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

Monday, February 05, 2007

Summer shakedown

It seems that the summer holidays are a time when many hospitality businesses fold, in some cases because it's a convenient time to call an end to a venture, and in others because the long absence of customers is the last straw for a struggling enterprise. Last summer saw the infamous collapse of the Rao empire, together with a handful of other closures, and while last year ended on a positive note it looks like we've been through another seasonal sorting out.

Demolition of the Malthouse building, Willis StAt least two closures were precipitated by building demolition rather than economics, and they were well signposted. The Malthouse closed just before Christmas, and while it'll be reopening soon in the old Seam premises at 48 Courtenay Place, that's still a net loss of one bar. On the ground floor, Masi has also had to depart, and while they are apparently looking for new premises, for the moment we're also down by one café. The new Chews Lane should more than make up for these losses, but in the meantime Willis St is looking rather forlorn.

The closure of Urbane was also hardly surprising, given that it hardly ever seemed busy and there had been a "business for sale" sign outside for quite some time, but going by the rather terse landlord's notice on the windows, the end seems to have been sudden. I think it's fair to say that it won't be missed, but I hope that someone finds the right formula to make the location work. It remains to be seen whether the bypass will sever Webb St from Te Aro, but given that the Cube Bakery & Café just down the road seems to be doing well (must be those delicious Chinese sweet buns) I don't think the location is completely hopeless.

There were also a couple of changes that I reluctantly count as "closures", even though the businesses are still active. The demise of Cabaret is a great loss to the Wellington nightlife scene, but the space will still exist as a part of Chow. Since it'll be a function room rather than a bar in its own right, I will have to count it as a closure. Good as Gold is still active as a retailer, but it no longer does coffee, which is already being missed in some circles. On the other hand, I'm counting Eat and Dojo as "pending" rather than closures, since they're both about to open under different guises.

The long Christmas break sometimes makes it hard to tell whether a business has folded or is just taking a long holiday. However, I get the feeling that both Mezzaluna and the Old Bank Bar & Café are closed for good. They both have a strange Marie Celeste look to them, with everything still in place but a thick layer of dust gradually settling over the tables and floor. Can anyone confirm or refute these probable closures? Update: thanks to Ronnie, we now know that the Old Bank will be reopening next Monday as the new home of Hare Krishna Higher Taste Restaurant.

New Wishbone outlet, Mercer StThere's been only a handful of openings over the same period. I already counted the Vietnamese Gallery Deli in last year's round-up, and the opening of the Holiday Inn's Plate restaurant and bar has been anticipated for a while (which made a bit of an obvious mystery bar). The one other new place is one that I wouldn't have thought to include: the new Wishbone outlet in Mercer St. This is the first one to offer dining in as well as takeaways, and with interior design by The House (of Matterhorn, Mojo, Plum and Mighty Mighty fame) I had to count it as a new café. Then again, while today's Dominion Post article described it as offering "plated food", it's really just their ready-to-eat meals microwaved to order, and while you do get a plate you have to remove the meal from the cardboard and plastic packaging yourself. For that reason, I wouldn't really recommend it on environmental grounds, since it generates a lot of unnecessary waste.

That adds up to a fairly sad story, with a net loss of four bars, restaurants and cafés since my last count. But a couple of long-pending re-openings (Butlers Chocolate Café and General Practitioner) look like they're crawling towards completion, which will be a relief for the much-depleted Willis St. I've also heard of at least three significant new restaurants planned for brand new locations, and the possible return of an old favourite, so I'm putting this down to the seasonal reorganisation of the hospitality industry and looking forward to seeing what happens during the year. Here's a summary of the changes:
Good as Gold (no longer doing coffee)

Seam (reopening this month as the new Malthouse)
Eat (opening next month as a Kaffee Eis outlet)
Dojo (reopening this month as Chow Woodward)
Old Bank Bar & Café (reopening next week as Hare Krishna Higher Taste Restaurant)
Paradiso Bar (under renovation, possibly as an extension of Hummingbird)

Wishbone Mercer St


At 7:49 pm, February 05, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Trade Wind (Willis/Manners St intersection) also changed owners. One downside is their breakfast menu is now breakfast only (robbing me of their best-in-Wellington bacon at lunchtimes), but they still have the decent variety of food that has drawn me to them.

At 3:48 am, February 06, 2007, Blogger Ronnie Horesh said...

Pleased to say that the Higher Taste Hare Krishna Restaurant is scheduled to open in the Old BNZ centre, formerly the site of the Old Bank Bar and Cafe. According to this it will open on Monday 12 February.

At 12:04 pm, February 06, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Rodger: do you mean Spice Island? I was wondering whether it had changed owners, since it's stopped offering dinner and now just does daytime food and evening drinks. A pity: it did some of the best pan-Asian food in town.

Ronnie: good stuff! I'll update the post to put it into the "pending" category.

At 9:31 am, February 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if we will get some form of Cafe/coffee bar with the new borders in "Capital on the quay",with the large footprint they have I would expect something.

At 10:03 am, February 07, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Almost definitely. Although I think there was a cafe upstairs there before that had to move out to make way for Borders, so they'll cancel each other out. I must admit, my "cafe audit" hasn't been so rigorous in malls and foodcourts, so I can't remember for sure.


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