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

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bouncing back 3

The Manhattan Lounge in Oriental BayAfter looking at some of the recent retail developments in Wellington, it's time to look at the hospitality scene, which still seems to be healthily rebounding from a spate of closures early in the year. Let's start with this week's mystery bar, which Hadyn identified as Manhattan Lounge, below the White House in Oriental Bay. It opened last week in a space that's been empty for what seems like an age, ever since the demise of Europa (which Wotzon somewhat hilariously still describes as 'a "rising star" of the restaurant scene'). I think it's worth the wait, as it's good to have a dining option in the Bay that's somewhere between the bank-breaking formality of the White House and the greasefest of the Fisherman's Table. And if they can live up to their name and deliver the cocktails that they're promising online, then Oriental Bay will finally have something resembling a bar.

Closer to the city, The Ambeli has taken over another long-vacant spot, in what used to be the much-missed Roxburgh Bistro. It's a bit more casual than its predecessor, but if my experience and that of the reviewers at DineOut and The Guide are anything to go by, it's a very worthy replacement.

Some of you may be surprised that I never used The Hawthorn Lounge as a mystery bar. There are several reasons for that: given the hints that some readers were dropping, it would have been too obvious; it was operating in quasi-speakeasy mode when I first visited; and taking photos just seems too vulgar for a place like that. Besides, any place that does a Martini that good doesn't need extra publicity.

The Orchid Lounge, Cuba St, WellingtonIt seems like every second bar or café is calling itself a "lounge" these days. In Hawthorn's case it's thoroughly justified, but the Orchid Lounge (which is the old East West in Cuba St after a very light makeover) seems to be pushing the definition a little. There's a token cocktail list, and the new menu of skewers and "Asian tapas" is heading in the right direction, but I can't quite think of it as a lounge bar. Its New York namesake has vats of infused vodka, and shouts everyone a free shot thereof whenever a gong behind the bar rings out: now that's what something called "Orchid Lounge" should be aiming for!

As a helpful commenter announced recently, the former Neat has reopened as Our Bar. It's a laid-back bar aimed at a gay and lesbian clientele; more of a pub or café than a stereotypical "gay bar". It doesn't quite replace Pound, though: that's the job of Spicehammer, which also opened last month. Maybe Wellington's gay community is so small that it can only support two bars at one time, since Monkey also closed at about the same time as Pound, and while there are rumours of a re-opening, there's no sign of life there yet. As Maximus suggested, though, it's probably more due to the fact that most decent Wellington bars are far from homophobic.

There's no official word yet on where Il Casino will reopen, but despite some snarky comments from a reader and a non-commital article about the owner of the Mayfair, that still seems the most likely and appropriate location. In the meantime, there's another tribute to Remiro Bresolin from a former employee over at Gonzo Freakpower.

The former Bouquet Garni is finally undergoing some serious renovation, and a licensing application notice has appeared in the window announcing that it will be a licensed restaurant called The General Practitioner. That's a rather odd and cumbersome name, so it'll probably be generally known as "The GP". At least they didn't name it after another profession that famously worked in this building. That just leaves the boarded-up Kopi across the road as the last of Vim Rao's fallen empire yet to reopen.

Willis St is undergoing some big changes, and recent news about the Chews Lane development has confirmed earlier rumours that The Malthouse will close. That will happen at the end of the year, and while earlier suggestions that it will move to the site of Seam in Courtenay Place have proved unfounded, it will definitely reopen in what the owners have described as a bigger and better site. No such luck for the Hare Krishna Higher Taste restaurant next door in Willbank Court, as that has succumbed to redevelopment: there's a rather forlorn note on the hoardings upstairs asking whether anyone knows of a suitable site for them to use.

Overall, though, it looks like the net effect of the changes is positive. Looking back at my last full analysis, there are only three of this year's earlier closures (Bar 155, Play and Kopi) that still show no signs of reopening, plus the couple mentioned above (Monkey and Higher Taste), compared to over twenty openings. The new Holiday Inn should also have a bar and restaurant (which if the bizarre renderings are anything to go by, will look like a lounge designed by Arne Jacobsen for Mumbai airport) and I'm hoping that at least some of the food and drink outlets planned for Chaffers Dock open in time to make the most of summer. There's also been a handful of new café and takeaway joints opening up (such as the Waitangi Park Café), so the industry's looking fairly buoyant, and enough to keep even the most dedicated urban gourmand busy.


At 1:05 pm, November 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll agree with Maximus' comment about the reason there are so few gay bars in Wgtn, despite the abundance of queers one keeps tripping over - most venues are quite happy with their queer clientele and the punters are fine too. No need to huddle in some kind of ghetto in order to feel safe and have a good time.

Although, it is nice to occasionally go to places where one feels like the majority... more chances of pulling, if nothing else.

But one of the best things about Wellington is the fact that the different niche groups mix so well - queers, students, civil servants, artists/musos, political activists... Obviously some venues cater more for some crowds than others, but there's a lot more crossover than any other city I've lived in (in three countries).

At 1:44 pm, November 10, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Jo, I'm always willing to sacrifice my liverf and waistline in the public good.

Trix: I generally agree, too. It's good have have a whole range of different people mixing together, and a lot of Wellington bars and other venues seem to meet those needs pretty well. On the other hand, the "pulling" aspect will probably always be important enough (possibly more among gay men, but that may be making unwarranted assumptions) to keep at least one proper gay nightclub going: witness the number of "F.A.G." parties and the like at Imerst & Studio 9 during the interregnum between Pound and Spicehammer.

At 1:46 pm, November 10, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

> queers, students, civil servants, artists/musos, political activists

Most people I know fit into at least two of those categories simultaneously!


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