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Cross Keys, Harpenden

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user reviews of the Cross Keys, Harpenden

please note - reviews on this site are purely the opinion of site visitors, so don't take them too seriously.

The Tring brew wasn't up to much on this visit. Was quiet on a busy day elsewhere. Maybe the 'Royston Vasey of the Home Counties' crew had gone on an outing.
Snarling_Mallard - 11 Jun 2018 10:20
Tim Taylor's not so impressive, but the Rebellion is lovely. This is a great and welcoming pub, and very cosy.
Regis - 8 Apr 2018 19:46
Still has Taylors Landlord and Marlow Rebellion and your only bet for ale in the town. The other ale establishments seem to have given up on trying to serve a decent pint. Is a locals pub for local people to some extent but still relatively friendly enough.
anonymous - 2 Mar 2018 20:30
Seem to be very friendly with locals but not with outsiders. I complained about a short pint so next time I bought a round the landlord insisted on my money upfront presumably so I did not have any bargaining power when he poured another short pint. This landlord had an aggressive attitude and as I was feeling uncomfortable, we decided to move on. The beer garden is pleasant. The Timmy Taylor's Landlord was uninspiiring.
abwhite52 - 2 Sep 2015 19:36
Seems to be resting on it's past laurels a little. The Tring brew was drinkable rather than good and there appeared to be a preponderance of flies in the bar. Hopefully it's just a glitch but markdown based on this visit.
anonymous - 29 Jun 2014 21:53
Small two bar pub on the main road through the town which originally must have been a cottage.It has several smoking areas and a garden. It is definitely designed for the maturer customer and the beer lover. Three beers on. I had Marlow Rebellion which was fine. Well worth a visit.
simontheeditor - 20 Sep 2013 22:15
The comment made by ID23 appears to be totally out of kilter. To give the poster the benefit of doubt, perhaps the wrong pub is being refered to.

OK, so I'm a regular, but Max and Kev have worked very hard to maintain the old fashioned pub atmosphere since they took over; it has recently been decorated and is clean and tidy. The beer is excellent and the service is great.

Perhaps ID23 (if indeed, the Keys IS being refered to) would be so good as to what, is "nasty" about the decor and service. However, specifics, rather then generalisations, are essential.


MartynG - 26 Jul 2013 13:21
This is the second website where this member has left awful reports about our pub it is not terrible and our bar staff are all really friendly and polite,we are the only pub in Harpenden in the good beer guide so our beer is good,our pub has not gone downhill of late our trade is good and if your feel that upset about spending your hard earned cash with us then may I suggest you use another one of the pubs in the town and maybe you could pop in one day and tell the people who do like the pub to their faces what you think, or perhaps you wouldn't do that cause you know it's not true.
Maxandkev - 21 Jul 2013 01:09
I can't believe the last comment. OK, this pub is never going to be everyone's favourite, not least because it's a traditional pub with no entertainment, TV screens, music, etc. It's an old-fashioned, proper pub, for those who value such establishments. The last comment criticises the decor. What's not to like? It's traditional. If people don't like it, they can go elsewhere, but there's no need to be rude or derogatory. Leave the place alone for those who do appreciate its charms!
realaleexpert - 16 Jul 2013 20:56
Terrible terrible pub, nasty decor and even nastier service behind the bar. I wouldn't waste my hard earned money drinking in this establishment again. Seems to have gone very downhill as of late. The beer is ok but it is overshadowed by the terrible service and atmosphere. One to miss!
ID23 - 16 Jul 2013 20:23
clean pub with 3 standard beers , helpful staff , has a pewter bar top very unusual.
THUNFAN007 - 3 Jul 2013 10:49
Still an excellent boozer. I visit only occasionally and it always seems to be the same. Long may it continue.


Tewin - 30 Dec 2012 20:04
Good local. Came here after the beer festival and had a good pint of Jack O Legs. They also had Landlord and another guest. Barman was chatty and welcoming.
busker999 - 9 Sep 2012 15:28
Charming pub - the best in Harpenden. This place exudes character. Beer is always very good, with Rebellion IPA 3.7%, TT Landlord 4.0% and a Tring beer on. Bar staff are always friendly and the locals are usually decent characters. No televisions, music, fruit machines, pests etc. Just what a pub should be.
English_Gent - 2 Aug 2012 15:50
Nice enough little boozer that still plays on past glories. Very handy that it has the beer garden at the back as it was stiflingly hot when we got here. The young lad behind the bar could do with a few lessons in how to pull a pint (top-ups asked for for all pints), but the beers were all in very good condition so that made up for that negative. This really could be the best pub in town if only it played to it's strengths and it's great location. Have been here many times in the past, but every time it seems just that little touch more drab.
littledrummerboy - 26 Jul 2012 11:28
Still a reasonable enough stop for your real ale afficienado (not really a lot of options in downtown Harpenden mind). The selection these days is Landlord, Tring Jack o Legs and Marlow Rebellion. The Rebellion was drinkable enough but not quite as good as it used to be.
anonymous - 19 Jun 2011 22:35
Apparently there will be no Harpenden Beer Festival this year as the usual premises were not available to CAMRA. Anyway the Cross Keys has leapt to the rescue and is holding its own at the end of the month. Hope there are more beers than on the flier as it lists only the three regulary available.
StephenM123 - 18 May 2011 12:49
Hasn't really "changed hands" - the tenant has installed a management couple.
MartynG - 19 Apr 2011 13:39
Changed hands again and doesn't seem as popular now.


Harpenden_Mark - 3 Apr 2011 00:41
Sadly I have to agree with KiamaraKid having also moved on to other local pubs to seek a more customer-focused/friendly/respectful environment. The Cross Keys had its share of ups & downs in the 90's through a succession of licensees but under Mike & Viv it had resumed its rightful place as the "local" of choice - in keeping with its location & heritage. I'm in no hurry to try the place again until I hear news from others that it is safe to return.
Altomizmad - 15 Mar 2011 10:45
Sadly the Cross Keys is now a shadow of the pub it was under Mike and Viv. The new custodian is not interested in looking after the loyal customers who have been going there for 30+ years. The pub has lost its charm, customers are treated rudely, at times with disdain and are never listened to. Most importantly, despite advice to the contrary, the landlady has replaced the best-selling London Pride in order to attain higher margins and a Locale cask mark. The customers are voting with their feet to the advantage of the other hostelries in Harpenden.

It is a shame that the one traditional pub in Harpenden is now on the slippery slope, the decor is tired, and the customers dissatisfied, not a happy pub!
KiamaraKid - 14 Mar 2011 22:40
I like the look of the place. Personally, I'm not mad on Tring beers and they seem to be regular. Bar staff have generally been friendly in my experience. I'll need to go a few more times in order to come to firm conclusion.
Northern_Ale_Monkey - 13 Mar 2011 15:50
I visited the Cross Keys at the weekend. The beer was, as ever, brilliant - a choice of Tring Jack O'Legs, Rebellion IPA and Timothy Taylor Landlord. And they're showing the Six Nations rugby in the covered smoking area - result!! A lovely, friendly, proper pub - and there are not many left. Harpenden is very lucky to have this pub. The food looked excellent, too.
realaleexpert - 7 Feb 2011 15:39
I visited the other day and I am glad to say this is not the same awful place it used to be years ago.

when I was served it was with politeness and respect and good beer.

I sat in the lovely beer garden and thoroughly enjoyed my pint.

Well done for turning a corner from the grim old days when outsiders were not welcome.......


RedRoosterRocker - 11 Oct 2010 03:56
One of the truly local pubs left in the district.
Great beer, fantastic beer garden (probably the best in the area - a rare find) - an oasis in the centre of the town. It also has a heated comfortable smoking area.
OpusDavos - 29 Sep 2010 14:25
..where as the Old Cock across the road seem to have barred comments about it - too many negative reviews maybe ?
anonymous - 1 Aug 2010 18:42
..... forgot to add that it's still the best pub in Harpenden
anonymous - 1 Aug 2010 18:40
Indeed you are right and it is back but it must have had a holiday last time I was in. Was back last night along with Pride and Rebellion IPA - the Rebellion IPA ws a afar better pint though...in fact probably the best ale you can get in Harpenden. Still rekon Landlord isn't great outside of it's home turf though - have never had a pint outside of Keighley that has come anywhere near the mark.
anonymous - 30 Jul 2010 23:39
Contrary to Snarling _Mallard's comment, TT landlord continues to be on sale.
MartynG - 19 Jul 2010 13:15
They seem to be have a few more varying beers here these days. The Marlow Rebellion was on good form this time. NIce convivial locals pub on the High Street with a main area to the right as you go in and a smaller quieter bit to the left. Also has smoking/garden area out the back. Would say it's probably the best pub in Harpenden for ale at this moment in time. Am actually glad to see they have stopped selling Taylor's Landlord - has been the scurge of many a pub (It just doesn't travel well beyond the confines of Keighley)
anonymous - 23 Apr 2010 23:12
Nice little pub for a quiet drink without the hassle of TV and music blaring out.

Tends to be one for the older generation.

Good food and friendly staff who are happy for a chat.
Harpenden_Mark - 10 Apr 2010 10:14
Attractive old building with quite a small interior.The main bar is to the right of the front door with a smaller seating area to the left with its own counter.Four real ales always on ,London Pride,TT Landlord and Rebellion IPA are regulars and on my visit Tring's Sidepocket was the guest and spot on.Very much a real ale drinkers pub,warm and welcoming and thoroughly deserving the GBG entry.Best drinking pub in Harpenden.
Bucking_Fastard - 14 Dec 2009 10:54
I had a nice pt of Rebellion IPA of which the very welcoming barman let me taste before paying he said that it was nearing the end of the barrel.It was fine.It would be great if there was another guest beer on.
Belchmeistergeneral - 9 Oct 2009 11:59
An attractive cottage style pub set back from the main road that looks a little like a private residence rather than a pub. There are two distinct bars, one for drinking and a smaller one set out with four tables for food. Has the feel of an aging and affluent client base although it was quiet when I visited. There’s an impressive array of pewter tankards hanging from the ceiling all on numbered hooks. An old looking document on the wall lists their owners, all 183 of them. Cask Marque accredited and there was London Pride, TT Landlord and Rebellion IPA on. I note that this was the same selection of beers from a review three years ago so perhaps they are not that adventurous. Decent place to call in to for a pint.

Millay - 4 Oct 2009 20:33
Big improvement in this place since I last visited it about 18 months ago. I used to come in here to show visitors the character, but it had a really unwelcoming feeling with a couple of openly hostile South African barmen in charge.

The new owner has really done a good job to get rid of some of the gloom in the place, and the beer garden is much more welcoming and family friendly than it once was.

I've been there a few times over the past few weeks with friends, and I'll definitely go back again soon. The food menu looks really good too.
OldMansRiver - 19 Jun 2009 15:30
Very much improved since that South African governor left. The beer has been spot on when I've visited recently. The food is good too. Very nice pub
BeerManiac - 4 May 2009 14:39
Went to the pub a few weeks ago, and really enjoyed myself. In the last few months, this traditional old pub has really upped it's game. I'm loving the bear outside. The food is absolutely delicious, and they have a great selection of drinks. The crew are very polite and cheerful, which made me feel very welcome. Bravo to the Cross Keys!
know.it.all.about.pubs - 18 Mar 2009 19:46
I have to say that the pub is now better than ever.
MartynG - 18 Mar 2009 13:09
There has been an amazing improvement recently in the Cross Keys. Thanks to a new owner and the much needed TLC that this little pub deserves. The staff are friendly and the beers have been consistently good, including the occasional guest ale. The garden is being replanted and new furniture should make this a great venue in the coming months. (if it ever gets warmer!) Dog walkers and ramblers are also welcome for some home-cooked, traditional pub food. All in all a successful turnaround and new lease of life for the 'Keys'. Well done.
pewter_bar - 17 Mar 2009 09:49
Recently called in after an absence of a few months, and as a female on my own found the staff very friendly and great service. I didn't feel at all uncomfortable unlike other Harpenden pubs. Good choice of drinks, and whilst not a beer drinker I always like to see real ales available. Good wine and bottled selection. Garden has been worked on since my last visit (loved the bear!) and other improvements are being made by the new owner. Tried the new menu "special", an enormous burger and fries, good value and home made. Makes a pleasant change not to have TV or loud music, and daily papers provided are a bonus. Keep up the good work.
aurora31 - 15 Mar 2009 14:21

What an improvement! This pub is now becoming the pub it should have been decades ago. My first experience of it was over 30 years ago when I was a student at Hatfield Polytechnic. A group of us came over to Harpenden’s long gone cinema and after the film decided to have a drink or three. We walked over to the Cross Keys and were greeted to the site of a group of locals drinking from pewter tankards. Whilst not openly hostile the atmosphere was far from welcoming and after one drink we moved on.

Twenty years later I was in the area with friends and saw a sign for food. It was one of the worse pub meals I have ever experienced. And the beer was nothing to write home about.

Three and a half years ago I met up with a friend who lives in the area to go to ‘Classics on the Common’. Mid-evening we walked up to the Cross Keys and despite it being very busy the service was excellent and the beer well kept. A few months later we visited again. Although near deserted it was welcoming with a genial host and a roaring fire. However the next time we visited the ‘locals’ were in and just stared at us making one feel quite unwelcome. This I think accounts for the previous posts – full or quiet a pleasant pub otherwise not a place to linger.

Last November I was in the area again for the Farmer’s Market and the turning on of the (rather poor) Christmas lights. The pub was packed, pleasant and noticeable had new landlords. A couple of visits since have been very enjoyable. Friendly staff serving well kept beer – it could be variable previously. The food menu is quite basic, at the moment, but it looks good (a bowl of chips were excellent) and my friend assures me it is. All in all the new landlords have turned the pub around. Well done!

MikeTheMechanic - 3 Mar 2009 18:51
The new team seem to be doing an excellent job - well done!
Captain_Swing - 24 Jan 2009 16:07
This is a wonderful old and traditional pub. The quiet garden is now cared for and should look beautiful in the Spring/Summer - and it now features a bear carved from a tree trunk.

Currently, food is only served at lunchtimes Monday to Friday, but they intend to do lunches at weekends soon. It's good to see that the new owner is giving the pub the care and attention it deserves, and which had been lacking for so long.
pubexperts - 19 Jan 2009 15:51
Popped in for a bite to eat and a drink, which was very pleasent. Will definately go back again in the near future.
Girls1379 - 14 Dec 2008 00:51
Nice little place but what went wrong with the garden ??.....
lucy1999 - 30 Sep 2008 15:24
So long as the regglas keep all their loutish behaviour out in the beer garden, it don't bother me.

I was there about two months ago, when some short fat blonde was kissing a random Irish drunk in the beer garden. She then came inside to hang out of some visiting rugby players, left the Irish loser behind and took the rugby player home. That's the sort of stuff that happens in the Cross Keys.

How is this better than when they had a much younger livelier bunch of drinkers?

Time to get the regglas out, and give the pub back to the ordinary drinkers of Harpenden who aren't all middle aged louts.
Victory2000 - 18 Sep 2008 10:28
Banter? What about the boorish behaviour and chilly atmosphere (see below) ... Basically the Surly Saffas have set this up as a private club for their mates. The new owners, one imagines, are not deceived ...
Captain_Swing - 17 Sep 2008 17:04
I'm pleased to say that Viv and Mike are still in residence, so no changes yet. The banter is as good as ever and hopefully, will remain so.
MartynG - 12 Sep 2008 14:04
Sussex is a haven for good pubs and real ale. Please don't allow the Surly Saffas to spoil somewhere else ... Will the boorish 'regglars' be moving away too? My guess is yes.
Captain_Swing - 12 Sep 2008 11:51
I am told that Mike And Viv will be moving down to Battle, East Sussex, to be close to their daughter. They will be looking for a similar position down there and will keep in contact with the regulars at the Cross Keys.
dingle - 12 Sep 2008 07:04
This was a great pub does anyone know where mike and viv have gone too? Are they going back to South Africa or are they going to run another pub?
saloon - 11 Sep 2008 21:05
Mike and Viv, the departing landlords, have done a huge amount to get this pub back on track. It is a great shame that the small minded individuals who have posted personal remarks on here cannot recognise their contribution. If all they are capable of is making such ill-founded bitchy and personal remarks it is no surprise that they do not fit into the culture of this fine pub. I suspect that is their low self-esteem and sense of personal inadequacy that makes them feel so rejected. Perhaps when they grow up and get rid of the chip on their shoulder they might perceive the true value in the place.
OpusDavos - 11 Sep 2008 15:14
How sad that the Landlords have been forced to move on due to change in ownership with the new Landlord wanting to run the Keys himself. I sincerely hope that he has the same expertise when it comes to keeping the ales good and the bad element out. I and many others have enjoyed the return to the 'glory days' of the Cross Keys. Something that these Landlords managed to do when countless others before them could not. I find the constant reference to them being South African quite distasteful. They are Landlords no matter where they come from and I do believe that they are in fact British citizens. If it takes their 'surlyness' to keep this pub as good as it is then so be it! Drink elsewhere if you don't like it.
dingle - 11 Sep 2008 07:23
As prophesied (passim) this place has changed hands as of Monday. At last, the Surly Saffas have been given their marching orders. Let's hope for a real improvement in the management team. The unique environment could make this the best pub in Harpenden.
Captain_Swing - 10 Sep 2008 16:46
A fantastic pub which still keeps its Olde English Pub character, where everyone from the gainfully unemployed to 6 figure City folk mingle happily with the common quest to have a nice quiet beer without the ubiquitous bar brawl, distorted 'gangsta' music, stag do's or puking teenagers.

If maintaining this ethos means the landlord has to use his 'right of admission reserved' policy strictly, rather than going for easy turnover, then well done to him. If you don't like this charming little pub or the people who frequent or run it, apply the FIFO principle, (fit in or ___ off). There are plenty of 'bars' around, to suit all tastes and age groups
orcaman - 8 Sep 2008 12:07
Oh but I do Dingle, oh but I do.

The Keys three or four years ago was all kids who used the place as a knocking shop. All that the outgoing management have done is to replace the kids with middle-aged Scots and Irish guys who pathetically swap the same few blonde divorcees around amongst themselves.

This place could be one of the best pubs in Herts, if it had a good manager who doesn't treat outsiders as unwelcome strangers.
Victory2000 - 28 Aug 2008 21:44
How sorry I am to see that Mike and Viv [the so-called grumpy South Africans] are leaving. I am led to believe that the pub as been sold with the new owner wanting to move in. This does not in my mind constitute being 'given the shove'. I, and many others have enjoyed the good ales, good company and good landlords and I wish Mike and Viv every success in the future. Victory 2000 obviously does not know what the place was like before they arrived!
dingle - 28 Aug 2008 09:36
Good to see the grmupy South Africans that run this place have been given the shove. Get some new management in, and this could be a lovely little boozer
Victory2000 - 23 Aug 2008 10:41
This is a traditional pub in the very best sense of the word. Mike and Viv have done a great job over the last 3 years and will be sorely missed, as will Don. The beer has been consistently well kept, the atmosphere friendly and the banter of the highest quality.
It may not be to everyone's liking, but, as with many things, there is no accounting for taste!
Toffeeman - 19 Aug 2008 10:19
Acknowledged to be from CHAPTER 2 - from My Local History by Eric Reeves
The Cross Keys Ghosts
For a time in 1960, the Cross Keys in Harpenden had a relief manager. It was late one night and the relief manager had gone to bed after a normal busy day, but this night was to prove to be unlike any other. Suddenly the manager was aroused from sleep but he did not know why. He lay in bed for a while not knowing what had roused him until he became aware of the murmur of voices coming from downstairs. At first, he thought it might be burglars but that made no sense as they were talking quite loudly. Creeping downstairs, he peered round the bar room door and was surprised to see three figures bent over one of the tables. He opened the door wider to get a better view but as he did so the three figures turned to look at him. All three were dressed in dark, heavy robes and all had shaven heads, he appeared to be looking at three mediaeval monks. The faces of all three were ghastly, glowing with a greenish pallor under the light coming from a street lamp. The relief manager stood for a second frozen in disbelief then turned and fled back to his bedroom where he locked himself in. After that he refused to go into the bar after closing time until the manager returned.
This wasn’t the first time that ghostly monks had been seen in the Cross Keys and it wasn’t the last thing to occur. In 1968 the then landlord, Mr. Johnson, and his wife were tidying up after a normal busy Sunday lunchtime. Suddenly they heard a loud rumbling noise coming from the bar. They rushed to investigate and found a large, heavy ashtray that normally stood on the bar spinning like a top. As they watched, it began to slow down until finally coming to a clattering halt. At the time, the bar was empty and they were at a loss to explain what could have set an ashtray weighing one kilogram spinning like it had been.
Two other occurrences including a vanishing skirt and a disappearing clothes brush. The skirt was of the ancient Bruce clan tartan worn by Mrs. Brenda Johnson and was her favourite. It is therefore understandable that she was somewhat distressed when she found that the skirt had disappeared from her wardrobe. The premises were searched from top to bottom but there was no sign of the skirt and Mrs. Johnson had to accept that it had gone. Three months later she opened the wardrobe to get something out and was rather taken aback when she discovered the tartan skirt on a hanger. As she watched the skirt began to move then it slid off the hanger and fell into a heap on the floor.
The disappearing clothes brush happened when the Johnson’s were in the bedroom one evening getting ready to go out. Mrs. Johnson brushed her husband’s jacket then put the clothes brush on the bed. Mr. Johnson took his hat out of a hat box then turned round to pick up the brush only to discover that it had gone. Again no amount of searching could locate the brush. Three days later the brush was found sitting on the bedroom floor, in the open, next to the fireplace. Where it sat there was no way that they could have failed to see it if it had been there all the time.

OpusDavos - 17 Aug 2008 12:44
The Cross Keys History - acknowledged to be copied from:-
CHAPTER 2 - from My Local History by Eric Reeves.
The Cross Keys stands on the site of a guesthouse owned by Westminster Abbey up until the thirteenth century. It is from here that the name originated, as cross keys were the insignia of St. Peter. Today the main bar of the pub has two brass keys set in the floor. No detailed history of this building is available, but we do know that it did not survive beyond the 15th century.
In the 16th century, the building, which now houses the main bar of the present “Cross Keys”, was erected. It was connected on the southern side by a passageway, to the end cottage of a terrace of three cottages; the site of these three dwellings was occupied by the show rooms of the Eastern Gas Board.
A century later, a small single storied building was butted on to the northern end of the building; this is now the small private bar.
In the 18th century, another floor was added to this part of the building, and now forms part of the private accommodation.
The tiles and form of the roof are very old, particularly on the rear half of the building. The roof itself rises and sags as it follows the irregular contour of the supporting roof tree. Only minor alterations have been made to the structure during the last two hundred years, and these serve to enhance, rather than to destroy the rustic character of this old building.
When certain modifications were being planned at the rear of the house, the soil to a depth of 3 feet 6 inches was found to be affected by the extensive use of primitive earth toilet facilities, and the ground had to be excavated to a depth of over 5 feet before a suitable foundation was reached. A building that still stands at the rear of the "Cross Keys" was once used as a stable during the old coaching days. Another building served as a brew house where, until comparatively recent times, home brewed beer was produced.
The join in the brick work is still visible at the front of the house.

OpusDavos - 16 Aug 2008 09:57
The Cross Keys is a much loved 16th century traditional pub of Grade 11 listed standard. In Harpenden, it is unique in that much of its original character has been deliberately and carefully preserved. Indeed, only minor alterations have been made to it's structure over the last two hundred years. This quality attracts a large number of discerning local customers and is a focal point for overseas visitors eager to sample a taste of ‘olde worlde’ British ambience and hospitality.
‘The Keys’, as it is popularly known, is steeped in local social history. It is the subject of a local booklet by Eric Rees (My Local History) and is cited extensively in other publications such as The Ghosts of Hertfordshire. It is also something of a flagship for the local branch of CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale). It is perhaps most famous for its connections with the world of Rugby Union. Harpenden Rugby Club, founded in 1920, for many years used the pub as it's headquarters and their close ties still remain strong. In 1965 the National Rugby Sevens club competition was instigated by the then landlord, Reg Johnson. This annual tournament has grown from its original dozen or so competing teams to about seventy at the present time. Over the years, many international players such as Peter Winterbottom and Ben Clarke of the British Lions have graced the competition along with others from all of the home nations. Many photographs adorn the walls of the main bar that depict this aspect of the pub's social importance to Harpenden.
As well as its associations with Rugby, the pub is used as a meeting place for other groups based in Harpenden. The nationally acclaimed Lea Singers have strong associations with the pub, as do Harpenden Choral Society and the Light Operatic Society. Some members of Harpenden Cricket Club, now the proud possessors of the wonderful new Village Cricket Ground often meet in the Keys to analyse their latest performances. Today visitors will often find a bunch of noisy locals arguing over their domino table.
The distinctive pewter bar, the ancient York stone floor, the myriad of venerable pewter pots decorating the ceiling beams (each the property of a local 'character' and each with a story to tell), the open fireplace so welcoming on a cold winter’s day and the gathering of people with such diverse interests and backgrounds these are the qualities which make the Cross Keys a unique social asset to the village of Harpenden.

OpusDavos - 16 Aug 2008 09:44
The Cross Keys has had numerous temporary landlords over the last 13 years who ran the place down. The place was dirty, the beer appalling and many locals left. The takings halved.
Three years ago we had the arrival of Mike and Viv. Mike and Viv were a breath of fresh air. They have determinedly toiled to get the pub back to a good standard and are responsible for getting the pub into the Good Beer Guide.
This is a much loved and cherished local and they should be congratulated for their tireless efforts.
This was acknowledged last night. The pub was absolutely packed out on Friday night by many locals for a farewell presentation ceremony who wanted to acknowledge their great respect and affection for the couple. They were the only landlords of the last 13 years who showed such care and affection and respect for the oldest pub in town which is a Grade 2 listed building. They will be much missed. Mike and Viv made welcome all those who showed respect for such a hallowed institution and made it clear that those who didn't were not welcome.
These scurrilous comments posted are clearly written by some very sad misfits.

OpusDavos - 16 Aug 2008 09:24
I am a regular user of this fantastic quaint old village local and i am appalled at all the recent comments on this site!!!! As far as i am concerened this lovely local pub was turned around roughly 3 and a half years ago when the present landlord and landlady arrived. They keep exceptionally great real ales. It will be a vey very sad day altogether when they leave and i really hope that the new people have such great knowledge regards to the cellar and keeping the ales as good as they are. This is what us locals love about this wonderful pub!!!I suggest that if you really don't like this great little pub then drink elsewhere as we really don't want you there and spoiling it for all of the local people that actually enjoy it!!!!
happy1 - 14 Aug 2008 20:05
Iheard the dyed blonde that is permanently in residence in the grotty covered area in the pub garden really kicked off at some "interloper" who ventured into the Keys last Saturday screaming and swearing at him for trying to speak to some of the locals.

Fairly typical of the sort of welcome that non-regulars get in the Keys.

I hope the owners chuck some of these guys out. The Keys has the potential to be one of the nicest old world bars in the area (not hard really as the only competition is the Carpenters), I only hope the new owner can turn it around
HarpBoy - 12 Aug 2008 09:45
Seemingly has just changed hands, but I can't imagine the welcoming atmosphere will get any better as the new owner seems very odd.

Rumour is that he's putting the less friendly of the two South African barmen in charge. It'll be very very interesting to see how that pans out.

A lot of the regulars aren't happy with the idea of the new owners coming in, as they are rumoured to be intending to bar some of the existing clientele. No bad thing if they bar some of the boorish Scots who loiter in the beer garden - middle aged pervy men who chase after any woman on her own.

You may have guessed that I don't like the place.

The Wickerman comment is highly appropriate
nollag - 4 Aug 2008 07:24
Dingle suggests "This is like a 'rural Irish' pub"

Well Dingle you must have been to some weird pubs in Ireland - I could not think of a pub LESS like an Irish pub, where you are made to feel at home or put out of your misery quickly (Try Foley's in Inch on the way to "Dingle" to see a true Irish Pub).

This pub is without question the strangest pub I have ever been to - anywhere. I think its small size is the problem. It initially gives the impression of rural Britain in a bygone age (Pewter mugs and bartop. fire in the winter etc.) this lures you into the most unfriendly atmosphere you can imagine.

Visiting Friends insisted we go there (against my protestations. After two pints and enough strained atmosphere to last a lifetime they saw my point and we left.

I really think it should shut down and re-open as a private club for the regular clientele.
Alliance - 3 Aug 2008 22:02
Good beer and friendly company - but then I am a local. As with all small pubs, those already inside will turn to see who's coming in as the door opens (if only to see who's buying the next round!). There's nothing sinister in this - it's just curiosity.
MartynG - 22 Jul 2008 13:23
The sinister staring locals, unfortunately, simply aren't as scary as some of the reviews here make out. It's a locals boozer, fair enough, but I've had far worse experience of cold shoulder than anything the bunch of old duffers which make up the clientele could muster. They seem reasonably genial to me, and I only visit every six months or so. The only pub, I know of, with a pewter bar. Quite odd. Actually that goes for the whole pub. Reasonable ale though. One of the best pubs in Harpenden, which doesn't say as much as it should.
Clive_Pendleton - 22 Jul 2008 13:00
I agree with the last comment. This is like a 'rural Irish' pub where the landlord takes the time to interact with customers. Best Guinness that I have had south of Dublin!
dingle - 30 Jun 2008 09:41
I would agree with baxterfish. We had lunch there on Saturday & the Landlord both greeted us as we walked in & thanked us as we left. I've experienced far worse treatment at other pubs. Nice pub - went there because their pies came highly recommended but they don't serve them on a Saturday so will have to go back during the week.
MagnustheMandrill - 23 Jun 2008 14:33
I think the comments below are a little unfair.Yes, the landlord does come across as a bit miserable, but the lady who delivered the food was very friendly.The pub itself is really nice and the other customers were fine. Beer was good (Rebellion IPA) and the food was pretty good value standard pub grub. Would probably go back.
baxterfish - 22 Jun 2008 14:47
Unfriendly atmosphere ... Hatchet faced bar staff, locals that stare, the reviewers below are quite right. I don't even think the beer's particularly good either.
Captain_Swing - 13 Dec 2007 18:19
Not the most welcoming of vibes here from either staff or locals. A pity really, as the beer is good quality
anonymous - 23 Aug 2007 20:50
Reminds me a little of the pub in "Last American Werewolf in London" or in "The Wicker Man". It's the sort of place where everyone stops talking when an outsider enters the room.

Hope they make good money from the regulars that drink there, as they are particularly unwelcoming to newcomers.
anonymous - 16 Aug 2007 19:48
Pretty little pub, but an awful atmosphere.

The landlady seems nice, but I’ve never been made to feel welcome there by either of the Sourth African barmen there, despite having frequented the place for the last six months.

A couple of examples for you:

1) I went in there for outdoor lunch a few Sundays ago with the family, but the beer garden was full. Fair enough, however the attittude of the staff was apalling. When I asked if there was anywhere else in town the did lunch outdoors, I was told no. Just walking up the high street, we found that both the George and The Inn on the Green were serving a much wider menu

2) Myself and the missus came back from holidays yesterday (Wednesday), and decided to go for a quiet mid-afternoon drink. There was probably about 10 other people in the pub, so we quickly found a seat. The manager brought out a tray of sandwiches for the regulars, and went so far as to bring them round to all the tables in the pub, except our one !! Talk about ill mannered behaviour!

Let’s hope they get some new management soon, with some concept of interpersonal skills and manners.

anonymous - 16 Aug 2007 07:52
Nice pub, with a good selection of beers. Always felt welcome in there.

They could do with taking down the "No mobile phones" posters everywhere though. Are they really necessary? No one seems to adhere to them anyway ...

8/10
nollag - 22 Jul 2007 08:20
The first pub that I went to in Harpenden and I would not go anywhere else. I love the place !!!
anonymous - 26 May 2007 11:59
ps I don't think it'll be in the Good Beer Guide next year either if perfomance on that front is anything to go by ...
anonymous - 16 May 2007 15:28
Dingle - maybe you're one of the 'in' crowd or just been lucky - but there's definitely lots of evidence to support the last two posters. I don't think you should imply they were behaving badly either. Stony stares and boorish beaviour from 'regulars' is pretty typical. I give it 6 months before it's sold/taken over/repositioned.
anonymous - 16 May 2007 15:26
I totally disagree with the last two comments. This little beauty is a real gem and I have always been made to feel welcome by staff and customers alike. There is a strict policy regarding behaviour and this is why I always return when in the area.
dingle - 11 May 2007 08:04
Yes, agree with last poster, there's often an extremely unwelcoming atmosphere here from the regulars and sometimes from behind the bar. It's looking like it's on its last legs so will undoubtedly be taken over soon ...
anonymous - 9 May 2007 10:45
A charming old pub, with perfectly acceptable real ales. But the service was brusque and I got glared at by several of the regulars - well, it's their pub, isn't it? (No, actually.) I shan't be rushing back, but other people's experiences here might be more positive than mine. 7/10
historyloony - 4 Apr 2007 08:52
I have been to this pub lots of times - pleasant enough - but today - Friday 30/3/07 It was really happening. The London Pride was very morish - the craic was great - If you are in Harpenden on a Friday go to The Cross Keyes.
CharlyF - 30 Mar 2007 20:26
What a little gem this pub is.Frantically busy on Friday and Saturday nights. I was made to feel most welcome and the ales are of a high standard. No wonder the pub is in the Good Beer Guide. Well done!
dingle - 26 Nov 2006 10:01
I do wish those boorish saffaa would allow people to get to the bar ... there's an unpleasantly rude contingent in here who seek to dominate proceedings. Sadly the CC is going downhill very fast ... Even the ales are not particularly well kept anymore.
anonymous - 15 Nov 2006 17:20
Rebellion IPA, Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Fullers Pride on this weekend. Rebellion IPA is a staple and is recommended.

Fourth Sunday of every month Harpenden holds a farmer's market that this pub is in the midst of -- it holds a pig roast at the entrance to the beer garden to tempt passing trade. A most agreeable way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

Children allowed in the beer garden but not the pub itself. Toilets are in an outbuilding with a small covered area outside too in case the weather turns inclement.
bestbitta - 31 Aug 2006 21:24
I'm in agreement with most of the comments below. The only kids (U30's) I saw on my last visit, a couple of months ago, appeared to be playing whist. On a Saturday night. But its true, nobody does seem to be having the time of their life here... that doesn't necessarily make it a bad place though, does it? There's too much contrived/enforced fun around these days anyway, some of us like being in the company of (fellow) miserable buggers from time to time.
Dean_Pritchard - 21 Aug 2006 11:47
A fantastic friendly little 'local' with loads of character. Very busy on Friday and Saturday nights. Excellent quality beers.
anonymous - 15 Aug 2006 21:12
Agree there's often an odd atmosphere in here. Nobody seems to be enjoying themselves very much. Ales are ok, but could be better.
Captain_Swing - 12 Jul 2006 13:04
Bankruptcy looms thank God.
bored1955 - 16 Jun 2006 22:35
This is a much loved little pub and the managers and staff are friendly. No loud music, TV or machines have kept this a typical 'old english'pub. Well worth a visit.
anonymous - 18 Apr 2006 09:21
If you like pubs where they staff start cleaning and putting the stools on the table before closing time then this is the place for you. It is so small that if it was well run it would be rammed so I suppose the lack of hospitality and management is of no consequence. Avoid at all costs.
bored1955 - 17 Apr 2006 01:01
Definitely the best pub in the town centre and the kids have been kicked out. The Stella is usually OK.
Stella_mad_Martyn - 16 Sep 2005 15:33
Characterful pub consisting of a smoky bar (with roaring fire in the winter) and a small but comfortable lounge. Recently been through a dodgy spell which saw the manager run off with the takings but seems to be back to normal now. Decent ale (London Pride and Taylor's Landlord on last visit), and a surprisingly large and secluded beer garden. Best pub in the town centre and well worth a visit.
Chop - 12 Aug 2005 14:47
Quirky little pub. Decent beer. My girlfriend, who purports to enjoy the egg chasing code, once persuaded me in as it was the only pub in the local environs showing the rugby; there was a board outside the pub promoting the fact. Inside the television showing the match was a small portable with a burnt out screen. Deplorable, but endearing for it.
anonymous - 15 Nov 2004 15:27
Wonderful traditional pub with friendly locals and wide choice of beer; recently however the quality of the ale has taken a real drop. The manager seems powerless to rectify these problems and this has caused many regulars to desert.
True Blue - 15 Nov 2004 09:22
The oldest inn in Harpenden much loved by its locals.
Bernie - 12 Nov 2004 15:58
Very traditional unspoilt local pub. Lots of regulars but some are being driven away by the manager when they complain about the variablew quality of the beer
Dyedinthewool - 12 Nov 2004 15:39

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