With its attractive green, independent shops and intriguing eateries, Southborough is a great area to enjoy a stroll and just explore. This week we pop into the Cross Keys in St Johns Road, a traditional pub that has become a community hub – and owner Jerome Mohamed certainly doesn’t have the blues
It’s been the best part of four years since you took over at the Cross Keys, Jerome – what’s changed?
The original concept when we came here was to pursue a lifelong dream of mine to own a jazz venue and the Cross Keys seemed like a good place to do it. Originally we turned it into a gastro pub, with a jazz night once a week, but over the years we’ve adapted to meet the needs of the local area and we offer a much wider range of music now. We still offer a great menu – I describe it as pub food done well, with something that appeals to all tastes and ages. Our speciality is gourmet burgers and we do a great roast on Sundays. Also, we’re hoping to introduce regular barbecues, maybe on Sundays, to make the most of the summertime.
So, what’s on at the Cross Keys these days?
We offer lots of live entertainment, which includes an acoustic open night, electric jams, blues and a ukulele night, as well as the jazz. We’ve had some festivals, with Keyfest coming up on the first weekend this August. Plus, we host a couple of clubs – the Blues with Bottle Club comes here every fortnight and the Bluegrass Plus Club put on a night once a month, on a Saturday. And there’s our quiz on Tuesday nights, which the locals love.
How about a bit of retro entertainment?
In the last couple of months, we’ve started having 80s discos and they’ve been really popular with a certain age group among our customers, because that was their heyday. We’re also looking to introduce some tribute bands, because I keep being asked about that type of entertainment. Having switched the jazz nights from Thursdays to Wednesdays, so as not to clash with The Pantiles’ jazz nights, we now have Thursdays open for a new genre, so it might be tribute bands. In fact, we’ve got a BB King tribute night this Thursday (June 18).
You’ve diversified the acts, but can jazz fans still have a great night here?
Absolutely. The jazz and blues nights tend not to be locally based – we have musicians coming from all over the country and many are nationally acclaimed. Famous saxophonist Derek Nash plays here every couple of months and we have others who are regulars at Ronnie Scott’s in London. We have a very high quality of music at the Cross Keys and it’s all free – the only people who charge for tickets are the Bluegrass Plus Club. I sing and play the sax and I occasionally gig here, so I care about the standard of the music.
Why did you choose Southborough for this sort of venue?
Tunbridge Wells was always the place where I thought this idea could do well, because it has such a rich musical background. A number of people have encouraged that and it needs to be nurtured. What I like to think is that we’ve started bringing some of that to Southborough, because everything is focused around The Pantiles and lots of the people who use the town centre live in Southborough. We had the sad closure of the Royal Victoria Hall, which was devastating – the only place we’ve got culturally now is the Cross Keys and we wanted to meet the needs of the community, which is very close knit. From what I’ve seen, everyone seems to know everyone!
That’s the evenings taken care of – what goes on during the day?
We’re really trying to encourage people to drop in for coffee. This is a highly versatile venue and in the daytime, the restaurant resembles a coffee shop. We’re introducing more cakes and pastries to foster a café atmosphere during the day and with our large garden – I think it’s the only lawned pub garden in Tunbridge Wells – it really works. One of our aims was always to become a good quality family pub where people could come with their children. We’re very family friendly, with baby changing facilities and a play area in the garden. In the daytime I would love to see the restaurant full of mums with their pushchairs!
So, what else do you offer the local community?
We believe that a pub should be all about providing a hub for the community and last year we won the regional Enterprise Community Hero award, because our focus is on being a place that local people can use for local purposes. Lots of groups use the space for small meetings, plus we host private parties. But we don’t charge people to hire out the space, because that’s what a local pub should be for.