We asked the barmaid as to the whereabouts of the Crosse Keys and were told it was definitely in Gracechurch Street, but on the opposite side of the road to where we had been looking. Re-tracing our steps I spotted the small, unobtrusive sign (no wonder we missed it), hanging next to the entrance of what must be one of Wetherspoons most ostentatious pubs. Converted from the palatial marbled banking hall that was once the London Headquarters of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, the Crosse Keys offers one of the widest ranges of cask ales of any JDW outlet; up to 24 in fact! These are displayed on TV monitors above the bar, but we hadn’t noticed that, so spent quite a bit of time perusing the pump clips before deciding what to order. We opted for Wayland Smithy, a 4.4% American red ale brewed by Oxfordshire brewers White Horse of Stanford-in-the-Vale. I think Eric enjoyed his but I found the beer not really to my taste.(a touch too much roast malt for my liking).
Soon it was time to move on again, and we had a bit of a route march ahead of us, especially as we wanted to get back to the Charing Cross area. We made our way up Cornhill, passing the Bank of England, before continuing along Cheapside and the back of St Paul’s and then along towards Holborn to the Cittie of Yorke, a well-known London pub, and one of a number in the Capital belonging to Yorkshire brewers, Samuel Smith. Sam’s are renowned for their keen prices and for their policy of only stocking “own-branded” products in their pubs, so as well as their one cask ale Old Brewery Bitter (OBB), their pubs sell their own lager, stout, an extensive range of distinctive bottled beers, own-label wines, plus even their own branded crisps! We opted for the OBB; I didn’t notice what the price was as it was Eric’s round, but knowing Sam’s value for money policy it would have been on a par with what we paid in Wetherspoons.
The pub itself is well worth a visit, consisting of one long bar, with a high vaulted ceiling. It looks very much like a baronial hall, so it is surprising to learn it was only built in 1924. The sides of the building, away from the bar, are lined with booths which resemble confessionals, or the sort of enclosures once found in courtrooms for lawyers and their clients to discuss matters relating to the case, privately. Being a Friday afternoon, the pub was starting to fill up quite rapidly; not just with city workers finished for the weekend, but with a healthy sprinkling of tourists as well.
We drank up and departed for our final stop of the day, the Harp in Covent Garden. I wasn't certain whether I’d visited this award winning pub before, but I was certainly glad that we called in on our way back to Charing Cross. The pub was packed when we arrived, with people spilling out onto the street. This wasn’t a problem as the Harp has what must be removable windows. These help give a feeling of space and on warm summer days, allow both light and air into the pub. Once at the bar we were spoilt for choice with around eight different cask ales to choose from. To start I went with the Red Squirrel London Porter, whilst Eric opted for the Dark Star Original.
We spent longer than intended at the Harp, such was the atmosphere and the quality and range of the beer. There was also a bevy of attractive barmaids pulling the pints and serving the customers with just the right mixture of efficiency and charm. I ended up sampling the Conqueror, Black IPA from Windsor & Eaton and then finally Sambrook’s Lavender Hill, a 4.5% pale ale, before finally calling it a day.
From the Harp it was a short step to Charing Cross station and the train home. It had been a good day out, with some excellent pubs visited and quite a few good beers dunk as well. This trip wasn’t about searching out “extreme”, cutting-edge beers, but more a chance for a couple of old friends to get together, visit a handful of decent pubs, and catch up on what’s been going on over a few decent pints. Our next day out is likely to be to Hastings – local inhabitants, you have been warned!