The Keys bar has been named the Sunday Mail pub of the year for 2014.
Popular with locals but not generally frequented by students, the Market Street pub’s success may come as a surprise to many members of the University, who associate the pub with a fierce reputation.
Yet at an awards ceremony in Glasgow last night, The Keys was bestowed with the title of Scotland’s best pub. Members of the public were asked to nominate and vote for their favourite pub, and judges from DRAM magazine then chose The Keys as the winner from a shortlist of four. The final competition included MacGochans on the Isle of Mull, The Scotia Bar in Glasgow and The Park Bar, also in Glasgow.
In a statement on its website about the winner, DRAM magazine said: “DRAM’s judges were blown away by the welcome given to all customers, whether long-time regulars or first-time visitors, and the lively, community feel of the pub means you’ll always feel at home in The Keys.”
The pub is family run and has been since 1979. Claire Nicoll, who took over the direction of The Keys after the death of her mother in 2012, told The Saint: “I’m quite speechless if I’m being totally honest. It’s an absolute dream come true.
“Our customers started it. For us personally, our customers are like our family and that’s how I treat every single person. It’s how I want to be served, with a smile and a wee bit of courtesy. So I think that started it. Then we got a secret judge come in. We treat everyone the same, so I guess they found we had good customer service and they liked the atmosphere. We’re really friendly. Then the final judge came in to see for herself and obviously just loved it.”
When asked about the negative perception of The Keys among students, Ms Nicoll had a story to tell.
“Not long after my mum and dad came in 1979, there was a student who wrote in to The Saint to say that The Keys was a students’ graveyard and definitely not to go in – that it was a fighters’ club, a mens’ pub, don’t go in it. And actually, mum found out that the student who wrote it was really a guy who came into the pub all the time. The reason he wrote it was because he didn’t want any other students to come in, because it was his little secret gem. He wanted a place where there wouldn’t be any students. Unfortunately that idea has stuck, but it’s quite a funny story.
“Personally I think people are maybe judging. It’s not got glitz and it’s not got glamour and it’s not got lots of lights. But I think sometimes you’ve got to look past that. If you go in you’ll find out that we’re actually really nice people and we always treat everyone the same. And that’s always been the case. So hopefully things will change.”