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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Mystery bar number 26

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After plenty of prompting, Jo was the one who finally identified mystery bar number 25. It's Medina, a tiny Moroccan restaurant and bar in Cambridge Terrace, where Da Piero used to be. Despite its theme, it's always been a bit confused in terms of decor, featuring brass rubbings, Lautrec posters and a wooden patu as well as more typical Maghrebian items. Until recently, the confusion extended to the menu, with a seemingly random collection of dated dishes from around the world, and the only Moroccan dishes were on the specials board. They've now moved to a fully Moroccan menu, with couscous and tagine galore, and together with the provision of complimentary tapas with drinks this makes it well worth a visit.

Mystery bar #26 - the barToday's mystery bar should be much easier to identify. It's been around for a while and is very visible from the street, though it's not on everyone's mental map of Wellington bars. It's moderately upmarket, though not exclusive, and its crisp modern lines aren't quite as cutting edge as were when it opened. It offers cocktails, but though I've yet to test their cocktail making skills, I get the feeling that most of their patrons are just after a quick glass of wine or beer, or even just a coffee. It probably does most of its trade during the day, when it certainly appears to be more of a café than a bar.

This place's main point of difference is its terrace, which offers plenty of sun if you catch it at the right time of day. While it doesn't quite go to the same extremes as some bars, the terrace can be screened to offer quite a bit of shelter from the elements, thus making it popular with smokers. It's close enough to the street to feel part of the city bustle, yet far enough from the traffic to allow for civilised conversation. There's also a surprising amount of greenery for a part of town that's not noted for its natural charms, and all in all it makes for a very pleasant drinking environment. If you can get a seat, that is.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Three quickies

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First, a quick update to this morning's post on the transplasticised Bucket Fountain: James @ NZ has some nice photos on Flickr of the gooey fountain and its encrusted environs.

Secondly, I assume that most WellUrban readers also read The Wellingtonista and so will already know this, but I have been forced (forced I say!) to join their ranks, and my first Wellingtonista post is now up. Follow the link to find out all about the artiest SOFA in town, a terrorist training facility in Courtenay Place and an influx of designer bush shirts.

Thirdly: Wellington 49, Baku 33. We're not out of the (radioactive, oil-slicked) woods yet, so if you haven't voted yet, do so now!

Booze clues

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Mystery bar #25 - the doorI'm glad to see that so many of you have been busy helping to put Baku in its place, but it appears to have kept you too busy to identify the current mystery bar. I've already posted a further photo to give you another hint, but it looks like I'll have to make things even more explicit.

Here's a photo of the entranceway, which should make it easier. The potted plant could be anywhere, but the large ceramic thinggy (I think it's a chimney, but I could be wrong) should be more distinctive. As I mentioned before, it's a restaurant first and bar second, and they've recently switched from a very confused menu to one that specialises in a specific national cuisine (and no, it's not Azerbaijani). I look forward to going back there to eat, because they now have a lot of dishes on the menu that I've enjoyed overseas but haven't been regularly available in Wellington.

Surely that make it easy enough! I have a backlog of mystery bar photos gasping to see the light of day (or light of blog), so put your drinking thinking caps on.


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John Radford's 'Disartster' project begins in Cuba MallThe much-delayed transplasticisation of Cuba Mall has finally started. John Radford's temporary outdoor installation Cuba Mall Disartster began last night, and as I speculated earlier, the Bucket Fountain is one of the objects being covered in clay. The surprise element is an old Holden station wagon, dragged out of a South Island swamp for the occasion.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Back to Baku

Thanks to everyone who voted for Wellington in Gridskipper's "Pitch Your Burg" poll. We were soaring ahead of our gritty competitor when Gridskipper's poll server mysteriously went phut, meaning that we'll now all have to vote again. Not at all suspicious.

In the meantime, given that Baku is (temporarily, of course) back in front, perhaps we should think more deeply about its competitive advantages and see how Wellington could match or eclipse them. So, here's a listing of Baku's tourist highlights, as compiled by its pitcher, carpetblogger. For each of them, I've made some suggestions for locations within greater Wellington that could give Baku a run for its laundered money. Your further suggestions are most welcome.

The aesthetics of Houston.
There's plenty of mirror glass on Lambton Quay, but it's compromised by the presence of actual pedestrians and shops that aren't in malls, so the Thorndon government precinct might be a better bet.

The hospitality of the Soviets.
Most of our hospitality sector takes Castro rather than Stalin as its dictator chic exemplar, but I have to admit that the old guy at Brandon Street Shoe Repairs has an authentically KGB demeanour.

The progressiveness of a Muslim culture shut off from the world for 70 years.
I don't want to denigrate The Religion of Peace(tm), so if you want a culture that's been shut off for decades, you'll have to venture into Wainuiomata.

A thriving community of lice, transvestites, dirty backpackers, and multinational middle management suck-ups.
Admittedly, we've never had these all conveniently located in one "Boat Bar" (though who knows what goes on in the bilges of the Tug Boat after dark?), but I'm sure a brisk walk from Cuba St to Cambridge Tce could deliver all of the above.

Bars that never close and the availability of exotic delights -- such as continuous drunken loops in a Go-Kart at 3 a.m. -- for those willing to pay the price in Manat and dignity.
Blue Note and Endup both offer all-night entertainment of various descriptions, though I'm not sure I can afford to lose that much dignity. And there are more RX7s than Go-Karts, but if you want continuous drunken loops at 3 a.m. then I have two words for you: Hutt. Valley.

All kinds of bars, as long as they are English, Irish, and Scottish.
But do they have a Welsh bar?

Any local woman out past 9 p.m. is likely to be a whore.
No, but any whore out past 9 p.m. is unlikely to be a woman.

Any bar that requires a descent of more than five steps doubles as a bordello. Notably, most that sit at ground level do as well.
No, in New Zealand our bordellos double as bars. And most of them are upstairs rather than down (apparently)

Snaggle-toothed rig monkeys engorged from six weeks on a Caspian platform, spooks, and middle-aged swingers in corporate logo polo shirts.
Where do I begin?

The dial-up revolution is as entrenched as the current regime.
Aha! Those flash bastards in Central Asia can't possibly match us when it comes to crap broadband!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Shops that pass in the night 5

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As a change from my previous "Shops that pass in the night" posts, I'll move away from the Cuba/Ghuznee district to the Lambton Quarter. Lambton Quay itself is not usually known for small independent shops, but there's one little side street that's been home over the years to a number of little shops with more personality than the chain stores that are increasingly dominating the Quay.

The top of Plimmer Steps is just metres from the Golden Mile, yet it seems that the steep ascent is enough to keep most punters away, thus avoiding the soaring rents nearby. There's a cluster of three shop spaces right at the top that have seen a number of tenants over the years (Genevieve Flowers being one of the most long-lived and memorable), and at the moment they're home to a cluster of three interesting businesses.

Stand Up Aotearoa in Plimmer StepsOne of these is Stand Up Apparel Aotearoa, which opened at the beginning of last month. They stock clothing with a Māori flavour, some of it bearing designs based upon traditional patterns, and others with a contemporary urban edge (as the graffiti-style sign on the building would suggest). The shop was started by the people behind the local Blackberi and Localitees labels, and it stocks their products along with pieces by other designers, such as graffiti-covered kete that are a nice collision between traditional craft and urban expression.

Speaking of Localitees, it's interesting to see the focus of local-pride t-shirts becoming more geographically specific with time. First there was the widespread appropriation of homage to Colin Simon's 1974 Commonwealth Games logo and Orlando's favourite "I (Huffer) NZ" shirt; then OTC's "WE (heart) WGTN" slogan; now there's Localitees' suburb-centric and even street-level (Cuba St) designs, as worn by all the staff at Epic Café. Logically, the next step must be to wear your address or building name on your shirt, so I'm off to get a custom-made "St Peters Apartments" tee. Not only will I get ahead of the cutting edge of fashion, but if I've had too many Martinis I can just get in a taxi and point to my chest.

Isa Lei Tapa in Plimmer StepsNext up the hill is Isa Lei Tapa (link currently down), which also has a Pacific theme, but with less of a hip-hop angle. This is either a new branch of a shop that's been in Riddiford St for a while, or the shop has moved here: can any Newtowners confirm whether the Riddiford shop is still open? As well as the obvious tapa cloth, it also sells ceramics, paintings, carvings and, um, Ben Lummis CDs.

Mazzola Jewellery in Plimmer StepsRight at the top you'll find Mazzola Jewellery. From the street it has a slightly mysterious appearance at night, due to the gauzy curtains and subtle lighting. One of the photos in the window is of the owner's ancestors from Massalubrense, and this adds to the European feel of Plimmer Steps. I know it sounds ridiculous to compare an alley squeezed between Wellington high-rises to an Italian hill town, but that's exactly what it feels like to me at times, with its terracotta paving, steep winding footpath and patches of greenery. Having a group of independent shops completes the impression, and it's an appealingly charming mini-neighbourhood just around the corner from the mirror glass of Lambton Quay. And if the trudge up the hill is too much, just take the lift that's hidden at the back of the AA Centre and walk down.

Wellington vs... Baku

Baku vs WellingtonThe battle commences: Wellington has a challenger for Pitch Your Burg. We're up against that well-known mecca of culture, elegance and natural beauty... Baku, Azerbaijan.

Their pitch does indeed make Baku sound alluring:
A gray canker on the lower lip of the Absheron peninsula, oil-rich Baku combines the aesthetics of Houston, the hospitality of the Soviets, and the progressiveness of a Muslim culture shut off from the world for 70 years.

Hmm, methinks they're taking the Michael. I appear to have made a tactical error by writing my pitch in such a way as to make Wellington sound like the sort of place you might actually want to visit. I might have to point out that most of Baku's more charming amenities (such as "snaggle-toothed rig monkeys", "middle-aged swingers" and "continuous drunken loops in a Go-Kart at 3 a.m.") are also readily available in nearby Upper Hutt and Palmerston North.

At the time of writing, Baku is actually ahead by 14 votes to 11, so get voting!

Monday, March 27, 2006

A brighter Laguna

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Based upon comments so far, it looks like photo 2 (Hula Laguna) is the front runner to represent Wellington on Gridskipper. I got some feedback about the clouds looking omninously dark, though: this was due to me darkening the photo a little to bring out the lights from the concert and Ferris wheel. I tried a slightly more selective colour adjustment and came up with this version, which I think makes our skies look a little like a pleasant twilight:

Wellington Waterfront: Hula Lagun concert and party
Gridskipper have already mentioned Wellington's challenge, though they've gone ahead and used the standard Cable Car shot for the moment. Unless there are any firm objections to this version of the Hula Laguna picture, I'll go ahead and send it in.

The world headquarters of the verb

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I need your help, WellUrbanites. As I mentioned earlier, Gridskipper is looking to cover new cities, and I'm having a go at getting Wellington included. So I took the central themes from my five weekends post and used them to structure a short pitch based upon a quote from a Lauris Edmond poem about Wellington:
In the words of one of the poems displayed as typographic installations along Wellington's famous waterfront , this is "the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb". As further evidence, even our sculptures can't sit still: they whirl and sway and glow. Futher from the public eye, underground galleries rock with experimental music nights and the alleys are full of street art.

Energetic people love the ability to go mountain biking or kayaking in the middle of the city, and nature lovers adore the Wildlife Sanctuary and the fact that our brand new urban park includes native wetlands designed to treat stormwater while providing a habitat for birds. Urban dwellers prefer a shopping safari, hunting for elegant (Zambesi, Andrea Moore, Mandatory), street (Area 51, Rex Royale) or vintage (Ziggurat, Hunters & Collectors) fashion.

The music scene is based around the so-called "Wellington sound", a seductive Pacific blend of dub, jazz and soul exemplified by Fat Freddy's Drop, but genres as diverse as ironic hair metal and low-fi electro are making inroads. The gastronomic scene is just as lively and eclectic, with restaurants offering game, avant-garde seafood, Polynesian antipasto and Māori delicacies. We're so passionate about wine that even the chocolate shops make truffles from local Pinot Noir. Cafés, whether bohemian or posh, are an indispensible part of life, and cocktail bars offer you a choice of ambience from Cuban shack to opium den to what's been described as "a ski lodge designed for James Bond by Frank Lloyd Wright".

It all sounds exhausting, and it's true that you can have a non-stop weekend whatever your tastes. But Wellington's secret is the compactness that makes it possible to do all this within walking distance: it's a metropolis pretending to be a village.

I sent this to Gridskipper, and they like it, so they will be putting Wellington head-to-head with another (as yet unnamed) city for inclusion. I included the montage of four photos from my Pimp my burg post, but they want a single image rather than a montage. Given that I'm trying to emphasise the multi-facetedness of Wellington, it's quite a challenge to summarise all that in one photo. So I trawled through my photos and dragged out several candidates, but I want your help to select the one that best represents the "world headquarters of the verb" aspect of Wellington.

(1) The city from Chaffers Marina

(2) Hula Laguna panorama

(3) Cuba Mall

(4) Hula Laguna from the Albatross

(5) Snowboarding in Civic Square

Post a comment to let me know which you prefer, or if you have a better image (more than likely given my dodgy camera) that you're willing to lend to the cause, send me a link to that.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Five Wellington weekends

Now that the Arts Festival has wrapped up, you'd think it would be time for Wellington to have a collective cup of tea and a lie down. But no: there's still so much on that it's too much for any one person to take it. And to prove that Wellington's got something for everyone, here are suggested itineraries for five completely different weekends that you could have this weekend, depending upon your inclination: Arty, Sporty, Greenie, Groovy and Foodie.


Opening of AaronLaurenceGallery - interiorFriday: Kick off your evening with a quick visit to Popup gallery, which will have just opened. Wolf down a roti chenai at Satay Kingdom, then wander past Wineseeker to grab a few bottles of something quaffable before heading to Aaron Laurence Gallery to Shake the Foundations with dark sampled soundscapes, acoustic guitar wizardry and some indescribable Bhartiphone magic. From 10pm, music zine A Low Hum is having a party at Indigo featuring local band-to-watch Connan and the Mockasins.

Saturday: Start a Cuba-themed day with breakfast at Fidels, then check out local independent galleries like Peter McLeavey, Idiom Studio, Enjoy, Mary Newton and Thistle Hall. Shop for vintage fashion at Ziggurat and Hunters & Collectors, streetwear at Area 51 and Rex Royale, secondhand music at Slow Boat Records and books at Pegasus, Ferret and Arty Bees. Investigate the wealth of New Zealand cinema beyond Peter Jackson at the Mediaplex, then brave the dark alleys and side streets to experience a rich collection of street art. Have dinner at Olive, which has some of the most intriguing exhibitions of Wellington cafés. There's a wealth of live music on in the evening, including A Band Called Dave at Katipo (the café that thinks it's a bar), Phoenix Foundationer Luke Buda (among others) at the artist-run avant-noise basement Happy, and the regular African Dance Party at Bar Bodega.

Sunday: begin a more leisurely day with brunch in the clean white spaces of Nikau at the City Gallery, which leads on conveniently to the major Michael Smither retrospective and the weirdly touching Anne Geddes meets David Cronenberg creations of Patricia Piccinini (complete with podcast commentary). Wander across the City-to-Sea bridge to Te Papa and have a look at the Cézanne to Picasso exhibition, thus allowing you to sniffily dismiss the named artists and knowingly express your preference for the Vlaminck and Léger pieces. Take a slow walk along the waterfront, keeping an eye out for the Writers' Walk plaques and the vast number of public artworks that have been springing up all over the city. For two of the most recent ones (Bill Culbert's SkyBlues and Len Lye's Water Whirler), wait for nightfall to see them in their full glory.


Friday: Start with the big rugby match, Hurricanes vs Sharks at the Westpac Stadium (after checking out the preview on the Dropkicks' podcast, of course), and follow up with a waterfront pub crawl towards Courtenay Place. You'll find plenty of convivial pubs along the way and in Courtenay Place itself. How many cities have a world-class stadium within 10 minutes' walk of the CBD and half an hour of the entertainment district?

Kayak Polo by the waterfrontSaturday: Wake up in time for a hangover-relieving midday big breakfast at the Tasting Room gastropub: the sausage platter (manuka-smoked beef; wild venison chorizo; wild pork, apple and Pilsner) comes highly recommended, though not by the Heart Foundation. When you feel ready for physical activity again, try Ferg's Rock and Kayak for indoor rock climbing or a leisurely paddle along the wharves. There's no test match this week, but you you could still make a pilgrimage to the Basin Reserve to see the ancient relics in the Members' Stand New Zealand Cricket Museum. There's no shortage of pubs with big screens, but if you feel like somewhere more sedate to watch the Commonwealth Games, in a sports-mad country like this even some restaurants like Tulsi and Crazy Horse have screens that get turned on for big events.

Sunday: In Wellington, you don't have to leave the city to go mountain biking, because the city is full of mountains! Mt Victoria is right next to Courtenay Place, yet offers trails for all levels of difficulty. You're also a short bus ride from Island Bay, one of the most accessible diving locations in the city, and if you're really up for something extreme, you could always look for what's left of the frigate.


Friday: If you're in town for the Climate Change conference next week, the first thing to do is get yourself a Metlink Explorer pass, making it even easier to get around by electric train or trolley bus. A surf along to Sustainable Wellington Net should be your next stop, with a Green Map to point out ecologically interesting sites. I realise that an interest in sustainability does not necessarily make one a vegetarian, but if that's you then there are plenty of vege-friendly restaurants suitable for dinner: in particular, Aunty Mena's comes highly recommended by those in the know.

The Waimapihi Stream at the top of Holloway RdSaturday: Time for some eco-tourism. The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary is a well-known highlight, with its lakes and forested hills full of native birds. It's reasonably easy to reach via bus, but to make things even easier, the Wellington Rover tours and Capital Adventure Tours include the Sanctuary on their routes (though I'm not sure that a Unimog counts as sustainable transport). If you're still in a walking mood, you can wander back to the city via the famously bohemian Aro Street, including the lost valley of Holloway Road and the Aro Valley Fair, which from 10am to 2pm will be enlivening Aro Park with stalls, capoeira and fairy tales of the world. By now you might want a more leisurely and luxurious meal than Aunty Mena's can provide, so try Maria Pia's Trattoria for a local take on Pugliese cuisine from a noted advocate of the Slow Food movement.

Sunday: Get yourself some produce from Commonsense Organics and take a picnic across the road to the brand new Waitangi Park. Gasp at the photos in the open-air Earth from Above exhibition while tut-tutting at the accompanying stories of impending ecological doom, or admire the wetlands designed to treat stormwater while recalling the natural history of the site and providing a habitat for birds and insects. Then walk across town and take the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens, where you can enjoy the guided walks, cooking demonstrations and herb market that are part of the Festival of Herbs (note the plural).


Pitch Black at the Festival Club, WellingtonFriday: Ease your way into the weekend by sampling cocktails and live boogaloo from Twinset at Concrete bar by Cable Car Lane. Move on to seductive jazz and a pan-Asian banquet with the Hannah Griffen Quartet at Cabaret. By now you should be ready for a night of ambient-tinged drum & bass from LTJ Bukem and MC Conrad at Sandwiches.

Saturday: Start with a shopping safari, beginning with the fashionable cluster around the Old Bank (Zambesi, Workshop, Andrea Moore, Little Brother) before making your way down Willis St (Maggie Potter, Coco at The Vault) and Wakefield St (Karen Walker, Artikel) to Cuba St (Kate Sylvester, Mandatory). Stop for lunch at one of the many cafés along the way (Pravda, Masi, The Lido, Finc). For dinner, try some of the adventurous antipasto platters at Imbibe: the "Polynesia" platter is a particularly wonderful slice of the Pacific. If you're not already booked to see De La Soul at the Events Centre (with local support from Olmecha Supreme and The Wanderers), try a cocktail crawl, with Havana, Boulôt, Good Luck and Tupelo all worth a visit. Then you've got a choice: hard and fast with Concord Dawn at Sub Nine, or funky and jazzy with Welly supergroup The Eggs at Matterhorn.

Sunday: I'll presume that you won't be up at dawn, especially if you were up for it enough to visit Endup and keep dancing until noon. So, there's only one thing for it: Wellington's stylish take on Yum Cha, "Yum Chow".


Friday: Make a casual start to your exploration of New Zealand's culinary capital at Arbitrageur, boasting the best wine list in the country and exquisite delicatessa platters. For a more local flavour, try a modern version of Māori cuisine at Kai in the City, where you can not only enjoy delicacies such as miti poaka (wild pork), kina (sea eggs) and pikopiko (fern shoots), but also end up adding your voice to a waiata with the staff.

Very wild foodSaturday: You could splash out on a Zest food tour, or save some money and plan your own gourmet walk. Try wandering up Tory St, drooling at Meat on Tory, sampling cardamom and pink peppercorn chocolates at Schoc, marveling at the cornucopia that is Moore Wilson and watching the coffee roasting at Caffe L'affare). For a taste of what Wellingtonians really eat, try lunch at a cheap Malaysian cafe, preferably one with South Indian influences such as Roti or Rasa. When it comes to dinner, you're spoilt for choice, with Logan Brown, Citron and Boulcott Street Bistro all offering various forms of fine dining. But for adventurous cuisine, stunning presentation and spectacular views, you have to try Martin Bosley's Yacht Club Restaurant. Who knew that foie gras and smoked eel would go so well with caramelised apple?

Sunday: It's time for something simple, so try brunch at Floriditas, where fantastically fresh ingredients lift straightforward dishes out of the ordinary. Once refreshed, you can wander down to Chaffers' market for produce straight from the market gardens of Otaki. Just across the road, A-mart offers a bewildering array of Asian ingredients and a compact food court. But save your appetite for Festa Italia from 10am to 5pm at the Overseas Passenger Terminal.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Arty Bharti party

India Bharti performing in Manners Mall (photo from The Wellingtonista)Aaron Laurence Gallery is starting to become a real multimedia powerhouse. In addition to art and candyfloss, it now also hosts monthly music nights called "Shake the Foundations". This Friday at 8pm there will be a set by acoustic guitarist Dick Whyte and the debut performance by Tracer (using samples to "define and convey image through the act of tracing"). If that's not eclectic enough for you, The Wellingtonista's favourite Bhartiphone player, India Bharti, will be doing his thing (hat tip to The Wellingtonista for the photo), so that'll be a good chance to hear his music without standing around in a mall. Bring your own drinks (and cushion).

You may have seen today's Capital Times article about artist Freeman White and his winning entry for the Adam Portraiture Award. In it, White expresses frustration at his long struggle to be recognised by dealers, but he hasn't gone completely unrecognised, since Laurence has some of his work at the gallery. You can also see some of his work on The Learning Connexion's alumni page (scroll right to the end), and of course his winning portrait is part of the NZ Portrait Gallery exhibition that's at Shed 11 until the 17th of April.

While this is only a temporary exhibition, it shows how well Shed 11 works as an exhibition space. It's interesting to read that the council is seeking government help to find the Portrait Gallery a permanent home on the waterfront, along with the Centre for Photography. I'm only speculating about the specific location they have in mind, but with the adjacent Shed 13 currently vacant, it would make perfect sense for one or both of these institutions to be housed in these two sheds. They would complement the commercial, residential and entertainment activities elsewhere in Kumutoto and help turn it into a true mixed-use precinct.

Princess Hanz at Midnight BurlesqueWhite's winning entry is a portrait of playwright Ryan McFadyen. If the title (Portrait of Hans) is a little confusing, this because McFadyen also performs as a cabaret artist under the name of Hans or Princess Hanz. You can see some rather different pictures of Hans in action on my much earlier posts about Salon Freak! and cabaret fever. It seems that multidisciplinary flexibility is a prerequisite for Wellington artists.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Getting the blues

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Bill Culbert's 'SkyBlues' sculptureIf the sudden onset of autumnal greyness has been getting you down, then you might take some small consolation in the fact that from tonight, there will be a little more blue in the Wellington sky. As I surmised earlier, the roadworks in Post Office Square were preparations for the installation of Bill Culbert's light sculpture SkyBlues, and it's being officially launched at 6:30 tonight. It has a certain spindly, steely elegance even in daylight, but it should be truly spectacular at night: expect local Flickr-ites to converge on its glowing blue spirals.

One of the nice things about the siting of the sculpture is that it's visible from both Queens Wharf and Lambton Quay, creating exactly the sort of indirect visual link between city and waterfront that Jan Gehl recommended (204kB PDF). Grey St already has a nice blue illuminated water feature at its intersection with Lambton Quay, so the visual echo between SkyBlues and this feature should help signpost the way to the water.

Shops that pass in the night 4

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With Three Second Goldfish seemingly gone for no longer than the alleged attention span of its aquatic eponym, the space at 57 Ghuznee St is about to open for business again. As announced by a few tiny postcards in the windows, this Friday it will reopen as Popup gallery.

Popup Gallery logoSo far, the gallery's web site is singularly uninformative to the casual reader, displaying little more than the logo and a Flash countdown to the opening. A quick View Source, however, unearths some useful metadata that describes the gallery as "speciali[sing] in the lowbrow, surreal and subversive; retailing limited edition prints and t-shirts, urban toys and other cool stuff". The keywords are even more specific, revealing a list of artists that includes Mark Ryden, Kozyndan, Kathie Olivas, Jordan Crane, Critterbox and David Horvath. Such a lineup makes it sound something like a cross between Eyeball Kicks and Good as Gold, with perhaps a bit of Rex Royale thrown in.

It all sounds like a lot of fun, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they'll stock Critterbox's jack-in-the-box based on Drinky Crow, a character that some of you may recognise from Modern Drunkard Magazine. This space has a bit of a history as a temporary gallery space, so I'm not sure whether it's reverting to type or whether Popup will be a more permanent inhabitant.

10 Haining St in happier daysOn a sadder note, 10 Haining St closed down last weekend. At first, I wondered whether this was due to an overly pioneering decision to open so far from the beaten retail track, but a note on the door explains that its parent charity, Art Compass, has wound up due to lack of funding. I hope that the artists find other outlets for their work.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Burger me!

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You may have noticed that the old Design Zoo shop on the corner of Courtenay Place and Taranaki St has been vacant for a while. You may also have noticed the absence of a "For Lease" sign and wondered what was on its way. Well, there's now a sign that gives it all a way: it's going to be a branch of Burger Fuel.

Normally, I don't get excited about takeaway joints, least of all those that are part of national chains. But I used to live in Grey Lynn and my taste buds still carry sweet memories of their original Ponsonby Road store. As Wellingtonians, we might be inclined to feel more loyalty for Burger Wisconsin, but even the Wellingtonista admits that the Fuel is far superior, and besides, Wisconsin don't have an inner-city branch. I've only tried a couple of burgers from Eat's menu, but I was a little underwhelmed by both quality and quantity. With the demise of Feedback (in that funny little section of ne'er-do-well shops by the Basin), there's definitely room for some serious Burgerry in Te Aro.

Their standard menu (112kB PDF, but it's easier to link to than their Flash-ridden main site) is pretty damn good, with Chignition Pear and the Ring Burner deserving particular mention. But I can remember some exceptionally delicious specials, such as Lamb & Feta (required eating, even for those who can't tell lamb from beef) and the spectacular Chatham Island Wild Boar. Mmmm, boar...

This branch should be very popular. Eat is closer to Waitangi Park, so that might be the burger provider of choice for pigging out in the park. On the other hand, if the council ever gets around to turning the adjoining sidestreet into a little park, then Burger Fuel will really have it made.

Update: they opened on Sunday the 30th of April, with a free burger offer. Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Super-souse me

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Mystery bar #25 - from the barWith the weekend nearly upon us, it's time to post something related to alcohol. After all, it is St Patrick's Day, which is hard to miss given the green-clad queues outside the Irish pubs, and the fact that Lambton Quay is crammed with more fiddlers than a Catholic boys' school. But on to the drinks.

First of all, there have been disappointingly few attempts to identify the current mystery bar, and instead, most of the commenters have been content to slag off the previous mystery bar and its owner. How rude! Here's another photo, in case you need more clues.

Secondly, I've reached an important milestone in my project. I've now had a drink in over half of Wellington's bars: 55% to be precise, or 83 out of 150. But wait: weren't there 157 in my earlier list? Yes, but we've had a spate of closures: not just Rouge and Bouquet Garni, but Beau Monde as well, and both Magnum and Stage appear to be moribund. I also made a couple of errors in compiling my original list: I had counted The Bristol twice, and Play should never have been on my list since it closed last year. We've had a couple of new openings, but I could see them coming so I included them on the list before they were open.

That all sounds a bit depressing, and I keep wondering whether this is a sign of the economic downturn, but on the other hand we had a lot of new openings last year so I think we still have more bars open now than a year ago. I imagine that the post-Christmas period is a shaking-out time for the hospitality industry, with marginal businesses finding it hard to recapture their clientele after the break.

Never mind: there are still plenty of places making great Martinis, and a few dodgy ones as well. So, here's the latest in my series of Martini reviews.

Crazy Horse: 8.5
The glass was rinsed with room temperature Noilly Prat, which was then discarded. Tanqueray was stirred with ice and poured in. So far, pretty standard, but it took an interesting turn when the barman added three marinated, unstuffed olives. This gave the drink a strong peppery aroma, mixing grassy & sweet notes. The palate was also sweet and oily. Some would dispprove of the little slick of green olive oil that formed on the surface, and the result was far from canonical, but it certainly was delicious.

East West: 3
They used Bombay, which was not a good start, but worse was to come. They added Martini vermouth, then lime juice(!), shook it with ice and served the result without an olive or twist, but with a straw stuck to the outside of the glass. That's not a Martini, it's a gimlet with vermouth!. It wasn't an entirely unpleasant drink, but it was an insult to the word "Martini". It wasn't a random aberration either: I later checked their cocktail list, and they actually listed lime among the ingredients for a "classic" Martini. Shame.

Flying Burrito Brothers: 8
The barman poured Martini vermouth over ice into the glass & discarded it. He stirred Tanqueray with ice, slowly and with reverence, before adding it to the glass along with two olives on a stick. The result was nicely cold, with restrained juniper and herb aromas. The palate was oily, with hints of lemon and pepper, leading to a hot dry finish. Very pleasant, but a little too gin-dominated for my tastes: the use of Noilly Prat, especially with a slightly higher vermouth ratio, would have elevated this towards excellence.

The Green Room: 8
Plymouth and Noilly Prat were stirred together with ice, then poured into a sensible-sized glass. Three olives were skewered on a long bamboo stick, then rubbed around the rim of the glass before being placed in the drink: a nice touch, I think. The aromas were herbal and slightly savoury; the palate smooth and elegant. A lovely Martini, though it would have benefitted from a chilled glass.

Shed 5: 6
An inexperienced bartender was slowly coached by the bar manager in the art of the Martini, but it wasn't the most illuminating lesson. They poured water and ice into the glass to chill it, and left it for several minutes before emptying. Then vermouth and ice were added and discarded, and Bombay was stirred with ice and strained into the glass. They then put it behind the bar and left it so that they could deal with other customers. By the time I reminded them that I was still waiting for my drink, 15 minutes had elapsed and the Martini had lost all the coldness that they went to such lengths to give it. The eventual result was drinkable but bland, with a single olive skewered lengthwise on a standard stick. A huge amount of effort went to waste due to a basic lapse of service standards, though the ingredients would never have produced the best results.

Zibibbo: 7
Tanqueray and Noilly Prat, stirred together with ice, but the result was still not quite cold enough. The nose had some botanical character, but the palate was not quite as smooth and integrated. It was served with the standard three olives, but skewered lengthwise rather than transversally. This might sounds like a small nit to pick, but it caused some of the pimento to be pushed out, giving a messy and slightly disturbing appearance. "Waiter, something's prolapsed in my drink!"

Monkey Bar: 8
Tanqueray and Martini vermouth gave a smooth and mellow result, with a delightfully crisp bite from assiduous chilling. The now-standard three olives rounded out a pleasantly classical Martini.

Motel: 8.5
Tanqueray and Noilly Prat, stirred with due care and attention, were always going to produce the goods. The result was cold and smooth, with distinct notes of citrus and spice. The two olives were floating free: others might see this as a welcome roguish streak beneath a polished exterior, but to a perfectionist's eye this somehow detracts from the requisite air of structure and balance. Nevertheless: delicious.

Mini Bar: 6.5
Bombay Sapphire and Noilly Prat gave an unexceptional taste, and the use of two olives completed the middle-of-the-road approach. A touch of cloudiness and the tell-tale presence of ice chips revealed that it had been shaken rather than stirred, so that the molecules were unable to lie sensuously one on top of the other as Somerset Maugham would have preferred. This was the Peter Dunne of Martinis: superficially immaculate and bland, but with hidden violent tendencies and an agressive rejection of sensuality.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Shopping and parking

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My last "Shops that pass in the night" post mentioned the impending closure of Bellamys Bookshop in Cuba Mall. There's a short article about it on the very promising My Wellington site, which repeats the owner's claim that rising parking costs have driven away her customers. She is quoted as saying "Why would people come in when they can go to Tawa, Porirua and Lower Hutt for free?"

Now, perhaps my opinion of the suburbs is excessively jaundiced, and I need to make some fresh expeditions to see what their retail offerings are like these days, but I've never thought of Tawa, Porirua or Lower Hutt as the place to go for secondhand books on anthropology, mystic theology and Russian literature. If you want obscure and serendipitous, go to Cuba St. If you want wall-to-wall Dan Brown and free parking, then you go to the 'burbs. There are suburban secondhand bookshops, but from my (admittedly limited) experience, they tended to specialise in well-thumbed Mills & Boons and stacks of Mayfair from the 1980s.

If expensive parking was driving away potential customers, then one would expect a drop in overall pedestrian numbers in the CBD and an increase in the number of empty shops. On the contrary, pedestrian counts have significantly increased across the city in the last year, including in Cuba Mall, and retail vacancies are still very low. As Jan Gehl has pointed out (2.1MB PDF), Wellington has an extraordinarily high number of carparks for its size (five times the number in Copenhagen!), so there's no lack of parking available. On the other hand, the council has opened itself up to accusations of money grubbing by increasing charges rather than reducing the number of parks, and by neglecting to improve public transport to offer an alternative. If they doubled the frequency and halved the cost of the City Circular bus, for instance, they would have more cause to argue that they're motivated by urbanistic rather than financial considerations.

Bellamys Bookshop closing down
As much as I sympathise with Ms Lyudmild, and as much as I'll miss the presence of Bellamys in Cuba Mall, I don't think that parking charges are to blame. Nor is the number of bars in Cuba St, which is another factor that she cites (I can't quite follow her logic here). The owner of nearby Pegasus Books has a more plausible explanation: the rise of internet trading has hit the secondhand book trade as a whole. I'm probably one of a decreasing number of old fogeys who love to own and collect books, and relish random discoveries among the musty shelves of old books. Various commenters on my earlier post have other theories for the demise of Bellamys in particular, and they haven't even mentioned their egregious neglect of the apostrophe, which surely should bring about bad karma from the literary gods.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Blogging while you walk

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Blog Hui 2006Some of you will already be aware of this weekend's Blog Hui, New Zealand's first conference on blogging. There was a bit of a kerfuffle earlier this year when a lot of idiots made ill-informed and prejudiced comments on David Farrar's blog (quelle surprise) doubting its credentials, but there's an impressive list of speakers, including hypertext pioneer Mark Bernstein. A lot of the academic speakers will look beyond the usual concept of the personal blog, concentrating on blogs as collaborative or educational tools, so perhaps it's no surprise that people whose idea of a blog is limited to "a forum for slagging off one's political opponents" were unaware of the speakers' reputations.

I'm not attending the conference per se, but I'm participating in an event called the Blog Walk on Sunday. I'll be guiding people around the city, while James Farmer will stop us at various points for discussions and/or blogging. The exact route will depend upon the weather and people's stamina, moods and interests, but on the way around the usual sights I'll try to steer us into some of the hidden corners of Wellington.

Blog Walk - approximate route
This map gives a rough idea of where we'll be going, but in the spirit of the collaborative web, I'm open to readers' suggestions: where are the unmissable hidden gems, quirks and disgraces of Wellington? I already plan to show them the scungiest dark alley in town, the "London Bridge" of Ghuznee St, the significance of Harry Holland's buttocks and what has been called "Albert Speer's only venture into the Southern Hemisphere"; but if you have stories to tell and gossip to spread then leave a comment and let us know. I want our international visitors to know more of our city than they can find in the tourist guides.

The Blog Walk starts at 10am Sunday from Turnbull House in Bowen St, so come and join us if you're interested.


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As I mentioned earlier, Dan Campion's exhbition opened at Aaron Laurence Gallery last night, along with Jenine Kerr's installation Pandemonium. Note the candyfloss machine and dedicated operator, all part of Dan's (partly) ironic "Eye Candy" theme:

Candyfloss at the launch of Dan Campion's exhibition at Aaron Laurence GalleryAs well as his paintings and mixed media works, there was a DVD loop of some of his video pieces. I'd almost forgotten how disturbingly beautiful and beautifully disturbing Binary Love was: insect sex and machine eroticism from a surprisingly simple source. Rumour has it that Dan has a short film on the way: a film noir love story about sausages.

Jenine's installation made great use of the boiler-room-like back room at the gallery, and unless you know the space it's hard to tell which of the pipes, fans and cobwebs were her interventions and which were part of the room. If I were an art critic I'd probably write something about oneiric voyeurism and the collective subconscious, but I'm not, so I'll just encourage you to get down there and have a look.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ban the ban!

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Ban the liquor ban!Central Wellington currently has a liquor ban in place on Friday and Saturday nights, prohibiting drinking in public spaces. This might seem draconian enough, but the council doesn't think so, and is planning to extend it.

Is this because the current ban has been hugely successful in curbing drunken hooliganism, and they want to extend that success? Not exactly: the proposal (49kB PDF) admits that an evaluation of the existing ban "did not show a reduction in alcohol related offending" (section 2.1). The police, however, "firmly believe" that offending would have increased without it. Right. Good to see sound evidence-based policy, then.

What is being proposed? Instead of just Friday and Saturday nights (5pm to 6am in winter, 8pm to 6am in summer), the council's preferred option has a ban extending from 8pm Thursday to 8am Sunday, including daylight hours! That should put an end to all those drunken hoons causing mayhem on Friday lunchtimes. What, you haven't seen any? Funnily enough, neither have I.

Liquor ban options for Wellington CentralThat is just Option A in the proposal. Options B and C apply just to the nighttime: from 8pm in the case of option B and from 5pm for Option C. According to the online news article, the council's preference is for the most extreme (Option A), but confusingly, on the online submission form it claims that the council prefers option B. There is no option for keeping the status quo or liberalising the law.

Now, I'm not one to advocate public drunkenness (stop laughing), but there are several reasons why I disagree with the ban. For a start, there's no need for it: there are already laws against disorderly behaviour, so if drunken idiots are being a pain, arrest them for that rather than for carrying a drink. Secondly, it doesn't work: you can still see plenty of people wandering around with a drink on Friday and Saturday nights. In other words, it's neither necessary nor sufficient.

The police say they want to stop problems before they happen, which seems sensible on one level, but ethically dubious on another. If we start arresting people because they might be a nuisance in the future, not because they've actually harmed anyone, where is this going to stop? "It's a fair cop, m'lud. I arrested him 'cos he was looking at me funny".

Finally, it makes no distinction in terms of the quantity or manner of drinking. Someone having a glass of wine with a picnic is just as guilty as someone who's just necked a dozen RTDs and is looking for a fight. The police say they'll apply discretion, of course, but there's a danger that discretion will turn into discrimination, or at least the perception thereof. Why did they bang up the homeless while ignoring the nice, white, middle class people?

This isn't a bylaw yet, and you have until the 6th of April to make your submission. Personally, I'll be suggesting that the current bylaw be retained or even scrapped, but since you have to choose one of the three options, I'll go for Option B, which at least allows for a quiet drink with an early dinner. I'll leave the last words to Baudelaire:
"There are wicked drunkards; they are people who are naturally wicked. The wicked man becomes abominable, just as the good man becomes truly excellent."

- On Wine & Hashish (p15)

Monday, March 13, 2006

A walk in the park

The Dominion Post has finally twigged to the existence of Waitangi Park, and after two weeks of people enjoying the park, it has a front page story saying that the park "is now open". The story is accompanied by a photo of breathtakingly ugly dog, looking more like a drowned rat than a spaniel as it emerges from the wetlands. By the way: what is it with spaniels at the moment? First Spanky, and now this guy.

Petanque at Waitangi ParkThe promenades, playground and skate park have all been popular, as I mentioned, and I recently saw the petanque piste being used for the first time. I imagine this will become more popular once the kiosk is ready (based upon the not unreasonable assumption that it will hire out sets of boules). The NZ petanque community is getting excited too, with some nice photos and a map that looks vaguely familiar. The gravel beds in the background of my photo have now been planted with reeds, so this southeast corner of the park is gradually coming together.

A 'melon head' at Waitangi ParkIn the southwest corner is what's known as the "graving dock extension garden", which has a distinctly beachy feel with driftwood and shells among the boulders, reeds and assorted coastal plants. While it's obviously not a structured playground like other parts of the park, it has proved quite popular with kids. Someone also seems to have found an outlet for their creative urges here, combining gravel and driftwood with a discarded melon from the Sunday market (currently held just north of the Les Arts Sauts dome) to make this little head.

Spray from the Waitangi StreamAnd it turns out that the Water Whirler is not the only new kinetic aquatic sculpture on the waterfront. At the northwest corner, where the reborn Waitangi Stream empties into the little beach by Chaffers Marina, there's a small waterfall beneath the bridge. Normally this is quiet and unspectacular, but when there's a decent northerly blowing, the water has trouble making progress against the wind and gets blown back into the graving dock in furious plumes of spray. Every now and then there's a lull in the wind, allowing the backlog of water to pour out with a great splash. I'm not sure whether this was expected by the designers, but I think it gives a dramatic extra dimension to the park.

None of these little details and unexpected quirks would have been possible if the park had ended up the way that some in Waterfront Watch would have preferred: as a flat green paddock with a few flower beds. Sure, it would have been cheaper (and all the contaminated earth would have lain beneath it as a lovely surprise for later generations), but this park design not only works better in the grand gestures but gives much more scope for creativity and ongoing interest than a boring municipal sports field would have done. Photographers have certainly responded to the park, as a look at the Flickr tags "waitangipark" and "waitangi+park" indicates. If you're interested in more about how the park came to be and what's still to come, the park's designer Megan Wraight will be giving a guided tour around the park at 6pm this Wednesday (the 15th) as an Architecture Centre event.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Mystery bar number 25

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David was all over the previous mystery bar like a rash: it is indeed Crazy Horse, a decidedly upmarket steakhouse and bar in Willis St where Armadillo used to be many years ago. I guess I should have expected it to be easy to work out, given that it opened with a splash. The Wellingtonian's new City Style section is full of photos from the opening, which is not surprising given that owner John McGrath seems to have written half the articles. The guests were described as "the city's finest", which apparently equates to a bunch of hospitality regulars with the odd property developer and car dealer. At least Don Brash didn't turn up (which he did to the Bolton Hotel's birthday do).

Mystery bar #25 - glasses and trays on the barLike Crazy Horse, today's mystery bar is also primarily about food, but it also has a bar, and you're most welcome to sit at the bar and have a drink without ordering food. But it's actually hard to drink there without eating, since they follow the admirably civilised European tradition of providing free finger food when you order a drink, making it an ideal stop for a tapeo night.

They occasionally have live music, though it seems hard to imagine where the band would fit. The bar manager told me that it's a popular place on rugby nights, which struck me as surprising given the style, size and theme of place (it's hardly the Sports Café).

Mystery bar #25 - strange painting and objets d'artThe decor can best be described as eclectic. It's generally very simple and quite woody, but with an odd collection of artworks and the occasional small objet d'art. Most of these seem to have been chosen to emphasise the generally Mediterranean theme, but there are some rather odd choices among them. Some of the paintings tend towards the surreal, and one in particular could be seen as quite disturbing. Don't let this put you off, though: the food is delicious, and while it covers quite a wide range of styles, the signature dishes are in a style which is hard to find in Wellington.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Pimp my burg

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I could have had a rant today about the Transmission Gully saga, but you already know what I think about that. I could have talked about all manner of things, from the proposed extension of the liquor ban to the Dragon Boats to what I'm planning to see at the Arts Festival this weekend. But a much more important issue is at hand: we have a chance to be part of Gridskipper.

Gridskipper bannerFor those who don't know it, Gridskipper is a blog that bills itself as "The Urban Travel Guide", but it's about much more than travel. It does have a lot of posts about cheap flights to Rio or opulent hotels in Budapest, but it also covers all sorts of hip, quirky, decadent and dodgy happenings in cities around the world. From hip-hop exhibits at the Smithsonian and the search for cheap blackjack in Atlantic City, to new DJ bars in Berlin and carnivorous restaurants in Nairobi, it pretty much covers everything that we love about cities. It's been called "decadence on a budget", "an eclectic world travel guide for the Wallpaper* set" and "not for the sober traveler", which all sounds good to me, but it does have one major flaw: it doesn't cover Wellington.

Here's your chance to help rectify this unfortunate oversight. Gridskipper have started a series of posts called Pitch My Burg, where readers can advocate for the inclusion of their favourite city. Is Wellington too small? After all it's no megalopolis. But then neither are Reykjavik, Pisa or Cork, and they're "on the grid". Besides, the first pitch comes from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and if a Midwest burg nicknamed "Furniture City" can bid for inclusion, then why can't Wellywood?

Images of WellingtonI'm more than happy to put in a pitch for Wellington, writing up our case and including the requisite links and images. But I want your help. Why should Wellington be included in a global blog for "savvy and daring urbanites"? Is it our unique combination of villagey compactness and urban vitality? Is it our world record for the number of Oscars per head of population (I just made that up)? Is it the fact that you can't walk down the street without tripping over a piece of great public artwork? Is it the insane and non-stop pace of events that keep the city buzzing through summer and autumn? Is it the fact that we can knock out a damn good Martini and yet still be within walking distance of hippy enclaves, an urban wetland and a great little beach? Is it our spectacular climate, or the fact that we can make this guy into an icon?

Send in your reasons, and let's see if we can get on the grid. If you're lacking motivation, consider this: Auckland is included, but has only deserved two posts so far! We can do better than that.