Bouncing back 4
After nearly a year, the last of Vim Rao's former restaurant sites is set to reopen. The fomer Kopi at 103 Willis St is going to become a Butlers Chocolate Cafe, an Irish brand that seems to be new to New Zealand. I have to admit that when I think of chocolate (mmmm, chocolate...), Switzerland or Belgium may spring to mind, but not Ireland. Butlers, however, is apparently a very succesful brand both commercially and gustatorily. While I'm usually wary of international brands moving in, as far as I can tell this will be the first branch outside Ireland, so it's not exactly as ubiquitous as Starbucks.
Just down the street, the Malthouse is set to close in a fortnight's time to make way for the Chews Lane development. There was an interview in yesterday's Dominion Post with the Malthouse's Sean Murrie, and while there will obviously be a sense of loss when the building goes, Murrie's clearly looking forward to bringing some serious beer culture to Courtenay Place. The new location is described as "a totally redeveloped 200 square metre space next to the Sports Bar on the corner of Courtenay Place", which implies that contrary to my previous post (which was based upon conversations with the Malthouse bar manager), they will indeed be moving into what is now Seam at 48a Courtenay Place. So my apologies, Duncan, you were right the first time.
Speculations about Monkey being transformed into a tapas bar also proved correct, in a way. It's now an "Asian tapas" bar called Vintage, which was correctly identified by Perrin as the current mystery bar. It's a rather curious mix of pseudo-Oriental design and old-school hip hop, exemplified by the use of Buddha graffiti to signify its presence in the alleyway, but it seems to work rather nicely. While David Burton was appalled by the very concept of "Asian tapas" when offered by the Orchid Lounge, the versions here seem to be "tapas" only inasmuch as they're small snacks, and there's not much attempt at fusion cuisine. In fact, the decor, food and drinks at Vintage are very much the sort of thing that something called "Orchid Lounge" should have been, and the use of ingredients such as ginger, lemongrass, tamarind and even wasabi in their cocktails adds an intriguing (and often delicious) point of difference.
In my previous "bouncing back" post I tried to calculate the net effect of all the changes, so I'll update that now. With Monkey and Kopi now accounted for, of this year's closures that only leaves Bar 155, Play and Higher Taste still empty. Seam will have to make way for the Malthouse, though some would say that's not much of a loss, and in any case there's a "gastro pub" planned for the other end of Chews Lane in what was once the women's drop-in centre (surely there's some kind of post-feminist irony there?). I like to think that the demise of Boss is a sign of the good taste of Wellingtonians rather than an indicator of a saturated hospitality market, but nevertheless the shuffle with Santa Fe results in the net loss of one bar. Endup does appear to still be alive in Taranaki St, and I've still heard no confirmation as to the fate of that building. Curve in Edward St appears to be moribund (though perhaps I've just never been there at the right time).
With Boss and Curve gone but Monkey and Kopi replaced, that leaves us in the same position as last month: i.e. pretty healthy given the much greater number of new openings during the year. At the end of the year, I'll do a full accounting (with maps, of course!) to show the hospitality trends for the year.