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For anyone who enjoyed going out after dark in the nineties and noughties, the name The Cross certainly has a near-religious resonance. The nightclub earned an unassailable reputation for being both fabulously glamourous and grittily edgy, all at once. It saw London’s fashion set rub shoulders with its dedicated all-night ravers, partying together under disused, dripping railway arches in the forgotten back country of post-industrial King’s Cross.
These days, that abandoned Victorian infrastructure has been thoroughly transformed into the world class shopping and dining destinations of Coal Drops Yard (the six arches that were once The Cross’ dancefloors are now the plush Tom Dixon design store). When the long-delayed redevelopment of the area finally started, after producing a weighty coffee table book of photos and cherished memories, then throwing an epic final night blowout back in 2008, the hallowed club was consigned to the annals of hedonist history…until now.
Next month sees The Cross make a comprehensive return to London’s nightlife landscape, with original founder Billy Reilly and his wife Gemma at the helm. “When I suggested my idea of relaunching, at first Billy thought it was nuts,” Gemma tells us. “But we discussed it over a couple of glasses of wine one weekend during lockdown, and by the Wednesday morning he said, ‘right, let’s do it’”.
As long-time owner of other local venues including The Driver pub on Wharfdale Rd, just a short walk from those famous original arches, the enforced closure of Covid was already a time for re-evaluating. “We were about to embark on a big refurb of The Driver while it was closed,” says Gemma, “but with the area having changed so much, and so many new businesses and restaurants coming in, just being another scrubbed up pub off the Caledonian Rd didn’t feel right. We were looking around at what was going on, trying to work out how we’d get our next 15 years right and really put our stamp upon the new King’s Cross.”
Consequently, with an eye firmly on what might happen next in this most dynamic part of town, The Driver is becoming The Cross 2.0 – but don’t expect this joint to go rehashing or resting on the brand’s former glories. The plan is to evolve all that was celebrated about the cosmopolitan luxe-meets-raw aesthetic and good times vibes of the original railway arch party spot, then add the kind of extras that were missing back then, such as a decent table for dinner, a lounge for cocktails and loads of comfy seats.
“The Cross has grown up,” says Gemma. “The new venue brings some of the heritage and nostalgia elements, in that it’s still right here in King’s Cross, the club was six arches and now its six floors, but we’re also making sure that we’re getting the best quality marble fittings and designer upholstery throughout. Nothing too flashy, in keeping with the low-key feel of the original, but I really think London is crying out for something like this; a place where you can go to drink, dine and dance.
“It’s crazy that you’ve only had the choice of naff, glitzy West End places or the private members clubs, which don’t always attract the right people and alienate loads of others. We’ll have a stringent door policy, but no membership or tickets, just a place where you know you can go with friends to eat, have a few drinks, and you fancy staying out later, head downstairs to the club.”
I’ve been writing about the area’s fluctuating nightlife fortunes since way back in the original era, so this week Camdenist was given an exclusive tour of the venue as it comes together ahead of the big relaunch. Below is a floor-by-floor guide revealing more of what you can expect when those (reclaimed) Cross doors open on September 9th.
The Cross London: a floor-by-floor preview
With low ceilings, exposed brickwork and raw iron girders, the downstairs dancefloor has many of the hallmarks of those famous railway arches. “We wanted to keep the real essence and feeling, so that when people come down here who went to The Cross, they can immediately feel it,” Gemma tells us. Therefore eagle-eyed rave veterans will enjoy spotting some familiar artifacts, from the toilet stall doors and sinks, to the cigarette vending machine (’10p a pack’!), wooden swing seats and a nod to the infamous fairground waltzers, all salvaged from the original club.
A signature juxtaposition of luxury can be found in the two VIP booths, tucked into the original beer storage arches with deep green velvet banquets and just enough space to dance with small gaggles of friends. There’ll be not external club promotions here, only in-house programming of curated DJs playing all night.
Yes, that really is the old front door from The Cross that you’ll walk through to be greeted by the door host, ready to usher you onwards to one of the six floors. Expect floor to ceiling velvet curtains, a DJ booth, lush hanging plants and chandeliers by Renaissance, with a horseshoe bar to hang out around over drinks at any time.
“We’ve stripped back everything to uncover loads of original features that were hidden for years,” says Gemma about the industrial look of this main bar room, which also now boasts gorgeous marble counters and assorted thankfully very posh loos.
An all-day restaurant with 54 covers operates on this level, including some tables on a wraparound outdoor terrace accessed through a series of tall French windows. 132 glass pendant lights make for a warm and enticing vibe, reminiscent of the nearby restaurant Plum + Spilt Milk, with large centrepiece artworks from Ramsgate-based Vicki Salmi. Gemma worked closely with the renowned B3 Designers on the rich colour schemes, striking fittings and attractive design flourishes you’ll find throughout the venue. The menu includes various small plates like octopus carpaccio, glazed pork chop and roast cauliflower plus signature healthy salads.
Lower tables and chairs, plus a smaller menu with its own dishes and snacks create a more relaxed and informal dining vibe, a DJ and bar are on hand for when things inevitably begin to move up a gear as darkness falls. The floor is constructed from sanded railway sleepers, with reclaimed timber walls that have more than a touch of the Soho House about them. Similarly, you’ll be able to keep your table here while dipping in to the club or bars, meaning it can be the hub of late the night party you didn’t quite know you had in you.
Like the cigar lounges of old, this is a warm room of textured wallpaper and deep rouge banquets perfect for cocktails and lounging while exploring romantic liaisons or earnest post-dinner conversations. There’s no DJ on this floor, and it’s carpeted alongside more of those sumptuous marble counter tops and a very plush overall feel. Look up for a suitably trippy painted ceiling by Pierre Clement, too. A no photos policy throughout the building should add to the exciting clandestine feel of repairing to this room during an evening out.
Always a good local al fresco hangout back when this venue was The Driver, the new roof terrace has big beds and a handy cocktail and champagne bar hatch, plus raised decking so you can now see historic views right across King’s Cross, including back over towards those original arches by the canal.
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