A new public convenience

A disused WC has been transformed into one of Tottenham’s best new boozers. Jim Ottewill finds The High Cross aiming for better than bog standard

“People walk in thinking it’s a toilet and they end up staying for a couple of pints: that’s always funny,” laughs Chris Johnston, one half of the team behind the newly opened pub, The High Cross.

If you’ve passed up Tottenham High Road from Seven Sisters, you can’t have failed to notice that the old WC on the corner has been undergoing a steady overhaul.

The distinctive building, straddling the junction with Monument Way, has just opened its doors as a pub but has already become one of Tottenham’s most unique spots. It’s thanks to Chris and his friend Alex Beeston, two northerners with a penchant for great boozers, establishments with buckets of atmosphere and ace beers, who have taken it over.

The High Cross during and after the renovation

Chris, who used to run The Railway Tavern in Dalston, explains: “I would cycle past this building on my way to The Railway and think that it would make a great spot,” he reveals. “One day I went past and there was an advertisement asking for business proposals from prospective tenants. From the first viewing the gut feeling for it was there.”

So after some legal wrangling, paperwork, proposals, interviews, applications planning, the pair managed to secure the lease from Haringey Council. But that was just the start of months of hard graft, says Chris:

“We inherited a shell, good-looking but cold, damp and dirty. We had to get new power and water reconnections as there was no record of the old ones, and then work our way out of it!”

It certainly sounds like a huge challenge? “It was hard, especially in winter. But we hired professionals where it counted, then friends and family and some of our old locals from The Railway. At the same time, most of what you see is our own work.”

Before and after

Entering The High Cross, you’ll be struck not only by its classy feel but by the wealth of original features. The building has been on the site since the 17th century and, according to Chris, retaining period elements of the 1920s décor they inherited was always part of the plan.

“We kept everything we could. Everything we selected was chosen to complement what existed already. It would have been sacrilege to rip it out so we used reclaimed materials and if it had to be bought off the shelf we tried to ensure it would fit in. It’s great when people say it looks as if it’s always been here.

What are your favourite bits of the reclaimed space? “The tiles are the star but for me the best feature is the light. We replaced all of the Find out more: Instagram @highcrosslondon panels with clear glass, keeping the original frames.”

Tottenham is certainly becoming London’s capital of craft beer and ale, with a glut of independent breweries pumping out delicious drinks across the postcode. Now, alongside the likes of fellow newbie, The Bluecoats and of course Five Miles, plus perennial faves The Beehive, there’s an increasing number of places to sample these delicious liquid wares.

“I’ve lived here for about five years and I love it,” says Chris. “Taking this place is certainly not an obvious way of going about things but we hope we are proving there is a demand for this kind of pub. It was an opportunity, a strange one, but I’m so glad we took it.”