WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Movable feasts


I mentioned before that it's hard to believe in a glut of restaurants and bars in Wellington, especially when you're trying to get a large group of cocktail afficionados into Matterhorn on a Friday night. Courtenay Place and its side streets, in particular, have no hospitality vacancies at all. Friends in the industry have mixed opinions, but some say that the business has been pretty tight. I had noticed a few closures recently, but there'd also been some new openings, so I decided to try some very rough research and whip up a map of recent openings and closings.

I plotted only new venues or substantial expansions of existing places, not just a change of restaurant on the same premises. I limited the study to permanent dine-in venues, so temporary venues (like the F69 bar) and takeaways were ignored. I didn't even attempt to track changes in malls and food courts, because they tend to be so volatile (and besides, I do have some standards). My definition of "recent" is fairly vague, since the data comes only from my rather fuzzy memory, and goes back about 3 or 4 years. Here's the result (new places in red, closures in blue):


It's clear that there's been a net increase, but there are couple of areas that look pretty sad. There have been five closures in the Willis-Manners-Victoria-Dixon block, mostly in the last couple of months. While some are so recent that the leases may be taken over again shortly, these closures may reflect the long-term shift of the entertainment district from here to Courtenay Place. Those of you with long memories may recall that back when Allen and Blair offered nothing but wholesale cauliflowers, Armadillo, Dish, Casper's and Chevy's were the places to be (depending upon one's preferences). While a few places still thrive (Vivo and Tupelo), the district is a shadow of its former self, and recent closures hint that it may continue to struggle.

The two dots between Dixon and Ghuznee streets represent what looks like the final demise, after several incarnations, of Apartment Bar and Svago. Tucked down a back alley in the Stygian gloom beneath the old Hannahs factory, they were never going to attract much casual traffic. Their closures seem unrelated to that of Angkor around the corner in Dixon St, as Angkor's owners recently chose to retire after a long and successful career. Update: La Casa Pasta will soon be moving here from just the roas (above Diva).

On the positive side, one of the most striking features is the rash of new caf├ęs on the Terrace. These are mostly only open in the daytime, but it's still good to see the Terrace evolving from an office monoculture to a mixed use environment. There's been little change on the Golden Mile itself: demand here has been so strong that new premises have had to open on nearby side streets. Of the few changes on the Golden Mile, most involve upstairs venues or spaces attached to existing premises. It's especially encouraging that there are many new places between the Golden Mile and the waterfront: this bodes well for improving the connection between the waterfront and the city.

So, while the market has been volatile, it seems that there are enough hungry and thirsty people in Wellington to support new restaurants and bars. But we're fussy and fickle people, so proprietors will have to offer a compelling combination of food, drink, service, atmosphere and location to attract our custom.

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