Beloved Cupertino pub could face last call
The mahogany bar at The Duke of Edinburgh, a traditional English pub operating in Cupertino for 40 years. Photo by Joseph Geha.

At Apple’s modern spaceship campus in Cupertino, engineers and designers work year-round on the latest iterations of the company’s iconic gadgets, always focused on the future.

In a much more plain building just across Wolfe Road, the pace of change is a bit slower. In fact, not much has changed in four decades at The Duke of Edinburgh, a traditional English pub in the center of Silicon Valley.

“There’s nothing quite like The Duke, it’s so authentic,” Jason Foreman, a board member of the Cupertino Historical Society and Museum, told San José Spotlight. “You just can’t beat it.”

Jason Apostle of San Jose throws a dart during a round with friends Eddie Reilly, left, and Bryan Johnston, back right, at The Duke of Edinburgh in Cupertino. Photo by Joseph Geha.

The owners threw the pub a 40th birthday party earlier this month, celebrating with a DJ, dance floor, food and drinks. It’s unclear if the birthday bash could be the last for The Duke, however, due to a developer’s looming plans for a hotel on the site—but the pub’s longtime patrons and employees say they’re relishing the time they have left.

The pub’s biggest claim to fame and its most alluring draw is its authenticity.

Just about everything inside the place came from England. Founded in 1983 by English expats Stan Gamble, David Neale and Robert Gaines Cooper, along with American Bob Blair, the group decided the pub should be built by craftsmen in Suffolk, shipped stateside in two big containers and assembled onsite.

A few men from Suffolk came to help do the “joinery,” and Gamble—a general contractor by trade—said he essentially built the rest, installing kitchens, bathrooms, seating and decor. Everything was meant to feel like a lavish recreation of the pubs he frequented in England.

“We even put the taps on the bar. Normally they’d be in the back,” Gamble told San José Spotlight. “That was a bit of a pain in the arse to do, but we were trying to make it more authentic.”

With deep red flocked wallpaper, matching velvet booths, wrought iron table pedestals, brass handrails, old-fashioned light fixtures and the sturdy mahogany bar, the pub oozes warmth and charm.

“I think the ambiance creates an atmosphere whereby people feel relaxed and can have a chat, basically. A chat, gossip, discuss, argue, call it what you will,” Gamble said.

Stan Gamble, one of the owners of English pub The Duke of Edinburgh, poses for a photo at the bartop. Photo by Joseph Geha.

Gamble is a soft spoken man with a thick accent who is up there in years—“I’m not telling you my age, I’m old,”—and quick with a quip.

He says the pub has essentially been a 40-year hobby that doesn’t bring in too much revenue. But the best reason he has to keep it going? “I need somewhere to go have a drink,” he said with a chuckle.

While Gamble prefers a gin and tonic, the pub serves standbys like Guinness, and it also has some hard to find beers like Old Speckled Hen, an English bitter ale.

The food menu is also largely the same as ever, with pub stalwarts including fish and chips and bangers and mash, as well as some reasonably priced richer dishes, like prime rib and Beef Wellington, helping to bring people back night after night.

Redevelopment looms

But Gamble’s hobby, which has been shared and adored by so many over the decades, faces the threat of redevelopment. Kimco Realty, an investment firm that owns The Cupertino Village shopping center where The Duke is located, has plans to demolish the simple square building that contains the pub, and build a five-story boutique hotel there.

The Cupertino City Council greenlit the idea in 2019, seemingly spelling the end for The Duke. But in the wake of the pandemic and its impact on the hotel industry, and recently rising interest rates making development lending more difficult, the pub has been granted a reprieve.

Longtime regular Tim Shetelat, 52, said he has been coming to The Duke for nearly 20 years. He loves the place so much he decided to help out, and began working part time at the pub about a year ago, preparing house-made Cumberland-style sausages for diners and occasionally tending bar.

Shetelat said he loves how tight-knit The Duke community is, and how it extends outside the four walls into golf tournaments, hangouts and other activities, all starting with relationships built at the pub.

“This has been a pretty special place for a lot of people, over 40 f****** years,” he told San José Spotlight.

The Duke is a beloved hangout for regulars like Shetelat, a cozy and inviting standby for occasional visitors, and a unique piece of local lore for first-timers.

On any given night, the pub’s most frequent patrons can be found lounging in the booths, talking around the bar, watching a football (soccer) match or throwing a round of darts.

During the 40th birthday celebration, plenty of time was spent with old friends reconnecting and reminiscing about some of the adult soccer matches they played while on teams long sponsored by The Duke.

Bartender Travis Perry speaks with customers and employees at The Duke of Edinburgh in Cupertino. Photo by Joseph Geha.

A place with soul 

Though some of the brightness of the ornate interior may have faded since opening night in fall 1983—a 2009 Metro Silicon Valley story called it “fusty”—those who know the place best say keeping things the same is what has allowed it to endure this long.

“Being honest to the true nature of where it started,” employee Kelly Sim, 62, told San José Spotlight.

Sim has worked as a server and bartender at The Duke for nearly 20 years. She said in addition to pleasing locals for decades, visitors from all around the world stop into the pub, especially Brits, Scots and Irish folks who say it feels like home to them.

That long, steady history in a region known for constant innovation and change, and the close relationships formed at the pub, is why it’s difficult for Sim and others to think of what it would be like with The Duke gone.

Sim started to well up with emotion when she contemplated losing The Duke.

“I have goosebumps and I almost could cry,” Sim said. “I’d be so sad, it’s my family. I’ll miss my family.”

Nitish K. of Cupertino, a patron of The Duke who was partaking in a recent evening of trivia, said there are enough hotels in the area, but not enough community joints like The Duke.

“It would be painful if they go and one more of those soulless places comes up in its place,” Nitish said.

For now, however, it’s unclear when Kimco will pursue the hotel project. The development approvals for the hotel plans granted by the city in July 2019 are good for five years, and the developer can apply for extensions of those approvals, city officials said.

“We’re still excited about the hotel opportunity, but there are no immediate plans to break ground,” Jennifer Maisch, the head of marketing and communications for Kimco, told San José Spotlight.

She said Kimco plans to request an extension for the approvals, and does still intend to eventually build the hotel project.

“We’re still monitoring to determine what is the right time for us to move forward,” Maisch said.

Shetelat said he has considered the uncomfortable possibility of the pub’s demise, and dreamt of how to stop it.

“Me and my friends that I have from here, we talk about if this place shuts down, where do we go?” Shetelat said. “A little joke we like to tell is, if you win the lottery, the first thing you do is buy the land this place is on, just to keep it going.”

The Duke of Edinburgh, a beloved English pub in Cupertino, has been serving up pints and bites for 40 years. Photo by Joseph Geha.

No regrets

Foreman, of the historical society, lamented that Cupertino only has three bars left in the city, and that The Duke could be in danger.

“Yeah, they’re bars, they are places where people go to drink. But they are places where people go to blow off steam, where commonality is shared, where the individual can be part of the community,” he said.

Foreman said he hopes to see The Duke carry on.

“Places like The Duke will always have a place in our community because it’s a constant,” Foreman said. “It’s been true to what it was, what it is, and hopefully what it will continue to be.”

With the closure earlier this year of The Brit location in West San Jose on the border of Cupertino, The Duke is the oldest active British or Irish pub in the South Bay.

But Gamble, a developer himself for many years, remains matter-of-fact when discussing the potential closure of the pub.

“Well, America’s slightly different from Britain where pubs tend to be there forever. Here, bars and restaurants just come and go, with maybe very few exceptions,” Gamble said. “I saw the news coming, I’m realistic.”

He has considered moving the pub to another building nearby, but said the costs to build and install new kitchens and bathrooms could stop that from being possible. He said he isn’t sure what will happen if Kimco decides to move forward.

“I honestly don’t really know,” Gamble said.

Calling back to singer Edith Piaf’s famous 1960 rendition of “Non, je ne regrette rien,” Gamble said he has no regrets about his time with The Duke.

“Just remember the memories. All the fun I’ve had here. All the people I’ve met,” he told San José Spotlight. “I won’t be upset. No, not going to be the least bit upset.”

Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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