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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hilton consent

Saturday's Dominion Post carried a large illustrated article about the resource consent application for the Queens Wharf Hilton. There's yet to be the expected outburst from Waterfront Watch about this, though on a bit of a tangent, Waterfront Watcher Rosamund Averton has a letter in today's Dom suggesting that the Stadium should be painted in paua patterns - perhaps she's been reading my earlier posts and taking them a bit too seriously? I expect the complaints to start hitting the letters pages in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, I'm taking some time to study the application in detail. The Greater Wellington council site has a news release about the application, but so far the link to the application itself doesn't work. In any case, the online applications only have outlines of the consents sought, without all the illustrations and supporting reports: you have to go to the library to see the full, phonebook-sized document. I'm not as whole-heartedly in support of this application as I am for other waterfront developments, so I'll have to think carefully about the pros and cons before putting in any submission.

One of the negative reactions that the article referred to was an old comment by Russell Walden calling the design "abysmal". As I said in my first post on the subject, I can't claim that this is breathtakingly beautiful architecture, but I do think it's reasonably elegant, with massing and detail that breaks up what could have been a monolith.

Queens Wharf Hilton proposal - official rendering from Resource Consent submissionHowever, one thing seems to have changed from the earlier ideas. The brown sections were to have been clad in oxidised Cor-ten steel, which gradually evloves over time and has an appealing, almost velvety texture. At the time this surprised me, as I thought that Cor-ten was a poor choice for exposed coastal environments, and it now appears that these will be simply painted rust-brown. This would be more practical, and might still carry an allusion to weathered maritime surfaces, but is far less interesting. This set me wondering about whether a more exciting surface treatment might be possible.

Another report in the application was one by Raukura consultants about Māori issues. In this, they suggested that more could be done to evoke Māori heritage, perhaps through artworks in the lobby. They also recounted local history, including the role of the nearby Kumutoto kainga as a harakeke (flax) market and of Queens Wharf itself as a port for exporting the bundled harakeke. This made me think: why not use the concept of harakeke weaving as a surface treatment?

Using woven cable as a claddingI'm not suggesting that the building be clad in actual flax (though it might work: who knows?). Instead, perhaps they could take a lead from New Plymouth's Puke Ariki museum, and use woven metal as an outer screen. By using strips of oxidised cable, you could even bring back the maritime reference and keep the colour, while bringing more texture to the façade, recalling local Māori and Pakeha history, and integrating artwork into the building itself rather than adding it as an afterthought.


Queens Wharf - approximate location of proposed vehicle tunnelOne aspect of the proposal that has people worried is traffic. The design includes a tunnel that joins to the existing car park under Queens Wharf Square, meaning that taxis and other surface traffic won't have to travel outside Shed 6. This image shows (very roughly) the location of the tunnel entrance: it's beyond the main pedestrian promenade along the outside of sheds 5 and 6, and will allow clear space along the southern side next to the kayak pontoon.

Some people are alarmed that, despite this tunnel, trucks would be constantly lumbering around Shed 6 to service the hotel. However, the traffic consultants' report shows that (based upon the Auckland Hilton's experience) the majority of servicing will be by light vans that can use the tunnel, and the rare visits by trucks can be scheduled outside of peak pedestrian times. They also note that all light vehicles (including taxis and private cars) will be required to use the tunnel, and that this would be reinforced by rising bollards at the Hunter St entrance. Thus there would actually be a net reduction in vehicle traffic around Shed 6: that's got to be good for everyone.


I was slightly concerned that the increased height (compared to Shed 1) might create more wind around the building, but now that the detailed wind analyses are available, that proves not to be the case. In a couple of wind directions there will be a slight increase around a couple of corners, but the overall effect will be to create more shelter than Shed 1 does now. Shading analyses also show that the extra height won't do much to diminish sunshine onto surrounding areas, especially at critical times such as lunchtime and early evening. All of that, combined with the upgraded public spaces and more visible presence of people, should make the surrounding areas into people magnets as I suggested earlier.

Which leaves my one outstanding worry: what will happen to the sportspeople who currently use Shed 1? Even though it was only ever leased as a temporary venue, their needs should be considered, and they are correct that losing a CBD indoor sports facility would be a loss to the city. I've suggested one possible solution, which seems to have gained some qualified support from both Wellington Waterfront and the sports enthusiasts involved. When I put in my submission on the Resource Consent application, I certainly intend to make it a condition of my support that a suitable replacement venue be found or created within a similar distance of the CBD.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hanging out

Looks like I'm not the only one looking forward to Waitangi Park's completion. These guys had jumped the fence for a closer look tonight, though they drew the line at trying out their BMXs.

One of them wondered what the vertical concrete walls were for. When I said that I thought they were going to be climbing walls, he said "This is gonna be so fuckin' awesome!" Looks like the target demographic's sorted, then.

In Martini felicitas

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My bibulous mission continues apace, and while there has been the odd hiccup (an occupational hazard), I've now sampled nearly a third of all bars in Wellington. Carrying on with my Martini-reviewing sub-quest, here are a few more reviews for your edification.

Beaujolais: 8.5
Smooth, elegant and old-fashioned, with lovely rich vermouth flavours. Admirably, the menu states the gin to vermouth ratio (5-1, which explains the vermouth dominance of the flavour), and the ingredients are beyond reproach (Tanqueray and Nolliy Prat) . This would have been a 9 if it had been just slightly colder and the olives hadn't been impaled on a silly metal fork with a plastic orange on the end, thus diminishing the gravitas of an otherwise classic rendition.

Chow: 8.5
Well balanced & delicious; fairly smooth with a slight peppery edge. Two olives, unusually floating free at the bottom rather than on a stick: some purists would frown at this, claiming that a stick is required to "give the drink an axis".

Juniper: 7
I had high expectations from a bar that specialises in gin, but these were not quite met. I took the bar manager's suggestion of Inglewood gin, an organic brand that I haven't seen elsewhere. I should have stuck with good old Tanq: while it was crisp, smooth and almost cold enough, it was just too bland, with not enough botanical character.

Mercury Lounge: 7
Just a hint of spiciness to give a touch of character; otherwise, quite smooth but not quite cold enough.

Ponderosa: 8
The barmaid asked for my gin preference, which always inspires confidence. I went for Tanqueray, and was rewarded with a Martini that was all present & correct, but not spectacular. The (apparently standard) 3 olives were speared on the same style of bamboo cocktail stick favoured by the Southern Cross (available at Moore Wilson Fresh, as I have since discovered).

Vespa Lounge: 4
Unbalanced and "hot" (dominated by an overly alcoholic mouthfeel) with no botanicals in evidence. Even worse, it was pretty much tepid. They've got a cheek calling this a Martini: it's not a Martini, it's warm Bombay Sapphire in a glass. They've got even more cheek charging $16 for such a travesty! Still, what do you expect from a bar that feature Perky Nana-infused vodka?

Expect more reviews as time and health allow. In the meantime, I should give the full text and source of the Latin tag that I used as a title: it's In vino veritas, sed in Martini felicitas, cribbed from Grampy's post to an entertaining Martini-related thread on roadfood.com. Oh, and by the way, Hadyn: now that you're on a mission to review every "big breakfast" in town, how about combining the two and asking for a "Pork Martini"? Warning: following that link is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

K-block Nirvana

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Expect worse than usual queues of SUVs between Karori and Lambton Quay this morning: the annual Kirks sale is on. From the look of some of the ladies queueing outside the doors this morning, it could be said that they could definitely do with some new clothes (anything designed after 1990 would be an improvement), but that would be snobbish and catty and not the sort of thing I'd say at all.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Mystery bar number 19

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Well, so much for mystery bar number 18: it didn't take long for Josh to identify it as Trax at the railway station. Do you agree with me that Wellington commuters and visitors deserve something better than a relic from the days of walkshorts and railway pies?

Today's mystery bar should be harder. A lot harder. Stephen once accused me of being "duplicitous" in my mystery bar clues, and while I would dispute that, in this case I could be accused of making it unfairly difficult. But it should become a lot easier from tonight.

Mystery bar #19 - guitarThis place is a shrine to the sixties, and the Beatles in particular. The walls are covered with album covers, posters and guitars, which combine with brick walls, leather booths and squishy sofas to give (what I imagine to be) the atmosphere of a club from the 1960s. The image is enhanced by the low, arched ceiling and dim lighting, for an effect that is either claustrophobic or cosy, depending upon your point of view.

The management are clearly aiming at the over-40 set, and plan to keep the music quiet enough for conversation. Hummingbird is similar in that is also plays music from the same era, but often very loudly: this, and the difference between a large restaurant/bar with fishbowl windows and a small underground bar should ensure that the place has a point of difference.

Mystery bar #19 - sofas and postersIt's not predominantly a cocktail bar, but they do make cocktails, and various styles of Martini glass are prominently displayed on backlit shelves behind the bar. I asked the bar manager what she'd use to make a Martini, and she answered "Plymouth. We have Bombay Sapphire too, but that's not really gin, just gin-flavoured vodka". Stephen would approve.

There's also a baby grand in the corner and a couple of Rat Pack posters, so those who prefer a loungier style of music may be in luck, too. If the sixties music isn't too dominant, the combination of cocktails and comfy sofas could bring in a wider clientele, especially those of us looking forward to the Lounge revival revival.

Waterfront progress

The construction of Waitangi Park is not the only thing that's changing on the waterfront at the moment. Here's a quick round-up of a few recent and pending developments.


Work has finally started on the Site 7 building at Kumutoto. This "green building" will be the first substantial new building on the waterfront for over a decade, and combined with the public space improvements it should nicely complement the Steamship Wharf building and give a more appropriate expression to the mouth of the Kumutoto stream that once flowed down Woodward St.

Perimeter fence around Site 7 at Kumutoto
So far, they're just putting up a fence around the perimeter of the site (the actual building footprint will be a bit smaller than the area bounded by the fence). It's expected to open about the middle of next year.


Len Lye's Water Whirler, one of many public artworks underway in the city at the moment, is set to be installed between Waitangi Day and the opening of the Arts Festival. The pier looks like it's nearly complete now, and even without the Whirler itself it looks like an intriguing opportunity to get close to the water.

Len Lye's Water Whirler - pier nearing completion
One aspect of the site only recently struck me: the pier lines up exactly with Hunter St. That means that if you're standing on the corner of Lambton Quay by the Protoplasm sculpture (will they ever get around to replacing the "temporary" blue kites with the original "smarties"?) and looking down Hunter St you'll get a spectacular view of the Whirler. This is a great way to strengthen the visual connection between the Golden Mile and the waterfront.


Kaffee Eis opened last weekend in time for Vodafone X*Air, in the space formerly occupied by La Felicita beside the Albatross.

Kaffee Eis under Frank Kitts Park
In the meantime, what happened to the space around the corner that was to have been a fish and chip shop but turned into a juice bar instead? Glow's operation there seems to have shut down, though I've seen their branding around elsewhere. Never mind: Kaffee Eis are open late 7 days a week, serving Mojo coffee and the best gelato in town.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Don't fall for sprawl

I haven't written many rants to the leters pages this year. I thought I might have a go at John Macalister's letter today (continuing with his insistence that the waterfront is about to be "built-up"), but the whole waterfront debate is getting a bit stale and it's nice to look at the good things that are happening. Instead, I thought that the Demographia "report" promoting suburban sprawl demanded a critical attack, and not just in an obscure blog. So I wrote a letter (mostly adpated from my post the other day) and sent it off to the Dominion Post:
How sweet of Hugh Pavletich to care about the affordability of housing. In reality, what actually concerns him and right-wing American lobby group Demographia is the ability of suburban property developers to make a quick profit from subdivisions while externalising the cost of infrastructure.

We're already running out of land that's close enough to the city to enable cheap, sustainable transport. The price of a house is only part of the story: how "affordable" will it be to live in his sprawling, car-dependent suburbs when oil prices soar even higher? Meanwhile, the entire city shares the costs of roading, sewerage and water, as well as having to put up with increased pollution, road deaths and having motorways driven through our neighbourhoods.

We need more housing supply, but in medium-density mixed-use communities close to the city or public transport, not further and further out into the countryside. Pavletich, on the other hand, can't wait to convert the country into a debased landscape of McMansions, megamalls and motorways, pocketing the profit while the rest of us pay for the physical and civic infrastructure required to turn it into some semblance of a city.

Mystery bar number 18

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Last week's Mystery Bar provoked a bit of speculation, with bush whacker identifying the location correctly but leaving David to get the name of the bar. It's Hugo's, which opened early this year on the southwest corner of the Steamship Wharf building at Kumutoto. It has the same owners as the Loaded Hog and One Red Dog, but is a stand-alone bar rather than a part of one of those.

Mystery bar #18 - jukebox and pool tableThis week's bar should be a bit easier, since it's been around for ages rather than being brand new. Also unlike Hugo's, it couldn't exactly be described as upmarket: the jukebox, formica leaners, projection screen and old pool table would seem to be aimed at a different market entirely. It's located somewhere that could attract quite a range of punters, but it appears designed to appeal to those who find "nondescript kiwi pub circa 1981" to be a congenial style of decor.

Mystery bar #18 - tables and gaming loungeActually, "designed" is rather a strong word. While there are a couple of distinctive decorative items (too distinctive to show here, as they'd be a dead giveaway), everything else seems to have been ordered from a catalogue and chucked together. There's been a vague attempt to make it a café as well as a pub, but it's all pretty cheap and nasty, makes heavy use of the deep fat fryer, and much of the place feels dominated by the gaming lounge.

I'm often wary of suggesting that old pubs like this need a makeover, since there are people who feel more comfortable in a place like this and they have a right not to be forced out by gentrification. But in this case I think that the scunginess is such that it currently puts off more people than it attracts. It shouldn't be turned into a designer cocktail bar, and it shouldn't be so expensive that it prices itself out of the range of its current clientele. On the other hand, this is a special location, and I would go so far as to say that Wellington deserves better in a place like this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ullo John! Got A New Motor?

Hot on the heels of yesterday's report from developers whinging about not being able to build sprawling suburbs as quickly and cheaply as they'd like, today's Dominion Post says in a front page article that the Transport Ministry is considering a Green Party proposal to link car registration charges with fuel efficiency. A sensible move in the face of soaring oil prices and record trade deficits, one would think.

But of course, not everyone is happy. Someone said: "We agree something needs to be done in terms of the efficiency of the fleet. We would, however, be more likely to support increasing the registration costs in relation to the vehicle's age as opposed to whether it had a large or small engine." So that would penalise old cars rather than gas guzzling ones. And that would be an incentive to buy new cars, wouldn't it?

So who said this? Perry Kerr, chief executive of the Motor Industry Association, which represents those who, erm, sell new cars. Right, no conflict of interest there, then!

Waiting for Waitangi

It's now just one month until Waitangi Park is due to be complete, and it should open with a bang: A Capital Celebration on the 25th of February opens the Arts Festival with the somewhat eclectic combination of The Phoenix Foundation, The Warratahs, and the Vector Wellington Orchestra. While the main lawn looks like it should certainly be ready to host this and other events, some other aspects of the park look like a lot more work is required, and the contractors seem to be going all out to get everything ready in time. The overall shape of the park is now much clearer to casual observers, but it looks like there may be a few little surprises on the way when it comes to details.

Waitangi Park playground - the manuka tunnelI've criticised the playground before for its generic play equipment, but apart from that there are some great creative touches. In this photo, the earth in the middle runs between two stands of manuka that will eventually grow together to form a "manuka tunnel" for children to run through. This illustrates one of the unique difficulties of landscape architecture: even when a park is "finished" it will still take time for the plants to mature. I'm no expert on tree growth rates, but I imagine it will take at least a decade for the two-metre pohutukawa that have just been planted around the promenade to mature into the stately specimens shown on the model and renderings. Those who imagine a PC conspiracy to plant only native flora need not be worried here: there's a range of exotic trees as well as the native varieties.

Waitangi Park kiosk under constructionBetween the playground and the petanque piste the kiosk is taking shape. This will have public toilets and a small shop or café, which should give parents something to do while keeping an eye on the little monsters, and with any luck there'll be some sort of verandah or screen to provide some shade and shelter. But the big question is: will the café be licensed? A game of petanque isn't quite the same unless you're holding a glass of Côtes du Rhône or pastis (there's a good reason why it's called a "piste").

Waitangi Park rain gardenThe outer promenade widens at the corner of Cable St and Oriental Pde, and until the trees grow this is going to look quite barren and dominated by asphalt. The only relief is this little "rain garden", which when I saw it on the masterplans I envisaged to be some sort of mini-rainforest with mist generator, but it turns out to be just another name for a bioretention swale (as used at Harbour Quays). I hope that there is some taller foliage planned for here, as it looks a little bit lost at the moment. On the other hand, some of the plans refer to "shoreline markers" here, so perhaps we can expect some artwork to appear soon.

The graving dock gravel terrace is looking like the bleakest part at the moment, but I imagine that it will be transformed quite rapidly once planting begins. This is one part of the park that will be dominated by native plants: specifically, low coastal shrubs of the sort that naturally grow around the Wellington rocky coastal zone. I envision lots of hebes, succulents and grasses, so don't expect this to look luxuriant, but it will be a true reflection of local ecology.

F69 funnelsOn some of the plans for this area, there is reference to an archaelogical interpretive trail along this terrace. An interview with Megan Wraight a few weeks back revealed that various items (wagon wheels, shoes, crockery) have been unearthed during excavations, and that these will be displayed in glass-covered trenched, so perhaps this is where they will be placed. Also, the propellor from F69 will be displayed somewhere in the park, so perhaps this is the place. That made me think: why are these funnels from the frigate sitting around the corner in front of Te Papa? Is there a plan to place these in the park as well?

Finally, the wind garden (between the graving dock and the Herd St building) might have some pleasant surprises in store. As well as using foliage to dissipate the wind, there will be screens to provide further shelter. I had imagined these to be like the double panels of perforated steel that work so well between the two halves of the lagoon bridge, but a look at the website of Catherine Griffiths (who designed the Writers Walk) reveals something much more interesting.

For more photographs of Waitangi Park in progress, have a look at Flickr, or read some of my copious posts on the subject.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Call for sprawl

The papers and radio stations today are full of a story about a report that blames councils for unaffordable housing in New Zealand. Apparently, "loony" councils are locking up land, thus reducing the supply and driving up prices beyond what the average New Zealander can afford.

So who is it that cares so much about the affordability of housing? A poverty action group? A grass-roots movement of disenfranchised would-be homeowners? Not exactly: the study was carried out by Christchurch property developer Hugh Pavletich, in association with right-wing American think tank Demographia. Demographia's Wendell Cox and his various organisations are well known for wrapping themselves "in a mantle of libertarianism to advance the interests of large corporations" (from Architecture Chicago Plus). They have always claimed that attempts to control urban sprawl drive up house prices as well as restricting the rights of "individuals" (read: developers and corporations) when in fact there is "plenty of land" available. See Sprawl Watch for information on these pro-sprawl advocates and a rebuttal of some of their common claims.

One policy that they object to is the "developers' contribution". Essentially they object to councils that refuse to subsidise private property developers, instead insisting that developers actually pay for the infrastructure (roads, water, sewerage) that greenfield development requires. If uncontrolled sprawl produces housing that is cheaper in the short term, it makes up for it in the long run, even for the homeowners themselves. The Sierra Club has published a report showing how sprawl drives up rates, and their transport costs will soar with increased commuting distances. And everyone else shares the cost of the extra infrastructure, not to mention putting up with increased pollution, road deaths and having motorways driven through their neighbourhoods.

Sprawl, sprawl, sprawl
Pavletich says that there is plenty of land, and says that he can look out onto the Canterbury Plains and wonder why the councils aren't zoning it for residential use quickly enough. He can't wait to convert this into a debased landscape of McMansions, megamalls and motorways, pocketing a quick profit while the rest of the city is left to pay for the physical and civic infrastructure required to turn it into some semblance of a city.

A worthwhile Venture?

In yesterday's Dominion Post, 10-year old Nina Harrap suggested that the Manuia (scroll down for pictures and history), which Peter Jackson transformed into SS Venture for King Kong, be permanently moored outside Te Papa as a tourist attraction. While that sort of attraction could be very tacky, the idea has some merit.

When the frigate Wellington was moored there, it showed how much livelier that stretch of promenade can be when there's something there. The F69 bar (and the frigate itself, of course) attracted activity at times when the area would normally be dead. If the SS Venture had some sort of café and bar (preferably one that's a lot better than the Tugboat) it would help fill in that long, awkward gap between Taranaki Wharf and the Waitangi precinct.

The frigate blocked views from Te Papa, but the Manuia is much smaller. If the attraction was relentlessly Kong-themed, then it could be very cheesy and lose its appeal once interest in the movie has died down, but it should be possible to give it broader appeal. What do you think?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Mystery bar number 17

An anonymous commenter was the first to get last week's mystery bar: it was indeed Cobar at Days Bay. It has quite a good reputation for food, and the outside decks are always popular. The décor is surprisingly bland, but there's very little competition there, and in any case, a good proportion of the target demographic probably thinks that "early 90's hotel lobby" counts as cutting edge interior design.

Mystery bar #17 - interiorThis week's mystery bar is a bit more central. Unlike Cobar, it's had to choose between views and evening sun, and has chosen the latter. The interior is nothing special, with the same combination of dark wood, brown leather and cream walls that's become the safe choice these days. But it's the exterior, or more precisely the ease with which the interior and exterior blend together, that's the selling point. There aren't many places in Wellington where you can take a comfy leather sofa into the sun and enjoy a decent Pinot Gris.

Mystery bar #17 - mysterious machineryThe one unique thing about this bar's décor is this piece of machinery outside the doors. I suppose it gives a sense of history to the place, but it looks a little odd, and I'm pretty sure that this is the only thing in the bar that comes from Birmingham.

Despite bearing copious amounts of beer-related branding, this is not exactly a beer barn. It's much more intimate and upmarket than most of its neighbours, and it boasts a long list of cocktails and wines. There's even an impressive cellar list, though I have one small piece of advice for them: if you aspire to be the sort of bar that sells first-growth Bordeaux, it's a good idea to ensure that your wine list spells "Chateau La Fluer-Petrus" and "Chateau Mouton Rotheschild" correctly.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


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Here's a a few bibulous notes that I've gathered together in anticipation of the weekend.

First of all: someone please put in some more guesses as to the identity of Mystery bar number 16. Surely some of you venture beyond the CBD occasionally? I have some brand new mystery bars waiting in the wings, and want to clear the decks first.

I'm not usually one to plug books, but I'm sure many of you will appreciate Frank Moorhouse's Martini: A Memoir. Mixing fiction, reminiscence, anecdotes and musings on the lore and cultural significance of the Martini, it's inspiring, literate and relentlessly quotable. Moorhouse is not quite a true prescriptivist (see the Martini FAQ for those), but he is a traditionalist. It's worth it just for "The 13 Awarenesses", which parallels the ritual of appreciating a Martini to that of the Japanese tea ceremony. I think he's wrong about Dunedin, though.

Over at Dorking Labs, Stephen has been conducting Martini experiments that may not please the prescriptivists, but those of a more adventurous persuasion should be able to appreciate. There's the 1947 Martini, and now the Omega Martini: is this the Martini to end all Martinis?

Continuing with my Martini theme, I've decided that as part of my sacred quest (31 of 157 bars so far - yes, I keep discovering new ones), I will order and review a Dry Martini from any bar that looks like it deserves it. I've tried to ensure consistency by ordering a gin martini (any bartender who defaults to vodka should be shown the door, but it's wise to be specific) with an olive. I don't specify the brand of gin or vermouth, because I'm interested in testing their house Martini. Here are my results so far.

Sandwiches: 8
Pleasant, though not quite cold enough, with an intriguing "biscuity" aroma to start: perhaps due to the Plymouth Gin? A very generous pour: at least 40 sips. Three cocktail olives, giving a more savoury edge to the last few sips.

Dojo: 6
Oddly savoury on the palate, and though not unpleasant, it lacked the clarity of flavour that one expects from a proper Martini. Definite golden tinge, perhaps hinting at an excess of Noilly Prat. Three olives with pits intact, precariously attached to a strange arrangement of two cocktail sticks. Perhaps the olives were marinated, which would explain the unusual flavours. A miserly pour (barely covering the second olive), and though the barman reduced the price because of this and smaller Martinis are more traditional, it looked ridiculous in an oversized glass.

Chameleon: 7
Generally acceptable, if not quite cold enough. The indigenous botanicals in South Gin very only subtly noticeable. Three cocktail olives. The barman was courteous and attentive, perhaps to a fault.

Southern Cross: 8
Well balanced, though could have been colder. Unusual olive treatment: two giant pimento-stuffed olives on a stick that seemed to have fashioned from a strip of bamboo, with a knot at the dry end.

Matterhorn: 9
Exquisitely smooth and perfectly cold. No fussing with the olives: just a single cocktail olive on a stick. The secret? Tanqueray 10 as standard.

Last Supper Club: 8
Quite a spicy, peppery bite. Crisp and cold. The only one that I asked for with a twist, which delivered a very subtle lemony edge.

Shops we love: Mandatory

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Mandatory in Cuba MallThere aren't many independent specialist menswear shops in Wellington, and fewer still that have their own label. House of Hank is one, and Hank certainly has a loyal following for his unique creations, but if you want something crisp and contemporary, Mandatory is your best bet.

For nearly ten years, Mandatory has been a beacon of Wellington style in Cuba Mall. Designers Clare Bowden and Fiona Voisey seem to have captured something very Wellington, realising that there are men here who'd prefer not to wear a suit, but don't want to look like skateboarders either.

Sure, there's always Zambesi, Little Brother, Workshop, Marvel, Satori and maybe Farrys, but Mandatory is designed in Wellington and feels right at home here. Besides, how can you not love a fashion label that called its 2005 winter collection Martini Militia?

See other shops we love.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stats of the art?

The first new building in the Harbour Quays development was completed some time ago, so it's time to have a critical look. It's the new head office for Statistics New Zealand, who moved in late last year.

Statistics New Zealand building, Harbour Quays, Wellington
Apart from the roof, it's essentially a big glass box. It's saved from banality by apparently random patterns in the fenestration. Maybe the dark panels and vertical strips are arranged according to some subtle fractal pattern, or perhaps they encode the vital statistics of the nation in binary. Who knows? But you could while away some time trying to unravel the complexities of the pattern.

The roof is the only deviation from strict rectilinearity. From some angles it's quite elegant, and it has quite a jaunty "flick" at the seaward end, but from other viewpoints it looks cheap and bucolic, like a milking shed slapped on top of a green cube. Sometimes the use of corrugated iron conveys irony or a nod to New Zealand's vernacular tradition, but here it just looks incongruous.

Bioretention swales at Harbour QuaysThe building is said to incorporate "energy efficiency systems", but the most visible application of green building techniques is the use of bioretention swales, also known as "rain gardens". These are intended to intercept runoff and trap it in the porous soils, gradually releasing filtered water into the stormwater system rather than dumping surges of polluted water into the drains whenever it rains. The plants enable evapotranspiration, encourage biological activity, and promote uptake of certain pollutants. They also look good (or will when they've grown a bit).

Swales around the edge of the Statistics building, Harbour QuaysThat's great for the natural environment, but what about the human environment? A significant proportion of the building edge is surrounded by these swales, effectively turning them into moats and destroying any possibility of an active edge. Only a small section of the building has any verandahs, and given the wide areas of carpark and broad "boulevards" that surround the building, there's very little in the way of shelter for pedestrians. It's shaping up to be a fairly pleasant environment on calm, sunny days, with open areas, trees and strikingly designed sun shelters, but it won't have escaped your notice that Wellington is occasionally a little wet and windy.

Cafe at the stats building, Harbour QuaysThe essential problem is the lack of a mixture of uses. No matter how much you try to make an office building friendly, it's still just a boring old office building unless you have something to engage the public on the ground floor. At least Stats NZ have made the civic-minded decision to have a public café instead of an enclosed staff cafeteria. The Dominion Post building did this with the Front Page café, which brought a touch of city life to Boulcott St. Here, the café provides the only active edge for the entire building, and it's not signposted to make it obvious whether it's open to the public.

'Punched card' detailing on the stats building, Harbour QuaysThe other 85% or so of the building edge is taken up by meeting rooms and carparking. At least there's been some effort to enliven these blank walls with randomly arranged holes, presumably designed to be a witty reference to punched cards. They're an improvement over blank concrete walls, but only just. Planting climbers would have been better, but even that wouldn't have made up for the lack of human life around the building edge.

The stricter urban design criteria came too late for this building, and while they may help ensure a more urban form for the rest of Harbour Quays, that may not be enough. Eventually, there will be enough office workers nearby to provide demand for basic amenity retail (convenience stores, dry cleaning, hairdressers etc), but it's hard to imagine much in the way of destination retail here.

On the other hand, I have heard of plans for a separate big-box retail park adjacent to this office park. Where do they think this is? Paraparaumu?!? All you have to do is build the offices on top of the retail, and you're starting to get the ingredients of urbanity. Bring the buildings a bit closer together to form real streets, include some residential development, add some verandahs and a covered walk to the railway station, and before you know it this will become what it deserves to be: a part of the city.

My criticisms may seem a little over the top: after all, what's wrong with a bit of open space? All of the photos above were taken on a sunny day, and it's possible to imagine going for a pleasant walk despite the predominance of cars. But have a look at this image taken from the Harbour Quays webcam today:

Harbour Quays in the rain
If you worked here, would you feel like going for a walk at lunchtime?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Street life

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Yesterday's post about Woodward Street made me think about my favourite streets in Wellington. There are many ingredients that go into making a great street: architecture, microclimate, history, the people that frequent it. But, following my pedantic tendency to define things, what exactly is a street?

Wikipedia has a nice definition that captures the difference between a street and a road:
"A street is characterized by the degree and quality of street life it facilitates, whereas a road serves primarily as a through passage for road vehicles or (less frequently) pedestrians. Street performers, beggars, patrons of sidewalk cafés, peoplewatchers, and a diversity of other characters are habitual users of a street; the same people would not typically be found on a road."

In other words, while a road is a way between places, a street is a place in its own right: a place to be. But there's also a spatial component. A street, like a successful urban square, needs a sense of enclosure. A road is essentially one dimensional (a line on the map), but a street should be a three-dimensional volume, defined by near-continuous building frontages on both sides.

Roads vs Streets

That immediately discounts obvious roads such as motorways and other arterial routes, but also disqualifies otherwise pleasant thoroughfares such as Oriental Parade. Many of the "streets" in "SoCo" also fail this test, and it's frustrating to see their continuing domination by car yards and big-box retail with setbacks and surface parking: these could become great streets in time, but this requires developers with more sense of urbanity than we've seen so far.

So, what are my favourites? Cuba Street is an obvious choice: in fact it's so obvious I'll have to pass it by. Courtenay Place is perhaps too wide and low to feel like a well-defined volume, and while Allen and Blair have nice proportions, they too suffer from the Courtenay Quarter's "Bridge and Tunnel" syndrome. Holland and Egmont streets have great potential, with their old brick warehouses, but don't have enough street life at the moment.

View down Lambton QuayLambton Quay has great spatial drama, enhanced by the curve of the old shoreline, but of course it's overrun with suits and chain stores. The council's proposed upgrades might go some way towards making it more pedestrian-friendly, and it may someday look like the great commercial street it deserves to be. Featherston Street is coming along rapidly, and Grey Street has some pleasant sections, but of the secondary streets around here, Woodward Street has the most going for it. On the other hand, Stephen makes a good claim for the oft-forgotten Maginnity Street.

The stretch of Willis Street between Manners and Dixon streets has some lovely features and some great little shops (House of Hank, Quoil, Starfish, Beckon). There are signs that it's bceoming livelier, but I await with anticipation (and a touch of trepidation) to see what the new apartment block and the DoC headquarters will do to the streetscape.

The Left Bank, WellingtonBut I think I'm going to keep coming back to the Left Bank. It could benefit from a little tarting up, but in general I love the ramshackle look of the place, the variety of little businesses, and the transition from a sunny "villagey" atmosphere to dingy urban grime and graffiti. There's also a real sense of community among the shopkeepers here, and you'll often spot the hairdresser having coffee in Offbeat Originals or the jeweller hosing down the cobbles, while kids play cricket against a masking-tape wicket on the back door to Matterhorn.

If we're going to get a proper Asian foodcourt of the sort that Tze Ming Mok prefers, perhaps this would be the best place for it. Satay Kingdom's roti might not quite cut it, but with a couple more (licensed!) outlets, we could have a proper outdoor Food Alley.

So, what's your favourite street in Wellington?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Man meets Nature in Woodward St

Location of 'Man meets nature trail' poster in Woodward StThe other day I noticed a laminated A4 sheet stuck to a wall in Woodward St, between Pandoro and the entrance to Lambton Square. It turns out to be a printed notice with the intriguing title "Man Meets Nature Trail". Given the very cheaply-produced appearance of the sign, I somehow doubted that this was an official "nature trail". There's also not much in the immediate vicinity that looked like "nature", so I read on.

There's obviously a satirical edge to this poster, given that the "simple man made structure designed to afford nature some space" clearly does nothing of the sort. Perhaps it housed a small tree or other vegetation at some stage, but if so, the council has clearly given up on it.

This apparently simple piece of paper raises some questions. Is this a part of an art project? The "No. 5" written at the top certainly suggests that it is one of a series. If so, where are the other stops on the trail? On the other hand, it might be simply a more than usually creative effort by a local resident or business owner to shame nearby smokers into being more careful with their cigarette butts. If so, is the writer perhaps being a little too subtle?

Incidentally, while this sign refers to the environs as "an otherwise sterile local environment", and there's certainly little in the way of vegetation along most of this short street, in other senses it is one of the least "sterile" streets in this part of town. It's narrow and pedestrianised, with a significant slope and plenty of historic buildings. There's a popular sculpture, the odd busker, several cafés that spill out onto the street, and it generally has a very "European" feel. Have a look at some flickr photos of Woodward St, and you'll see what I mean.

There's also a lot of Māori history here. The Kumutoto kainga, which used to be a major flax-trading centre, was near the top of the street (see site 3 on Te Ara o Nga Tupuna) until the 1850s. The Kumutoto stream still flows down here, but is now reduced to a stormwater drain, flowing past its original mouth to empty into the harbour north of the Loaded Hog. A small section of this stream will again see daylight when that area is redeveloped and landscaped as Kumutoto Plaza, a name that makes more sense when you know the history and geography, and certainly has more dignity than its previous default name of "North Queens Wharf".

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Raising the bar: classical

Wellington already has quite a diversity of bars and restuarants for its size: not just the usual Irish pubs and Italian restuarants, but a Welsh pub, an avant-garde jazz club and an Argentinian restaurant. However, this only covers a tiny fraction of the potential bar spectrum, and every now and then I get a wistful desire to see something different. Either something that would fill a gap in the current scene, or something utterly unique in the world. The first one that I can imagine is something quite simple: a classical music pub.

I'm not talking about somewhere that plays Andrea Bocelli CDs in an attempt to appear "classy", but a venue that cares about classical music. I envision something a bit like Bartok in North London: a place that feels somewhere between a boho cafe and a gentlemen's club, with recorded music most nights, live chamber ensembles at the weekend, and some ventures into contemporary experimental music. Okay, you may not want to relax to Schoenberg most evenings, but somewhere that goes beyond "Vivaldi's greatest hits" would be great: some Bach, some Satie, some Reich or Glass; and a good dose of Lilburn and Farr to give a local flavour.

A natural location might be in the vicinity of Civic Square: near the Town Hall, Michael Fowler Centre and the planned NZ School of Music. Courtenay Place might seem sensible (I'm posting this from an outside table at The Jimmy, which might seem like the sort of place I'm suggesting, but lacks the intimate and relaxed atmosphere that I envisage), but rather than an existing entertainment district, I think it might work better in an old detached house on the city fringe.

Thorndon is a possibility, perhaps near the corner of Mulgrave and Pipitea streets (between Francois' and Maria Pia's). There are some potential locations between the city and Kelburn: the mock-Tudor mansion on the corner of Willis and Ghuznee would be superb. Somewhere in upper Te Aro could work nicely (there are some nice ones in Abel Smith St, but there's a house in Jessie St, just around the corner from Il Casino, that would be ideal). Mt Victoria has many of the right sort of houses (not to mention the right demographic): a good location would be on or near Majoribanks St (such as the old Roxburgh or its neighbour on the corner of Lipman St). There's also the part of Oriental Parade that looks out over Waitangi Park, including a few formerly grand houses that now house medical practices. Something there would also help bridge the awkward gap between Courtenay Place and the Herd St development.

So, what do you think? Any expressions of agreement or ridicule would be most welcome, as are suggestions for other lacunae in the world of Wellington nightlife.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Shops that pass in the night 2

Aotearoa Streetwear in Cuba StBack in September I wrote a post (Shops that pass in the night) about quirky and transient shops that come and go in the Cuba Quarter. One of them, which recently hosted a Thai furniture shop (and was more notorious as the fake bakery from Insiders Guide to Love), has undergone yet another change and reopened as Aotearoa Streetwear. It's a retailer specialising in casual clothing with Māori themes, some of which is also available online at Aotearoa House, and the first hints of its arrival came late last year when some of their clothes started to appear among the bamboo lamps and brass telephones.

Sign in a Cuba St Window - Never believe anything until it's officially deniedThe door next to the shop, which presumably leads to an upstairs flat, has had some interesting posters and messages recently. There was the crypto-eugenicist poster last year, and now this classic piece of conspiracy theorist paranoia. I especially like the fact that it's on one of those stars that are normally used for signs saying "Amazing Sale!!! Up to 3% off!". It's gone now, and now that the whole unit is being tidied up, maybe we've seen the last of these amusing (if slightly disturbing) messages. Watch this space.

Mojo Sound - Cuba StStephen's just beaten me to it, but another shop space just up the street has also been retenanted (yes, that's a word). It's called Mojo Sound, and as its eye-watering web site says, it specialises in selling parallel-imported musical instruments and related equipment. Mostly classic guitars, amps and pedals, so there's little for knob-twiddling laptop thrashers like myself, but they definitely count as eye candy and the craftmanship does seem like something under the ordinary. Stephen, your bank manager should breathe a sigh or relief: some of the guitars even cost less than five grand!

The Cake Shop, and anarchist internet cafe in Cuba StFor a while last year, this was home to The Cake Shop. This was not, as you might understandably think, a place that actually sold cakes (though you should be getting used to ersatz purveyors of baked goods around here). Neither was it, as their website somewhat mischievously claimed, "a global think tank and centre of innovation and initiative" bringing together "scientists, businessmen, international civil servants, economists, [and] heads of state". Instead it was a collectively-run Internet café and bookshop with an anarchist bent, incorporating the Freedom Shop which had been evicted from its upper Cuba St premises to make way for the 'bypass'. It was quite an impressive one-stop-shop for anarchists, anti-capitalists, vegans, punks, pacifists and the like, providing a meeting space, band venue, exhibition space and screening room at the back (compounding the nomenclatural confusion, this was called The Pioneer Lounge) along with internet access and books.

Oblong Internet Cafe in Cuba StWhen its lease expired, the remnants of the Freedom Shop moved further down Cuba St and around the corner into the Left Bank where it was incorporated into Oblong, another community Internet café with similarly anti-capitalist politics. Oblong also runs computer camps that cover standard stuff such as email, web design and digital photography, but with an emphasis on open source software, and also teaches much more Cuba-esque skills such as leaflet design, Indymedia and stencil-making. So amid all the design stores and cocktail bars that are popping up in Cuba St, there are a few places left that still fly the flag for radicalism and nonconformity.

Mystery bar number 16

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Mystery bar #16 - tub chairsTime for a change of pace. For the first time, WellUrban's Mystery Bar series takes you outside central Wellington.

This place is perhaps better known as a restaurant, though it has a separate bar area and is happy to serve drinks without food. It's also known for views, though the bar itself is tucked away around a corner where it's difficult to see much. While it's definitely upmarket, there's a stilted, dated feel to the decor, which is very reminiscent of an early 90s hotel lobby.

Nevertheless, the bar staff are pleasant and competent, though our orders (a glass of Riesling and a G&T) were hardly taxing. If the weather had been less blustery we'd definitely have chosen to sit outside, as many of the punters were doing despite the aggressive northwesterly. Instead, we sat at our bar stools and looked into the deep blue glow of the backlit bottles behind the bar. Now that's a view.

Mystery bar #16 - bottles behind the bar

Thursday, January 12, 2006


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Just a few random Wellington bits and pieces.

Boy racers are a genuine pain in the arse, but there's something cringeworthy about the front page headline of today's Wellingtonian. "Curb boy racers - tourist". Tourist? It takes a Londoner on holiday to tell us that they're a problem? The issue, apparently, is that they make the place look downmarket and "might cause UK residents to overlook the capital as a tourist destination". I can imagine it now: "I say, old chap, you're not jaunting off to Wellington, are you? I hear the place is crawling with beastly young men in cheap automobiles". He doesn't make any concrete suggestions about how to stop them, but apart from installing a gate on Aotea Quay and turning back anyone with a a car-value to stereo-value ratio of less than one, I'm not sure what anyone can do beyond the current regulations. You can't legislate against morons. We could pedestrianise Courtenay Place, or perhaps give up on it entirely and start a new entertainment district somewhere else.

Hollie Smith at the SoundshellHollie Smith played at the Soundshell last night, as part of the Meridian Energy Summer City ASB Gardens Magic Concert Series (to give it its full, sponsor-tastic name). The Soundshell gardens work so well because they're relatively sheltered, and the hills and trees give them a pleasantly enclosed feeling. It's also outside the liquor ban: hooray!

It seems to be all-hands-on-deck down at Waitangi Park. It may be over budget, but from the amount of frantic digging, building and tree-planting there recently, it seems that they're going all-out to have it finished in time for the Arts Festival. I know that there was no intention to do so, but it would have been nice to get the skate park finished in time for Vodafone X*Air (gosh, I'm being nice to sponsors today). In another piece of not-quite-perfect timing, the Free Ambulance Building is due for completion in April. Rumour has it that it has indeed been leased as some sort of restaurant, café or bar, which would be perfect for a relaxing drink in the sun, but it'll be just in time for Autumn. Drat.

Tze Ming Mok doesn't often write about Wellington, but she's made an exception in order to slag off Monsoon Poon (probably justified), Chow (less so) and pretty much every Malaysian restaurant in Wellington (what the?!?). Of course she's going to be a better judge than I, and she's mostly referring to the noodly stuff rather than the South Indian/Tamil dishes that I prefer (Rendang, Thosai, Murtabak), but it seems a bit of a blanket dismissal. She may have something approaching a point when she says that "all the roti in Wellington Malaysian noodlebars seems to be made by the same frozen roti company and is far too sweet", but "all" seems a bit strong: try Rasa in Cuba St or Roti (Rao's place) in Willis St before writing it all off. And I think she misses the point a bit when she says "when it came to Asian food in central Wellington, Chow is for suckas". No-one goes to Chow for cheap, authentic Asian food: it's about good cocktails, a hip crowd and stylish decor with some tasty Asian-influenced food. But she's certainly right that we lack a late-night Asian food court with alcohol: maybe A-mart would be willing to branch out?

And one thing that's not Wellington-related (thank god), but conceivably could happen here: Auckland developers have been placing covenants on land titles to stop the land being sold or leased as state or council housing. And to think that in London, private housing developments are required by law to include a certain percentage of affordable housing. Ah, property values, the greatest god in the Kiwi pantheon, and eternal justification for prejudice and Nimbyism!

Stadium sprawl

Today's Wellingtonian has an article about the council's purchase of Cobham Drive Park in Kilbirnie. The council has spent $3.7 million to ensure that the land is retained for recreational use, which I'm sure is laudable, though it does seem like a lot of money.

Cobham Drive Park - aerial photo
I don't often comment on happenings beyond the central city, but part of the article shows that this might have a flow-on effect for the city. This is because the council is considering using this as the site for the proposed indoor sports stadium, counter to the previous proposal to put this stadium above the concourse of the Westpac Stadium:

Stadium concourse with proposed indoor stadium site
The city site has many advantages:
  • Right next to the city's major public transport hub
  • Within walking distance of the CBD
  • Cleverly makes multiple use of brownfield land (stadium, concourse, parking, railway)
  • Provides shelter for users of the existing stadium concourse
  • Adds more regular activity to a part of town that is dead apart from on game days
  • Complements the Harbour Quays development and helps connect it to the city and Thorndon
In contrast, building it on the Cobham Drive site would:
  • Require more users to drive (there are decent bus services nearby, but anyone from the northern suburbs would have to change at the station)
  • Irritate the residents
  • Make a single use of greenfield land
  • Displace existing recreational users
It's close to (but not within easy walking distance of) the airport and aquatic centre, but otherwise produces few synergies. Otherwise, the only advantage I can see is that it's cheaper and easier to build.

This is sprawl thinking: build a big box on a cheap empty site on the outskirts of the city, rather than rising to the challenge of integrating it into the city fabric. It's shortsighted, unimaginative, and goes against the sense of Wellington as a compact city.

Update: The Wellingtonian published my letter on this subject on the 19th of January. Another letter writer and the editorial both agree.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

From Arbitrageur to Zibibbo

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First of all, congratulations to David Ritchie for picking Mystery Bar number 15 in what must be record time. It's Brix, which is a fairly non-descript hotel pub saved by a nice view out onto the trees of Willis St and St John's church. I've got to try somewhere trickier next time.

Meanwhile, another David raised the stakes on my New Year's Dissolution by suggesting that I publish my list of all Wellington bars so that I could "issue a challenge to see who can drink a pint or glass of wine in each in the least amount of time". While I generally believe that drinking is far too noble a pursuit to be cheapened by the notion of competition, I like the thought that the nice people at ALAC and Alcohol Healthwatch are probably sputtering into their Virgin Marys at the very thought of it. I still would like to think of this as an exploration rather than a drinking game, but in the spirit of open source, here is the list:
Arbitrageur, Arizona, Atlanta, The Backbencher, Ballroom, Basement, Beau Monde, Beaujolais, The Big Kumara, Bisque On Bolton, The Black Harp, Blend, Blondini's, Blue Note, Bodega, Bohdans, Boogie Wonderland, Boulcott St Bistro, Boulot, Bouquet Garni, Brewery Bar, The Bristol Hotel, Brix, Bull & Bear, Cabaret, Calzone, Cambridge Hotel, Capitol, Caucus, Chameleon, Chicago , Chow, Club K, Concrete, Confidential, Copita, Courtenay Arms, Coyote, Cue Room, Curve Bar, Dockside, The Dog & Bone, Dojo, Downtown Local, The Dubliner, East West, Eclipse, Endup, The Establishment, The Feathers, Ferrymans, Floriditas, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Front Room, Gibbon's Bar, GoGo, Good Luck, Green Room, The Grill at Duxton Hotel, Happy, Harem, Havana, Hog's Breath, Hope Bros, Hotel Bristol, Hotel Willis Lodge, Hugos, Hummingbird, Il Casino Piano Bar, Imbibe, Indigo, J'Aime Bordeaux, Jet, The Jimmy, JJ Murphy's, Juniper, Kazu, Kitty O'Shea's, The Lab, The Lab Underground Bar, The Last Supper Club, Latino's, Leuven, Liquidate, The Loaded Hog, Logan Brown, Lone Star, Lone Star Lounge, Lovelocks, Lumiere, The Malthouse, Matterhorn, Maya, Medina, Mercury Lounge, Mezzaluna, Milk, Mini Bar, Mixjah, Mojo Invincible, Molly Malones, Monkey Bar, Monsoon Poon, Morocco, Motel Bar, Neat, Occidental, One Red Dog (Blair St), One Red Dog (Kumutoto), Paradiso Bar, The Pit, Play, Pod, Ponderosa, Pound, Pravda, The Quarter, Rain, Red Square, Restaurant 88, Rouge, Sandwiches, Seam, The Shack, Shed 5, Shooters, Sojourn, Southern Cross, Sovereign, The Speight's Ale House, Stadium Bar, Stage, Stellar, Subnine, The Syn Bar, Taste of Korea, The Tasting Room, The Old Bank, The Thistle Inn, Toast, Trax, Tupelo, UU, Valve, Vespa Lounge, Vivo, Wasabi Sushi, Wellington Sports Cafe, Welsh Dragon Bar, West Plaza Hotel, The White Room, Zibibbo

The more observant among you may have noticed that this doesn't quite add up to the 154 that I mentioned earlier. That's because there's a handful of bars that are still under construction or just rumoured to be opening soon, and I want to keep them to myself for now, as potential mystery bars. Selfish? Perhaps, but I think a sense of enigma is important in life, and I don't want to spoil all the surprises.

Some of the above may no longer exist (I haven't quite finished the "ground truthing"), and a few are only debatably "bars", but as I said, I tend to err on the side of inclusiveness. Here's my progress so far:
Atlanta, Blend, The Brewery Bar, Brix, Floriditas, Hope Bros, JJ Murphy's, Kazu, The Last Supper Club, Liquidate, Matterhorn, One Red Dog (Kumutoto), The Quarter, The Tasting Room

I'd originally included Shed 5 and Coyote, but since I just had coffee and brunch respectively, those visits don't really count. Which means I have to go back to Coyote. Shudder.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Built-up beat up

Waterfront Watch often refer to those (such as me) who are in favour of a few more buildings on the waterfront as advocating a "built-up waterfront". An example is this letter from John Macalister. I've been trying to find a firm definition of "built-up", without success, but I think it's fair to say that most people would envision a built-up area as something like the CBD, with buildings covering most of the ground.

So just how "built-up" are the current plans for the waterfront? I put together a crude map to find out, and tried a bit of analysis. The first tricky part was deciding what counted as "open space". I decided to count it as anywhere that the public could freely roam without being "inside". Thus the space under verandahs, colonnades and cantilevers counted, as did elevated public ground (such as the southern half of Frank Kitts Park), but the open space within Te Papa's walls didn't. There are a few debatable areas (car parks, the helipad, wetlands and wharf cut-outs), but they're reasonably small and there will be some new pontoons to partly balance them out. Anyway, here's the map:

Map of Wellington waterfront showing current and proposed building footprints
Light green shows waterfront open space, black shows existing buildings, and red shows the proposed new buildings at Kumutoto, Taranaki Wharf and Waitangi. It's easy to see that open space will still dominate the waterfront, and even in the most built-up parts (such as Kumutoto and Queens Wharf) that it's less built-up than the CBD. Here's a graphical analysis:

Comparison of current waterfront open space vs proposals and CBD
The new buildings will take the waterfront from 74.5% open space to 70.3%. As a comparison, the CBD (I analysed the blocks east of Lambton Quay between Johnson and Grey streets) have only 36% open space, and most of that is road! I would also argue that the proposals result in more usable open space than there is now, because they break up some of the larger, inhospitable spaces into smaller, more intimate spaces with more edges.

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Year's dissolution

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I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions. No-one ever seems to keep them after about February, and anyway they're always so boringly wholesome: lose weight; save money; be nice to your liver.

So I didn't make any formal resolutions this year, but I did think of a project that could be thought of as such, even though it's in direct opposition to the usual spirit of resolutions. My aim for 2006? To have at least one drink in every bar in central Wellington.

A sidecar
This poses some problems of definition. First, what are the limits of "central Welllington"? The Lambton and Te Aro regions obviously count, but I somewhat arbitrarily included Thorndon but not Newtown. Mt Vic and Oriental Bay would count, if only there were any bars there.

Secondly, what is a "bar"? I could go with the Wikipedia definition ("A bar is an independent business or a section of a restaurant, club or hotel where alcoholic beverages are sold to be drunk on the premises"), but it still leaves a lot of grey areas. For example, while it would include most restaurants and cafés, there are a lot of restaurants that would serve you a drink without food, but would hardly fit most people's definition of a "bar". Some even call themselves a "café and bar", but their bar is essentially for serving diners. While I have some absolute requirements (they must serve drinks without food, and they must be open past 7pm at least one night a week), I've had to rely on my own instincts, judgements and prejudices, and I tend to lean towards inclusiveness.

The next step is to come up with a definitive and comprehensive list of bars to target. My first port of call was the Yellow Pages website, but that was harder than I thought. First, I had to look up several obvious categories (Bars & Brasseries, Hotels & Taverns, Night Clubs and Wine Bars). Others only turned up under other categories, such as Cafés, Restaurants and even Function & Party Planning. After saving the HTML from all these pages and doing a bit of Perl hacking to extract the names and addresses (oh, if only they provided the results as nice, clean XML!), I noticed a lot of false positives that I had to remove, and I realised that a lot of well-known bars were unlisted. Some of these I could fill in from Wotzon's food and drink pages and Positively Wellington Tourism's search page, but some were still unlisted.

So, a spot of ground truthing was required. I've started walking all the streets in the area of interest, noting any bars that were omitted by the online sources. I've also been able to check some of the known ones to see whether they meet my criteria. I've got a few more streets to go, but otherwise this phase is pretty much complete, and I'm well into the actual visitation stage.

My list now includes a grand total of 154 bars. That sounds like a lot, but it's really only three a week. So far I've checked off 10, which is not bad going for just over a week's bargoing, but of course that includes a lot of regular haunts that are bound to be repeated. It's going to take a lot of dedication and alertness to stick with the programme. For some of the more (ahem) "interesting" venues I may need some drinking buddies, as an ageing straight white middle-class bloke like me might look a bit out of place without some security in numbers.

Obsession? I prefer to think of it as a mission. I may even see if I can produce a useful resource from this: a comprehensive database of Wellington bars, with links to maps, reviews, photos and other information. But for the moment, a man's gotta drink what a man's gotta drink.