What’s it named after? The Surrey Commercial Docks dominated this area for nearly 300 years, but went into decline after heavy bombing during World War II. The docks closed in 1969 and were mostly filled in before the area was redeveloped during the 1980s, with Surrey Quays shopping centre opening in 1988. The largest remaining dock, Greenland Dock, is just behind the pub.
What’s the carpet like?
Funny area, Rotherhithe. It’s the Docklands, so you think it’s going to be full of wealth and suits. But this little corner of SE16, around the one-way system, has barely changed in 30 years.
The view’s different – look up the Lower Road and City skyscrapers dominate the skyline. Cross to the other side of the shopping centre – itself now looking dated – towards Canada Water station and the transformation of the East London Line from runty Tube backwater to shiny new Overground has been followed by redevelopment on a bewildering scale.
But surrounded by sturdy council estates, the little patch outside The Surrey Docks remains familiar, although it’s now almost the only pub in the immediate vicinity. Which may be why at six o’clock on a wet Monday evening, it’s packed.
Opened in May 1997, this is a classic Spoons of that period – all dark wood and dim lighting. It could probably do with a bit of a spruce-up for its 20th birthday, to be honest. As we’ve found so often in Wetherspoons, as many tables as possible have been squeezed into the main bar – a young woman with a buggy is struggling to navigate through the limited space. (She spends the two hours we’re in the pub on the fruit machine.)
Another familiar Spoons feature is groups of middle-aged men dominating the front of the pub. Here, they’re everywhere. We’re aware this place has a bit of a reputation – we’re half a mile from The Den and it’s a favoured spot for Millwall fans – but it’s fine, even friendly, here. We mind the bottle of wine belonging to the blokes sitting next to us a couple of times and get chatting to one of them.
There are few lone male drinkers in; one chap’s sitting reading John Grisham, his book illuminated by the light shining on one of the photos on the wall. And by the bar, there’s a couple drinking Prosecco and talking about traffic and buses (well, it is the day of a tube strike).
There’s a raised area with books on shelves, and the back of the pub has a younger, more mixed crowd taking advantage of Mexican Monday (the £6.25 pulled pork and cheese quesadilla, including an alcoholic drink of course, isn’t bad at all). The Het Anker Belgian Blond is a treat.
The FA Cup fourth round draw’s on, and there’s a squawk of horror when Millwall get an unglamorous home tie with Watford, to the amusement of the American Manchester United fan behind the bar. We toy with ordering via the Wetherspoon Order and Pay app, but chatting with the staff is more fun.
Head up the stairs to the toilet and you’ll find a curious range of well-known faces adorning the walls – comic Malcolm Hardee (who lived close by, but whose Up The Creek club sits opposite The Gate Clock in Greenwich); entertainer Max Bygraves (brought up nearby) and Michael Caine, who was born up the road at the old St Olave’s Hospital.
There’s also a feature peculiar to Spoons that opened around this time (like The Watch House in Lewisham) – photos of other Wetherspoons. Look, there’s the Toll Gate in Harringay, The Falcon in High Wycombe, and – in its 90s glory – a faded shot of Wetherspoons at Victoria station.
As time goes on, the crowd gets younger and more mixed as the older drinkers head off, presumably to nod off in front of Coronation Street. We expected hard stares and a frosty reception, but our trip to The Surrey Docks was pleasingly uneventful. If you’re looking to break a journey home for a quick drink, you could do a lot worse.