London’s toughest door admits fewer than 40 people a night. The bar itself is hiding in plain sight in one of the city’s most thronged tourist hubs.
Welcome to the Yeoman Warders Club, also known as The Keys. The members-only establishment is situated in the Tower of London, the historic fortress and No. 1 paid tourist attraction in England. Located on the north bank of the River Thames, the Tower receives nearly 3 million annual visitors.
Their £22.70 admission fee includes a one-hour tour of the premises. What it does not get them is a look at or entrance to The Keys. The only people with access are the 37 Yeoman Warders, colloquially called Beefeaters, who live on the premises with their families.
Clad in red-trimmed coats, per the illustration on their namesake London Dry Gin, Beefeaters have guarded the Tower of London since 1485. Historically their duties included defending the Crown Jewels and minding prisoners such as Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded in the Tower in 1536. These days their status is largely ceremonial; modern Beefeaters lead tours and smize for Instagrammers.
Until after hours, that is. In the evenings Beefeaters ditch their uniforms for street clothes and head to The Keys, where they kick back on red leather benches beneath framed and mounted artifacts, such as the ancient Yeoman Gaoler’s execution axe.
The off-duty Beefeaters take turns tending bar. Beers include Beefeater Bitter, specially brewed in Staffordshire and available only at The Keys, plus Yeoman 1485, a craft lager. Both are “very lovely,” club chairman John Donald told Reuters.
“There are certainly two sides to life here at the Tower,” Donald said. “When we are here looking after the general public, we are… very busy answering lots of questions. And then come 6 o’clock it becomes our own little village again.”
The only other patrons are the Beefeaters’ personal guests. After all, no Yeoman is an island.