Greenwich Inc

I have lost count of the number of people who have asked me why I have made no comment on the ongoing and frankly messy demise of Greenwich Inc and this morning I got yet another request to discuss it, so hey, here we go.

The reason I’ve not mentioned it is not sinister, I promise. Basically I heard rumours a long while ago, but couldn’t talk about it for legal reasons until it became official. Then Rob over at greenwich.co.uk started a thread and I don’t like to tread on toes if there’s a good old ding-dong going on elsewhere as it tends to water down discussion. You can read that discussion here.

Greenwich Visitor (the only local paper actually worth bothering with these days, IMHO) also covered it well and I’m not particularly into reinventing the wheel, however splendid a wheel it might be.

But hey – I’ve been asked once too often now, so yes – let’s look at it.

For anyone who’s been living under a rock for the past few months, Greenwich Inc. has gone into administration, Frank Dowling, its main man, is being investigated for fraud and it’s all looking rather grim.

Sounds to me like the classic expansion too far, and however serious the schadenfreude might be, for many Greenwich people the main questions will linger around what this means for the town.

Few people liked what Greenwich Inc. did to – well, Greenwich. Interesting, cute restaurants turned into bloated monsters, historic interiors ripped out and replaced with plush fakes, quirky menus switched for generic pap.

It was often quite a downer visiting the places too – I remember asking a waiter about the tips and him saying ‘I don’t care how you pay it – I don’t see it whatever form it comes in.’ After that I always slipped them cash.

Of course Greenwich Inc wasn’t just in the town centre – it expanded to the O2, the Isle of Dogs and ever the City. For me, I care little about what happened elsewhere, even over at the O2 – it was a new venue and he could do what he liked with it, though that Indian restaurant that was there when it first opened was marvellous, and his takeover of that was a real pity.

But what we’re left with in the town itself is a worry:

The Trafalgar Tavern – in a dreadful state and under threat of a godawful hotel thrown up next to it. There’s buddlia growing out of the roof, cracks in the stucco small creatures could set up mansion in and a general air of melancholy. I’m told this is still controlled under a different management, but it’s one of Greenwich’s brightest jewels and it’s not glittering as it might. Having said that, it’s not all bad – that ghastly statue of Nelson has disappeared, some say mysteriously. I was sent some photos of it being loaded onto a van…

(c) Townly Cooke

The Bar du Musee – a delightful, quirky French restaurant by an antiques shop, expanded and bloated until it became a ghastly monster with zero character and dreadful food. Still not sure how that kind of over-expansion was allowed, but it was sort of hollowed out over the years, like the chalk mines under the heath. Jamie Oliver has it now and it’s okay for a chain, but I’d have the old Bar du Musee back any day.

The Spread Eagle – oh, the Spread Eagle – a charming old coaching inn, next to a couple of funky little Dick Moy junk emporia. Again, ripped out, hollowed out and blandified – how was this even allowed? But at least it had one hell of an art collection, bought by Dowling from Dick Moy, as I understand. Now, it’s part of that fraud investigation as The Greenwich Visitor will tell you at length, all of that art has disappeared. It was a wonderful collection, and I know it was private – but I’d love to see it saved for the people of Greenwich – if they can find it, of course.

The Cricketers – a nice old codgers’ pub on the south east of the Market. First the appalling Powder Monkey – a taste-free, purpose-built ‘gay bar’ created as some kind of ‘replacement’ for the Gloucester Arms. The local gay population took one look at the hideous urinals and voted with their feet. Then it was the least exotic Tiki bar you’ll ever come across, followed by the dreary W Lounge, then the smelliest fish and chip shop in town. It’s now Goddards Pies. Don’t get me started on why Goddards should never have moved from their original place (where Gourmet Burger Kitchen is now) but I guess it’s the best of the bunch.

The Admiral Hardy – a pub turned into student bar. I don’t know much about it as it wasn’t one I knew well enough to comment on. I believe it’s still owned by an independent company.

The Clarence Music Hall – This was a music hall above the entrance to the market. To be honest, I have no idea what this was like before Greenwich Inc moved in, but I do remember the ‘erotic’ wallpaper and being laughed at when I got the proverbial fly in my (v. expensive) cocktail. I never returned. Wouldn’t it be a cool replacement for Greenwich Playhouse? Of course that will never happen…

The Gloucester Arms – a nice, quiet gay pub, replaced with a generic modern bar in many forms, most recently the Greenwich Tavern. I don’t hate it, there’s nothing specific to hate – but it is all part of the blandification of Greenwich.

The Coach and Horses – the pub in the south west corner of the market, completing Greenwich Inc’s total ownership of all four corners. I heard terrible stories of how it went downhill ‘backstage’ getting, I am told, into a terrible condition. I don’t know if it still is.

I don’t know what will happen with Frank Dowling and Greenwich Inc, but I am concerned about the state the debacle has left Greenwich in. These buildings, without exception, are historic, and need attention from, ideally, lots of different people so that this wholesale degradation cannot happen again should an ‘empire’ go bust.

Wanted: Quirky, passionate individuals (with bottomless pockets and/or energy) to create something cool out of Greenwich Inc’s ashes…


the attachments to this post:

(c) Townly Cooke
Nelson being loaded onto van townly cooke


28 Comments to “Greenwich Inc”

  1. Matt says:

    Such a shame there’s no easy way to link the people with cool and quirky ideas with the people with ‘bottomless pockets’. Could be a lot of fun taking on one of those places and making something of it..

  2. Mary says:

    - er – and the never opened ground floor of the Anchor Iron wharf flats

    and a number of other things about which I remain angry

  3. Jah Wibble says:

    Great article GP. I’ve checked out your site a few times over the past few years, but have never posted.

    This subject is close to my heart. I’ve lived here since the mid 90′s and Greenwich used to be a really fun place to go out in. Then came Frank and his Millions and gentrified it to death. I had friends who said there was nothing wrong with what he was doing as it was just business- but it just made it an incredibly dull place to be.
    You used to be able to get a different night and crowds in each pub or bar. After the initial excitement of refurbishments, it was pretty much the same thing in every single bar that he took over.
    I’m glad this has happened, to be fair to Frank, he did pretty well to keep the blandness going for that long. Maybe now we can get some more interesting places to drink in.

  4. bats says:

    I can’t help thinking that this is a good thing. My only worry is that they will be taken over by chains, I dislike jamies, I had a terrible experience the two times I went.

    Though me and Mrs Bats moved away from Greenwich 2 months ago it is nice to come back as a tourist. I hope some bright spark is out there ready to take over some of these (otherwise) doomed venues.

  5. Jack Cross says:

    Frank is innocent until proven guilty, but frankly I doubt that last Christmas was one that he enjoyed very much. When news of the administration first became public, he had his apologists and supporters, but now they have all quietly disappeared, and his future looks bleak.
    His/Greenwich Inc.’s affairs are very complicated, mainly because he deliberately made them so, and will take a long time to sort out. The HMRC investigation alone will take ages, and he is rumoured to be in far more trouble than just that.
    This, then, is probably Dowling’s final gift to Greenwich – a total mess, with far too many properties on the market all at once, with the result that it will be soulless chains that buy them up.
    This is probably the moment when Greenwich finally slips through our fingers and becomes just like any other suburban dormitory.

  6. irena says:

    Great post, GP, thank you. Not one to hark after the good old days, which were never actually that good, I none the less despair at the way Greenwich is having its heart ripped out. The process has been speeding up recently and there is no one in authority to try and do anything about it. So this is my idea: Maritime Greenwich, Maritime Deptford and possibly part of Maritime Charlton should unite as a site of historic interest and be managed by a proper Manager (NOT by a planner or enforcer) with integrity, intelligence and the interest of local people, communities and small businesses at heart. Above all, with enough clout to talk to the big guys and make things happen in the right way. I do believe that ‘Woolwich is killing Greenwich’.

  7. Mr H says:

    I feel sorry for the staff that worked for the Inc company, but glad that Frank has got his comeuppance.

    He is one of the main people who has helped destroy Greenwich Town centre in the last 10 years.

    He wasn’t solely to blame imo. Greenwich Hospital Estates should take some blame along with Greenwich council!

    Like some have expressed, my worry is that the chains will take advantage in these market distressed times! There’s no doubt that they want the big boys, forcing long established independents out by raising rents by almost double in some cases!

  8. Vince says:

    Has anyone seen application 13/3052/CE from Mr Frank Dowling? Check it on Greenwich Council planning web site.
    http://publicaccess.royalgreenwich.gov.uk:81/online-applications/

    “Certificate of Lawfulness for an Existing use relating to Opening Hours established more than 10 years. | THE INC BAR”

    Application Received: Wed 15 Jan 2014

  9. Jon says:

    Mr H’s last point is a very valid one. It’s all very well blaming Frank Dowling/Greenwich Inc (and I’m sure a lot of that is fair critiscism) but landlords dictate rents and decide who lets their properties. A vibrant independant town centre is only possible if landlords take an interest in their tenants and are prepared to subsidise new businesses. On the whole, they couldn’t give two hoots who lets their shops and those with deepest pockets get the gig.

  10. Jon says:

    PS On the plus side, a glut of properties on the market and administrators keen to recoup losses may just supress rents enough to allow some fast-moving entrepreneurs to gain a foot-hold.

  11. Richard says:

    What he did to the Spread Eagle was criminal enough for me. What a place that used to be.

  12. bats says:

    The spread eagle…one of the worse meals I have ever eaten….and we were the only people in there. Not good.

  13. Jack Cross says:

    Jon-
    “a glut of properties on the market and administrators keen to recoup losses may just supress rents enough to allow some fast-moving entrepreneurs to gain a foot-hold.”

    Sorry, but I really wouldn’t bet on that. Big sharks are already circling.

  14. The Minky says:

    I worked on the old Music Hall refurbisment in the late 90′s my friend bought it.We had to dig out the cellar by hand and found lots of graffiti from WWII as it was a makeshift shelter.It had been a photo studio before that and was idle for years.English Heritage were involved and we had to very careful with the refurb.I’m not sure how the “upgrade” was passed when Greenwich Inc bought it .But it was a true shame as Time Bar had a great food menu and the live music was superb .It was also a living Art Gallery that young up and coming artists could show and sell their work.Quite literally you put in an offer and the Artist decided whether it was enough or not,I have quite a few of them.But that was a time when Greenwich was still quirky and had a Bohemian feel to it,but not anymore.A Corporate Circus now but hey at least my house is worth a fortune but my kids will never be able to afford one…Progress !!

  15. JB says:

    Read that Greenwich Visitor piece. Frank didn’t buy BDM from Dick Moy he got it from Robin. Other mistakes in it too.

  16. Maeve OKane says:

    Greenwich town centre is a notoriously rubbish night out. The only passable places are the pubs on Royal Hill or at the Pelton or Vanbrugh. Its like a crappy market town or something.

    I am shocked that for a place that is considered to be relatively sophisticated in terms of London suburbs, it hasn’t got a single modern bar/kitchen like every other area of London. It will never attract the young affluent crowd with the rubbish offer it currently has.

    I sometimes go to East Dulwich which has plnety of funky places or even Brockley, which whilst it doesn’t even have a ‘town centre’ per se, it has 3 or 4 cool bar/eateries which wipe the floor with the cr@p in Greenwich – Jam Circus, The Orchard, The Gantry, Mr Lawrences….etc

  17. Jah Wibble says:

    Not sure about chains amassing like vultures.
    One thing about Greenwich is that it’s bloody expensive and isn’t the easiest place to make money (perhaps this is why Frank had to do cook his books a bit?). It’s great if all your other venues are making money, but to sink that profit into an area where it isn’t busy year around and is expensive to rent might be a bit too much of a risk for cold calculating corporate MDs. Sure Greenwich gets tourists…but is it enough to bring in a profit? Without people in the area supporting local businesses, I’m not sure it works.

    But as chains go, one I’d be up for a Sam Smiths coming to Greenwich.

  18. Richard says:

    @Jah Wibble. Locals will and do support businesses that cater for their needs. The shops and cafes on Royal Hill, the parade of shops on South Street the pubs on Royal Hill and in the Ash Triangle. The problem with the town centre is just that its a tourist hell hole. Why would any local venture past the Rivington?

  19. Jah Wibble says:

    @ Richard

    That’s exactly the point I was making. It DOESN’T work without local support.

    They need local people to support them when tourist trade is low. I for one have avoided doing pretty much anything in central Greenwich for a few years, just because there isn’t anything that interest me much, as so the chains that are there haven’t had any of my money (or much of yours by the sound of it).

  20. Jack Cross says:

    “Not sure about chains amassing like vultures”

    They’re already here – haven’t you noticed?
    MacDonalds, Weatherspoons, M&S, Waitrose, Carphone Warehouse, Costa Coffee, Waterstones, Jamie’s, GBK, Youngs Boots, Superdrug, Nando’s, Byron………

  21. Jack Cross says:

    “But as chains go, one I’d be up for a Sam Smiths coming to Greenwich.”

    Meant to comment on this too – Traditionally, Sam Smiths will only take on pubs where they can buy the freehold. Unless this policy has changed recently, they wouldn’t be interested in any of the former Greenwich Inc pubs in Greenwich.

  22. Jah Wibble says:

    @ jack cross.

    I think it’s fair to say that bar Nando’s and Byron’s, all those you’ve listed have been around for a long time. Some over 10 years.

    What I’m interested is the bars and pubs that were/are part of of Greenwich Inc and what might come of them. I’m not sure I could see TK Maxx setting up where the Admiral Hardy is now. If large Brewery’s took over they would be pubs, not bars trying to be something else.

    I’ve read your earlier posts and I’m trying to figure out where your coming from. What do you or don’t you want to see happen in Greenwich?

  23. Jack Cross says:

    Wibble -

    I was addressing the point you made recently -

    “Not sure about chains amassing like vultures.
    One thing about Greenwich is that it’s bloody expensive and isn’t the easiest place to make money…… It’s great if all your other venues are making money, but to sink that profit into an area where it isn’t busy year around and is expensive to rent might be a bit too much of a risk for cold calculating corporate MDs”

    where, unless I completely misunderstand you, you are saying that Greenwich wouldn’t be attractive to chains, and I was pointing out that Greenwich *is* attractive to chains, and that there are lots of them here. You say -

    “I think it’s fair to say that bar Nando’s and Byron’s, all those you’ve listed have been around for a long time. Some over 10 years”
    Which tends to prove, rather than disprove my point, doesn’t it?

    So far as specific pub chains are concerned, we already have Youngs, M & B Castle, Shepherd Neame, Greene King, Weatherspoons and Inn Public (which is part of Enterprise I think) – the Lost Hour and the Coach and Horses are almost certainly operated by chains too.

    “If large Brewery’s took over they would be pubs, not bars trying to be something else.”
    I have to say that I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, sorry. These days, large breweries have different trading styles – Fuller’s own The Fine Line, for example, which most people would think of as a chain of bars, rather than pubs.

    So far as your last paragraph is concerned, I have expressed no preference, because I am all too aware that it makes no difference at all what I happen to prefer.

  24. Jah Wibble says:

    @Jack Cross.

    You’re right, I didn’t explain a few things properly as I was posting on my phone whist on the move.

    By saying if large breweries took over they would be pubs I mean that before Frank bought up those places, they were just pubs that did what they did well – without the pretence of trying to attract particular types of people.
    For example, The Cricketers shut down to become a gay bar with novelty toilets- then a Tkiki bar, Bar De Musse (yes I know it’s a bar) closed to become a large place where people from Canary Wharf could get away from it all-as was the Traf and the Admiral tries so desperately hard to get a young crowd.

    If breweries did come in, they might just go back to being……pubs.

    I think a lot of it comes down to what works in an area. I’m not sure an All Bar One would do well for example.

    As much as I really dislike the gentrification of the high street, it’s happening everywhere-not just Greenwich.
    By saying that those chains have been there for 10 years or more, I mean it’s been a slow process and not over night (Sad as it is).

    Of your postings the thing that throws me is:

    “This, then, is probably Dowling’s final gift to Greenwich – a total mess, with far too many properties on the market all at once, with the result that it will be soulless chains that buy them up.
    This is probably the moment when Greenwich finally slips through our fingers and becomes just like any other suburban dormitory.”

    Which, from the language you’ve used, says to me you do have preference, but you don’t really want to disclose it except tell people we’re all doomed and there’s nothing we can do about it.

    Choosing not to state what you are/are not in favour of might not make a difference to you, but it does help people understand where you’re coming from. You’ve made some good points, but I still have no idea if you think this is a good or a bad thing?

  25. Jack Cross says:

    I think if you read what I have written that it’s perfectly clear where I stand, but I don’t think anyone would, or should, give a bugger about what I might prefer.

    I stand by what I said on 22nd January – Greenwich is now very likely at the tipping point where we who have lived here for a long time have lost the old Greenwich, quirky, individual, boho, faux-arty and shabby as it was.

    You are right when you say that the infiltration of the chains into Greenwich has been a long gradual process, but it has been gaining momentum and velocity, accelerating faster and faster in the last 5 years, and is now unstoppable, in my humble view. Development in the last couple of years has been extremely aggressive (and ongoing).

    3 or 4 years ago, I was saying that there were only traces left of the Greenwich that I moved to in the 70′s – now there are barely even traces, and they will be gone completely very soon.

  26. lucy says:

    FRANK THE YANK RUINED EVERYTHING HE TOUCHED IN GREENWICH,AND HOPEFULLY THEY WILL ALL GET SORTED ONE DAY.
    FINGERS CROSSED..!!!

  27. Rick says:

    I moved to Greenwich in 2000, living in the town centre and then later in East Greenwich before abandoning the area and moving to Queens Park NW London. I loved it there and have a lot of fond memories. But it has to be said, when I arrive in 2000 Greenwich was at a turning point. There were still independent places that were interesting and quirky. Also, interesting cahracters on the streets. But then the University moved in, and the tourists arrived in droves. You cant really complain about that but since then the town became more and more commercialised. Greenwich Inc was a part of this. At the same time I can see how the Council might have thought that because Greenwich Inc was ‘local’ it was ok and better than a larger chain. Who knows…

    Hopefully, this will be good in the long run. Living in another similar villagey area I notice now that Greenwich has a lack of true modern interesting cafe/bars. Perhaps now is the time for Greenwich to reclaim its past and bring a more art feel back.

    The one place I still really miss is Royal Teas. It’s a unique place and is a link to the old Greenwich. Ive still never come across anywhere similar in London and that does a generous Cream Tea at a great price. I’m so glad it’s still there.

  28. Me too, Rick – a cream tea at, if memory serves, £4.50 is ridiculously cheap and very tasty (unlike the worst cream tea I ever had, which, I am very. very sad to report was at the Old Brewery – so bad even the pigeons wouldn’t eat it. Happily that’s not what they’re best known for…)in pleasant surroundings. Hurrah for Royal Teas.