What’s it named after? It’s named after the Shepherd Gate Clock, the 24-hour timepiece at the gates of the Old Royal Observatory up in Greenwich Park. Installed in 1852, it was the first clock to show Greenwich Mean Time to the general public, and is connected to the master clock inside the observatory building.
What’s the carpet like?
There are plenty of pubs in Greenwich town centre, but hardly any good ones. Discerning drinkers tend to head east (The Plume of Feathers, The Pelton Arms, The Crown, The Vanburgh) or west (The Greenwich Union, The Ashburnham Arms and The Morden Arms, a throwback to a different kind of Greenwich). The last really special town centre pub, The Lord Hood, has been killed off by developers and is awaiting demolition.
So this should be easy territory for The Gate Clock to clean up – a bit of atmosphere, friendly staff and prices that don’t fleece you should make this a winner, no?
It’s a freezing cold Friday evening when we visit – it’s packed and the only free table is by the door, an icy draught blowing in from Creek Road.
There’s a mix of young people, old soaks and tourists – to the left of the bar is an area designed for diners, with older visitors filling the square tables packed into the space. To the right and up the stairs, it’s a bit more spacious and filled with a younger crowd.
Some are already dressed up for a Friday night out. There’s a 30th birthday group doing the rounds, with the birthday girl – wearing a hen do-style sash and balloon – trying to sponge free drinks from the bar staff. She is politely declined.
There’s an amorous couple close to the bar hitting the wine with some enthusiasm, while we can’t help notice one of the friendly and efficient bar staff is a dead ringer for Radio 1’s breakfast DJ Nick Grimshaw. Unusually, there are also no price tags on the real ale hand-pulls – though the True Grit and Make It Rain are being served for just £2.15 each, and they’re great.
Despite being in Historic Maritime Greenwich™, the local history on the walls is kept to a bare minimum. Maybe because it’d look a bit silly in a pub that only opened in the late 1990s, as part of a then-controversial development that secured the construction of Cutty Sark DLR station down below. If you want a speedy getaway by driverless train, this is the pub for you.
The flow of tourists into The Gate Clock is one thing that marks this out from other Spoons in the area. We’d argue there are three others. Firstly, the student accommodation upstairs, guaranteeing a flow of thirsty, thrifty younger drinkers. Is this the best hall of residence bar in the country?
Secondly, the presence of Up the Creek comedy club over the road. The Greenwich institution – opened by Malcolm Hardee, who is remembered in The Surrey Docks a couple of miles up the road – provides The Gate Clock with plenty of pre-show drinkers. But it also runs a cheap and cheerful disco after the comedy (“ladies free” if you print off a voucher). So on Fridays and Saturdays, you get another crowd in fuelling up for a suburban club night.
Thirdly – the smoking area, which faces onto Creek Road. Most Spoons just have a few old faces puffing away by their front door. But The Gate Clock has outdoor seating on the road outside, for fans of both nicotine and nitrogen dioxide. On a summer night, it can be deeply unpleasant, with pissed-up groups of LADS, presumably finessing their winning lines for Up the Creek, harassing anyone unfortunate enough to be waiting at the bus stop outside.
Thankfully, it’s too cold tonight for leering halfwits to be sat outside. But there are still plenty of smokers. Indeed, someone even moves the “no smoking” sign – placed by the doors – inside so they can puff closer to the warmth of the pub.
Tonight’s lack of idiots means it’s all rather relaxed in The Gate Clock. A couple of bouncers keep an eye on things, a few people dash in and out to use the toilet, and there are enough customers to keep the bar staff busy. In short, it’s all ticking over rather nicely.
We head off just as the real party people start to arrive. This may be a good thing. But against expectations, we’ve enjoyed ourselves here.
If the Fox on the Hill in Camberwell is JD Wetherspoon’s summer boozer in this part of London, perhaps The Gate Clock is its winter one. If you fancy a drink in the centre of Greenwich and don’t want to be ripped off, head here and warm up. Just keep away from the doors…