the Grapes pub is under new management. However, the Chez Gérard French restaurant in the street closed earlier this year.