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My Top Ten Bars

Laura McQuillan



If you’re new to Wellington, or just a bit out of the loop as far as the city’s nightlife is concerned, you probably aren’t aware of the hip joints at which you should be hanging come night time. In the interests of student party fun-times and keeping you away from skanky bars, I took one for the team and headed out over two nights to review what was going down at my top ten bars.
On the first night of the Great Salient Pub Crawl and Bar Review, I dragged the lovely Salient music editor Stacey around town with me for some serious drunken good times. Here’s what happened:
The Downtown Local
Cuba Street (between Manners Mall and Wakefield Street)
If my flatmate didn’t work here, I probably would never have made it past the rough exterior (we’re talking scary-looking, poolplaying biker gangs). However, on the inside there are many drawcards, including live sport (on TV, not like in the bar, silly), a TAB, cheap beer and good-looking employees.
These guys have daily drinks specials, with Monteiths and Tui on tap, as well as a happy hour each evening, so it’s defi nitely a great, affordable way to kick off your night. This is where we began the Wednesday night leg of the pub crawl. Basically everything about this place is Tui-themed (orange interior, posters on the walls, Tui glasses) so we drank some Tui handles and watched the Pussycat Dolls shakin’ their asses on the big screen.
Who: Old men, students
Deals: Daily specials, low low prices, quiz night, Happy Hour on Saturday from 2-7.
Pros: Highly-affordable, comfy seats.
Cons: Getting through the door can be a little scary, and it’s not really the most happening of places. Rating: 7/10
The Establishment
Corner of Blair Street and Courtenay Place
The next stop on our pub crawl was The Establishment. Being partial as I am to free stuff, The Establishment rates highly on my awesomenessscale due to the free champagne for the ladies on Wednesdays.
We were stoked that they played the songs we requested and the rest of the music was tight, if somewhat deafening. So we moved outside to the expansive seating area and drank heaps of tequila.
Who: Quite a random crowd when we went, including 30-year-olds dancing uncomfortably to the Spice Girls, 50-year-old women who were there for the champagne and hot young men.
Deals: Free bubbly for chicks on Wednesday nights, drink specials for students including $3 Speights pints and $3 Steinlager bottles on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and lots of other stuff going down every other day.
Pros: This place has everything going for it, with a choice interior, friendly staff, free drinks and hygienic-looking bathrooms. Good job. Cons: VERY LOUD MUSIC. Rating: 9.6/10
Dixon Street
Don’t be fooled by the giant neon cowboy outside – this sassy joint is more “scene” than square-dancing. This bar was hugely popular following its arrival on the streets of Wellington in late 2006, as a welldecorated bands venue.
We arrived at this stop in between the bands, and I don’t actually remember that much about being here. So what can I say? There is a nice interior, friendly staff, a hip young crowd, good music, and happy times all round.
We drank some sort of pink-ish thing, which I didn’t actually remember until I reviewed the photos of the night. I’m sure it was great, and the bartender was a nice guy. Good.
Who: Scenesters and indie kids.
Deals: 2-for-1 cocktails on Wednesdays, $2 bubbles for ladies on Fridays.
Pros: Well-decorated, good bands playing, cool crowd.
Cons: None that really spring to mind, maybe a little dark? Rating: 7.8/10
Mighty Mighty
Cuba Street
I like this place. I like this place a lot. There’s something about the interior that really gets me going, possibly the trees.
Stacey and I stopped here for some beers (Monteiths on tap) and briefl y watched the bands. I don’t remember who they were, but it was good. Generally the shows here have a cover charge of $10ish, but it’s worth paying just to be in there. In conclusion, I really, really like this place.
Who: A hip, young crowd, a lot of indie kids.
Deals: Not entirely sure, so I’ll hazard a guess at well-priced jugs. They also have ‘suburb’ drinks, which are awesome except the ‘Tawa Tickler’, which is apparently crap, but hey, it’s Tawa.
Pros: A rad interior – dimly-lit saucy-redness mixed with a desert island. Cons: Cover charge is a bit of a bummer, but I’m so in love. Rating: 9/10
The Big Kumara
Dixon Street
For some reason a drunken night out for me always ends at the Kumara, where I see basically everyone I know, and we’re all wondering why on earth we’re there.
There’s an ‘80s room’ to the left and the ‘other’ bit to the right. I was born in 1987, therefore missing the most part of the ‘80s, and I’m sure a lot of regulars are younger than me, so the ‘80s room is getting a little irrelevant. Apparently they’re keeping it though. Forever and ever. Stacey and I ended our night here, and this was about 1:30am (poor effort). We drank some red drinks (I know this because I spewed a lot of red liquid later on), I vaguely remember dancing and it was cool all round.
Who: Virginal first-years, ‘non-conformists’, out-of-towners.
Deals: On ‘all-day Happy Hour’ Wednesdays, these guys have three NZ beers for $10, and $3 vodka, bourbon, rum and house beers. My favourite deal is two Red Bull and vodkas for $10. Check out their Toga Party on March 1 for cheap drinks, bar tabs for best toga and a live band.
Pros: If you’re looking to score, your chances here are good. And it’s probably the one bar in town you can get into when you’re so shitfaced you couldn’t find matching shoes.
Cons: Lots of stairs and queues for bathrooms. Rating: 7.5/10
By Saturday night, I was so wasted from a week of pub crawling, networking and general drunken non-sleeping that I was unable to do much in-town drinking, and so I am unable to rank drinks. However, with a little imagination and the help of my trusty sidekick Connie, the bar reviews continued…
San Francisco Bath House
Cuba Street
Formerly known as Indigo, SFBH is one of Wellington’s premier gig venues, recently hosting acts including The Veils and Joanna Newsom. This place gets PACKED for shows, and on our journey through on Saturday night we were almost crushed by the incredibly tall people who fi lled this joint. I don’t know what band was playing but they sure were popular.
This place got an interior makeover at some stage last year, which I didn’t actually realise until a few days ago (my drunk-o-vision is poor), but it’s very nice with the wallpaper bit and the bar bit all hanging out in there.
A lot of shows here are free, including Tuesday night shows hosted by The VBC, and lots are low-priced so really you have no excuse to not at least try this one out.
Who: Whoever the bands attract – a lot of students, lots of musicians and Wellington’s hip youth core.
Deals: $3 Macs Gold handles on Tuesdays at VBC shows, and on Wednesdays they have $3 Macs Golds and $3 Absolut vodka + mix.
Pros: The renovated indoors are hot, and the cheap/free bands are rad too.
Cons: Often over-crowded, instilling fear into the hearts of the short and the claustrophobic. Rating: 7.8/10
Kitty O’Sheas
Courtenay Place (between Tory Street and Cambridge Terrace)
Having only been to Kitty’s a few times, my experience of this bar is pretty limited. However, they always have neat bands playing, and one time when I went, the boys in the band were ridiculously good-looking. Here Connie had a vodka, soda and lemon, which she rated very highly, and I had a nice cold glass of water which was also very pleasant.
Who: This place has a really mixed-bag of a crowd, including middleaged truck-driver types, students and band groupies.
Deals: No drink specials, but the bands are free.
Pros: Free, sometimes-good-looking bands and a diddley-dee-potatoes Irish atmosphere.
Cons: One time a really weird old man hit on me. Watch out fo’ that shit. Rating: 6.5/10
Corner of Allen Street and Courtenay Place
My Jet experience is based mostly on occasions when my flatmate, a bouncer, let me jump the queue, because queuing ain’t how I roll, especially at Jet.
Jet is made up of three bars – the main part, the downstairs bit and the dance-floor bit. We hit the dance-floor on pub crawl night and boogied down to some horrible, horrible never-heard-before (and hopefully won’t- hear-again) dance music. The dance floor at Jet is always hugely packed and it always happens that I end up squished in a corner boogying with a wall.
The downstairs bar is pretty fantastic, as the music is a decent level, the drinks are tasty and there are lots of seats. The bathrooms here are shiny and clean, always a bonus as drinking = gotta pee.
Who: Swanky 20-somethings
Deals: None, sorry.
Pros: Very nice bathrooms, the rest of the bar is swell also.
Cons: There’s often a queue for this place, and there’s every possibility of elbows colliding with your eyes on the over-packed dance-floor. Rating: 7/10
Club K
Manners Street
Wellington’s number-one karaoke bar (hence the name). This place is rad if you’re drunk off your nut and didn’t get to play Singstar before you left home. I can’t sing for shit, but the crowds here loved me (or at least pretended to).
When we visited on Saturday night, around 11:30pm, this place was packed with a very diverse range of people, including your token 40-year-old women on a hen’s night and gaggles of 18-year-old boys sitting around awkwardly, having obviously been dragged there by their girlfriends.
Who: Pretty much a place for everyone, because everyone loves karaoke. And if they don’t, they love watching people make dicks of themselves at karaoke.
Deals: I have no idea, I was drunk. Go there and find out for yourself.
Pros: Karaoke!
Cons: Queuing (possibly for a long, long time) for your chance to showcase your talents, and a staircase which is difficult to climb when you’re inebriated. Rating: 6.5/10
The Shack
Manners Street (below Club K)
Also known as The Shot Shack, this joint offers $3 shots and $7.50 shakers – amongst other cheap drinks. I recommend the Texas Chainsaw Massacre shot – some red and white stuff which tastes like goodness. The Shack itself is quite small and never too packed, with some good little seating bits. There’s also a giant bar thing out the back which may or may not be a completely different bar. It took me some time to discover the second bar but when I did, it was like my life had changed for the better.
Who: The crowd at The Shack is, like Club K, pretty random, and probably consists of people getting wasted before making their karaoke debut.
Deals: Did I mention the drinks are so so cheap?
Pros: The cheap drinks and giant bar/dance-floor thing out the back.
Cons: We didn’t actually go in because there were chicks in the queue sporting the whole short-shorts/knee-high boots/backless-top combo thing. Filthy. Rating: 6/10