The Auctioneer

Greenwich High Road, SE10

Now here’s a puzzle – a pub of a confusingly schizophrenic nature which shouldn’t work, but somehow is actually quite a pleasant experience as long as you’re not there primarily for the drink…

I avoided it for years – it just looked ghastly – the long-line display of red wheelie bins stretching the entire length of the front was enough in itself to put me off. I confess I haven’t seen quite so many bins lining the pavement for a while – maybe they’ve found somewhere else to stash them or they’ve cut down on the trash.

The inside looks like the result of a relatively recent refit, judging from the style. It’s a curious mix – as though the management and designers couldn’t agree on who their core clientele were.

Plush curtains in mid-brown crushed velvet soften the windows and swag nicely against the squashy sofas at the front. They’re echoed in a frankly kitsch manner as frilly rococo valences surrounding the air-con units – and I will admit it’s a lot less harsh than it must have been before the refit.

It really looks as though it was trying to restyle itself as a gastro pub – with low lighting, using glamorous, mismatched chintz pendants and simple wooden tables – just without the gastro. Or indeed the pub.

They’re up-front about it. There’s only one beer on tap – Tetleys – and, my first visit being before the sun was over the yard arm, I was warned that the coffee was ‘crap.’ The barmaid suggested I had a latte instead. “It comes out better…”

What they do do well, though, is cheap food. There’s a wide menu of average fare at very good prices. They’re proud of their burgers and there there’s a good range of other stuff too. It comes out as cheap and filling. You can do a hell of a lot worse in Greenwich town centre – a place that seems to specialise in cheap crud for tourists, this is edible, hearty and cheerfully served.

Where it becomes schizophrenic though, is on the walls, each one plastered with TV screens showing whatever sport is available. On Saturday afternoons, there’s even a giant drop-down version, though when I went back on a non-match day, it had been furled up and the atmosphere felt a lot more cosy.

The regulars seem to tolerate the funky decor more than enjoy it, playing pool and watching TV around the jazzy armchairs, and sidling in and out from the very narrow door for a fag. But on the three or four times I’ve been in there, the atmosphere has been cheery and relaxed; a young clientele, who seem to have realised that this is a lot better than St Christophers (recently re-furbed to indifferent result as ‘Belluci’s.’)

Upstairs has the potential to be quite a find, though it doesn’t seem to have been discovered as yet. It’s much the same as downstairs, but the pouffe seats – and the lights – are much lower.

There’s a bar up there and what looks remarkably like a tiny stage – do they have comedy or music nights? I’ll wager they intended to, even if they’ve never happened. If any of you are thinking of putting on such a night, it would make a very good venue.

This is never going to replace the Feathers, Union or Vanbrugh (or even the Mitre, which I’ve been enjoying recently, despite the omnipresent TV screens.) But it’s an enjoyable place to meet local friends before going on somewhere and the food is cheap.

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