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

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The last post

This will be the final post on WellUrban, and I'll just use it to thank you all for your support, and to announce that there will still be a place in the blogosphere for information, advocacy and debate about the Wellington built environment: a brand new blog called Eye of the Fish.

Eye of the Fish imageIt's been clear from the comments here that I'm not the only one to take an interest in such matters, and I always knew that someone would step up and create their own blog. It's early days yet, but from the sounds of things there's plenty of good content to come, so go ahead, subscribe to their feed and keep the conversation alive.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Looking forward

There may not be any more mystery bars to look forward to (at least, not on WellUrban...), but at least the series ended on a pleasant note. It was indeed the brand new Mojo at Kumutoto, and it's already doing wonders for the liveliness of the adjacent public spaces.

It's one of those incredibly versatile little café/bars that Wellington does so well, and if you're not in that part of town when you're after a coffee, try popping in after work for a beer or some pizza: there's a surprising amount of sun there in the early evening.

While WellUrban will no longer be around, there are some other sources of information and gossip that are worth checking out. I can't go without a plug for The Wellingtonista, and you might see a bit more in the way of bar reviews and so forth in the near future, as well as all the usual provocations and random snippets of vital information. Texture is still going strong for hipsters and barflies, while The Kitchen Sink and The Bandwagon are the brand new gig-guides on the block. For architecture and development, the SkyscraperCity Wellington forums are full of good information, and it's worth keeping an eye on the WCC resource consents page to see listings of consents recently applied for or granted (it's on my wish-list to get that published as a geocoded feed rather than PDFs).

This could be a turbulent year for Wellington urban development and hospitality, with economic uncertainty and an election year looming. Despite some closures late in the year (goodbye, Tupelo, Imbibe and Pod), 2007 still saw a net gain of 8 bars, cafés and restaurants, and there are plenty more on the horizon. Chews Lane is nearly ready to open with plenty of tenants lining up, ranging from a rather naff-looking chain (The Coffee Club) and some more welcome new branches of local businesses (Emporio, Midland Sushi, perhaps Simply Paris) and some brand-new places (Gotham, Fresh Take and the Colonial Carrying Company). The Chaffers Dock complex has been looking a bit shaky, but with any luck someone with some business nous will take over the old Herd St Brasserie site and help the area thrive through into winter. The immediate success of the latest Mojo augurs much more favourably for the future of Kumutoto, though there's no timeline for when Wagamama and Eon will open.

Speaking of Kumutoto, the winners of the sites 8-10 competition should be announced next month. While rumour has it that the judges might tend towards the unadventurous, even the least exciting of the entries was still far above the standard of architecture that we've got used to elsewhere in the city, so the announcement will be worth your attention. And don't forget the Ngauranga to Airport transport study, consultation on which closes in four weeks' time. It's a document that deserves more analysis and argument than I've been able to devote to it, and in particular, the underlying transport model and its ludicrous assumptions are due for a damned good fisking.

It sounds very much as if something like WellUrban is still needed, and who knows? Something might be on the horizon: keep your eye out for something fishy.

Digging up the past

Right, I've finally finished uploading all the old posts from WellUrban.org, ranging from 2003 to 2005. I haven't updated them, so these are snapshots of my thinking and the state of city at the time, and you should expect some statements to be out-of-date or discredited by subsequent events - not too much, I hope!

Anyway, here are the posts:

And there's also an explanation of my rating system and criteria.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ancient history

This is something I've been meaning to do for a while: take the reviews that I wrote many years ago on my old WellUrban.org site and reformat them so that I can post them here. That will get everything into one place, and allow me to take down the old site, which had become too cumbersome to maintain. So, don't be perplexed by the burst of somewhat out-of-date posts!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Inside the tent

Most of you will have noticed that I haven't been blogging with my usual frequency, and while some of that can be put down to the usual holiday break and humidity-induced torpor, there's another reason why: I've been winding down in preparation for the end of WellUrban, which will happen at the end of this week.

That's because I've accepted a job as an urban designer at Wellington City Council, and it will be inappropriate for me to continue commenting on related matters. I've thought long and hard about this, since this blog and related activities have been a big part of my life over the past two and a half years, but I decided that this was a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a career change into a field that has clearly been my passion.

Anyway, I'd like to thank you all for your lively and (usually) civil comments, and for your engagement with the future of this fascinating little city. I hope to post a few more times this week, and I'll leave the comments open on existing posts, but after Monday there will be no new posts on here from me.

It's been a pleasure.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mystery bar number 70

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An anonymous reader got the location of the previous mystery bar right, and Flat White got the name: it's Four Kings, or at least the first stage of it. It's taking over the old premises of The Lab and Lab Underground, and promises to be the biggest sports bar in the country. Actually, what the chalkwritten sign outside boasts is "the biggest in the county", but given that New Zealand lacks that particular style of geographic or administrative subdivision, I think "country" is what they meant. In any case, they'll have the gargantuan Temperance Bar to deal with before long, and with that vast temple to blokishness claiming enough space for 1900 beer-soaked punters, it'll make Four Kings look like Superfino.

Mystery bar #70 - wine shelvesAfter the Stygian drabness of Four Kings, today's mystery bar stands out with its lightness and big windows, and its visibility should make it much easier to identify. There's a lot of dark wood, which it shares with most places of this type, but the wide expanses of glass, sunny location and surprising splashes of colour give it an appealing point of difference. The design carries off the impressive feat of managing to feel both spacious and cosy, and it makes the most of an unusual space.

As is becoming increasingly common, this is a café that dabbles with being a bar when it feels in the mood. It's not a cocktail bar, but it has some beer on tap, a few other bottled beers, and a dozen or so wines to choose from. Food is mostly from the counter, though there's also a small selection of pizzas to soak up the alcohol. It's only open late a few days of the week, but its style and location make it a very agreeable place for a quiet after-work tipple, and a stylish complement to the other establishments in the vicinity.

Mystery bar #70 - abstract colours

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Courtenay Park at last

After much controversy and delay, work on Courtenay Place Park is finally underway. There have been a few changes since the earlier plans, including the addition of lightboxes (to display artwork) along the northern side, and the omission for now of any extension to the old toilet block since Ferg pulled out of the wine bar concept.

Courtenay Place Park - final renderingI've heard that the net loss of car parks will now be only one, down from six in the first concept and three in the interim version, though no doubt there are still some people out there who regard this as an intolerable erosion of their right to park wherever they want. The central paved area should serve as a useful space for performers and street vendors, and when the work is completed in April, with any luck Burger Fuel will be back after their fiery mishap, and perhaps someone will replace Herbal Heaven with something that will make the most of the new public space.

Courtenay Place Park - final plan

Monday, January 07, 2008

Champagne Cocktail roundup

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Champagne Cocktail at the Herd St BrasserieTime for a belated summary of the drink of the month for December 2007. The results were generally very good, though I suppose it's a simple enough drink that it's hard to get wrong if the ingredients are explained to the staff.

And there was indeed a lot of explaining to do. D4 and the Buena Vista Social Club both had to be talked through this extremely complex and obscure cocktail one step at a time, but the results were worth it. Some places (such as Plum and Superfino) lacked sugar cubes, but while the results may not have all the visual appeal, they taste just as good. In fact, I quite liked Buena Vista's use of palm sugar, which gave a slightly earthy complexity.

One fairly common problem was the idea that "Champagne Cocktail" is another word for "Kir Royale". Even after some detailed explanation, one time at Sweet Mother's Kitchen we ended up with a Kir Royale instead. On another occasion, though, the same request was received from the bartender with a cheery "Ah! A fine and often neglected drink!", and his classic rendition bore out his confidence and enthusiasm. Buoyed by that, I led him on to try some experiments, endeavouring to concoct a New Orleans equivalent. The obvious substitutions were bourbon for brandy and Peychaud's bitters for Angostura, but the result was too sweet. A quick dash of absinthe fixed that, though further research is required to arrive at the optimal proportions.

Other than that, I didn't try too many deviations from the classic, and had excellent versions at Boulôt, Hawthorn Lounge and the (sadly now defunct) Herd St Brasserie, where they took the "Champagne" literally. An exception was at Alice, where a night of exploring their list eventually led to their "Blue Caterpillar". Big mistake. It's not that it tastes bad: it's just that it tends to lead to whole chunks of your weekend going missing. Or maybe it's just that by the time of night when one is ready to been seen drinking fizzy blue cocktails, such mishaps are already inevitable.

Thus ends the "drink of the month" series, though something of the sort may eventually re-emerge over on The Wellingtonista.