Pub/Bar of the Month January 2014: The Crosse Keys, London, UK
The Crosse Keys, London, UK
The Wetherspoon pub group has proved itself to be rather inventive when it comes to opening new pubs, especially in premises that previously served another purpose.
The Mechanical Elephant in Margate used to be an amusement arcade, the Foot of the Walk in Leith once housed a snooker club and the Sir Titus Salt in Bradford was previously a swimming baths.
You can also throw in assorted cinema conversions, the odd courtroom and an opera house, while not forgetting numerous shops and clubs.
Many of these refurbishments have won awards but there are probably few finer than the Crosse Keys in the City of London.
This imposing building was built in 1913 as the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (latterly HSBC).
Wetherspoon seized the chance to turn it into a pub in 1999, no doubt recognising the prosperity of the local clientele and its handy position, right opposite Leadenhall Market.
The name restores the memory of another Crosse Keys, a busy coaching inn that once stood nearby and was known for its theatrical connections.
Today, it is one of the group’s flagship pubs, a deliciously ornate cathedral of a building with a remarkably modest pub sign that totally belies the size and the glory of the interior.
The old banking hall remains the centre of activity, but for a far more sociable purpose than finance, and its grandeur remains undiminished by the change of use.
With a pint in hand, you can drink in the atmosphere of an early age, when bankers were held in high esteem and the buildings they inhabited encouraged deference.
Here, fat marble columns support an elaborate, lofty ceiling, with glass domes inset for natural illumination. High windows in the marble walls offer glimpses into adjoining offices, still hives of activity in this financial heartland.
Leading off the main hall, the old managers' offices and meeting rooms with their polished wood panelling and fancy fireplaces have been equally well preserved and now cater for functions.
Not surprisingly for such a large establishment, the Crosse Keys is also one of Wetherspoon's most productive pubs, pouring around 4,000 pints every week from a series of handpumps that line the free-standing oval bar – there could be as many as sixty different beers on offer during that time.
I’ve taken a tour of the cellar and can confirm it is marshalled with military precision by manager Robbie Douglas.
You need almost as much organisation to be a customer here, as it can get extremely busy and there are so many beer options to choose from.
To help, the cask and keg beers are displayed on TV monitors above the bar and you can order by number, rather than name.
Wetherspoon's newly-introduced world beers in bottles and cans, including a small selection of Belgian classics, offer further options.
Prices, in typical Wetherspoon style, are very genial for the neighbourhood, and affordability – along with knowing what you are going to get in terms of food and drink – is certainly part of the attraction for many regular customers.
Such predictability may not be a reason why you choose a pub, but I still recommend a visit to the Crosse Keys. There really are few places as splendid in which to enjoy a pint.
The Crosse Keys, 9 Gracechurch Street, London EC3V 0DR
Tel. (020) 7623 4824
Opening Hours: 8am–11pm; 8am–midnight Friday; 9am–11pm Saturday; 9.30am–6.30pm Sunday; may be closed on bank holiday weekends