The Cross Keys, Holbeck, Leeds

Back in September 2017, I wrote an article asking if the Fleece in Fartown, Pudsey, was the best pub in Leeds. A cracking pub on the outskirts of the city. But, with around 550 pubs in the Leeds metropolitan area (figure courtesy of WhatPub), it’s bound to have competition, right? Right!

The North Empire

In 1997, North Bar opened its doors to the public. Although I wasn’t of drinking age, I’m reliably told at the time it showcased difficult to get hold of, and exciting beers. Kronenbourg 1664 was its niche product, a rare treat in the late 90’s. Setting it’s stall out as an early pioneering ‘craft’ beer bar, North Bar has established itself as one of the UK’s greatest. Over the years, the North empire has grown to stretch to six bars and a brewery. The latter of which just celebrated its 2nd birthday.

I love North Bar, it really does lead the way when it comes to great beer variety. But, it’s not North Bar I want to write about in this post. It’s actually a member of its wider family – The Cross Keys.

Historical Links

The Cross Keys dates back to 1802, where it was an ale house for local workers. It also has a close history with James Watt, the inventor of the modern steam engine. James has a statue honouring his achievements on Leeds City Square, and a portrait proudly hanging in the pub. Over 200 years after its birth, North’s modern Cross Keys landed on the Leeds beer scene in 2005.

Wooden beams (and Christmas decorations)

Just a few minutes’ walk away from Leeds city centre and near the Leeds Liverpool canal, it’s easy to think the Cross Keys would be just another City Centre pub like any other. But, you’d be wrong.

As you enter the pub from the entrance on the main road, you’re immediately transported into something quite special. Despite its proximity to Leeds City Centre, it feels like a rural pub. The lovely aroma of home cooked food, the hum of people enjoying eating and drinking. A hearty welcome from the Cross Keys team. On a cold winter’s day, with the fire roaring and warmth flooding the pub, this feeling is intensified even more.

A wall decorated with Odell beer bottles

The pub has two floors. The ground floor is where the main bar is located, with a couple of rooms and a route to the courtyard at the back. Upstairs, you’ll find the James Watt room, with another small bar, which can be hired for events. Throughout the pub, exposed brick walls and ceiling beams give a nod to its heritage. It’s decorated with considered lighting and lots of photos that give you more insight into the times around the pubs history. Here, it’s easy to get comfortable very quickly! A sign of a good pub to me is one where you can lose time without realising, somewhere to talk with friends, or to come alone. Somewhere to eat and drink in comfort. The Cross Keys is a place to do all of that.

Quality Beer and Food

On the bar, The Cross Keys takes inspiration from North Bar. You will find traditional hand pulled cask ale, not only showcasing North Brewing beers, but guest beers too. Keg lines are also available, providing more great beer that explores a range of styles. With so many taps available, you should be able to find something you will enjoy. But, in case you can’t, bottles and cans line the fridges. Regardless of whether you drink from a glass, bottle or can, you’ll find beers here ranging from traditional English pales, to Belgian Trappist beers.

A small selection of the beers that are available

Outside, the courtyard at the back of the pub is a wonderful place to enjoy the Sun through late spring and Summer. Facing away from the hustle and bustle of the city, it’s another area of the pub to just lose yourself.

Feeling a bit peckish? The Cross Keys has a stunning menu of home cooked food. It has also built a strong reputation around high quality on one of the most quintessentially British meals – the Sunday roast.

The courtyard, a bit cold to be basking today though

I write this post a couple of days after enjoying a fantastic Sunday at the Cross Keys. Attending with friends from Leeds CAMRA, a group of 13 of us were welcomed warmly and enjoyed a tasty meal. I can’t recommend the Sunday roast highly enough, but the starter (tomato and basil soup) and dessert (a kind of deconstructed black forest gateaux chocolate pot!) were also superb. All washed down with some great beer, including Gemini, from Eyes Brewing, High Wire from Magic Rock and Kirkstall‘s smoked version of Black Band Porter. The staff were also great throughout our visit!

An Award Winner

Confirming how great this pub is, it is decorated with accolades. It is proudly the only pub to represent Leeds in the 2017 Michelin Guide, Eating Out in Pubs. It is a two time regional winner of the Best Family Pub award in the Great British Pub Awards. A 5 star review in the Metro. There are many more I could list, but you get the idea.

If you haven’t visited before, then add The Cross Keys to your list. A truly terrific pub in an easy to get to location. One of Leeds’ finest!

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