Saturday, July 17, 2010


"I have simple tastes. I am always satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde.
For those of us that are born hedonists there are few better ways to spend a night than at a fancy cocktail bar. However when drinks can be upwards of twenty dollars it is important that you get what you pay for. The quality of the cocktail goes without saying; it is the ambiance, the service, and all the little trimmings that separate the sublime from the mediocre. The following is a basic guide for those wishing to find something special amongst Wellington's night life. 

1. Hawthorne Lounge 

Situated on 82 Tory St, Hawthorne Lounge is possibly one of the few 'exclusive' cocktail bars in Wellington to remain generally unknown. It is modeled on a 1920's gentleman's club and is fastidious down to the last detail. The bathroom alone separates it from the competition; the only bar in Wellington (in my knowledge) to offer proper hand towels. The bar itself (replete with leather couches, an open fire and a corner piano) oozes luxury and elegance. The music is always jazz. A jazz quartet composed of members of seminal Wellington bands plays weekly. The service is brilliant. The bartenders are actually a pleasure to talk to. Furthermore they are happy to help you choose your tipple without the boorish snobbery that one sometimes encounters.  The bar features an extensive selection of beverages, high quality but fairly priced. Smokers may be the only ones to find something to fault here; the bar does not have a designated outside smoking area. 

Pro Tip: Winter (when the fire is lit) is the best time to enjoy Hawthorne, especially as complimentary marshmallows are offered for you to toast.

2. Motel 
Situated on Forresters Lane. When I was first introduced to Motel it was with an air of extreme exclusivity. I was told, in hushed tones, that it could be found behind an unmarked door, and that prospective guests were 'vetted' over the security camera and turned away if they were not attractive and well dressed. It is with regret that I inform the reader that this turned out to be false. It may once have been that way: apparently Liv Tyler was once denied access! However going to motel today means entering into the secret club of you... and everybody. The bar is very well known. Elitists can stop reading now. Those of you who are truly discerning however will know there are exceptions to the rule that "popular = bad." Motel is one such exception. It was one of the first cocktail bars to grace Wellington, and it is still among the best. The bar has a 1970's theme, plays jazz vinyls (although it lacks the live element), and has a good selection of cigars as well as a smoking area. In many ways it is essentially a larger version of Hawthorne with less charm, although possibly a younger crowd. It caters best for groups and couples. 

Pro Tip: If you take someone to Motel, order the popcorn: Popcorn at 2am is amazing. If you're short on funds, Weka is a quality, but inexpensive, beer which the bar stocks.

3. Havana Bar

Situated on Wigan St. Havana Bar is a little too far off the beaten track to warrant frequenting regularly. Despite this it is still one of the best cocktail bars in Wellington - if only because it is so unique. Bars modeled on the same formula as Hawthorne/Motel (but of inferior quality in most cases) are common as mud within the Wellington night scene. Most of these offer overpriced drinks, in a bland environment with a pretentious atmosphere. Havana Bar excels because of its eccentricity. Well known for its eclectic range of world music and regular live bands, it is a sprawling narrow bar with a large outside courtyard. It opens as early as 3pm on weekdays and serves food from the Fidel's cafe menu. The bar's drinks are generally less expensive than at Motel or Hawthorne, but they are not of the same quality. Havana Bar is a place where you are likely to see more indie and less yuppie. 

Pro Tip: Havana Bar is perhaps best enjoyed on a lazy, sunny, afternoon in the courtyard with a packet of Lucky Strikes and a cold Caipirinha or two.

4. Overrated Bars

The following cocktail bars are not as good as rumor makes them:

Matterhorn: Yes it is considered by experts to be one of the best cocktail bars in the world. Certainly its cocktails could not be faulted on quality. Cocktail making is an art Matterhorn takes seriously. The bar itself is far too austere for my taste however. It lacks atmosphere. I would strongly recommend going to Matterhorn to dine rather than to drink. Apparently the owners of Matterhorn have recently established a new bar on the waterfront. I have yet to check it out, but I anticipate greatness.

The Library: This bar suffers from over-exposure. It is right on the Courteny strip and is often too busy and loud to be truly enjoyable. It is also more prone to being frequented by drunken revelers who got lost on the way to 'Estabs.'

Mighty Mighty: Can be great for gigs. This place is cool. And therein lies the problem. This place is too cool. Hipsters are only tolerable in small quantities. When you see them all in one place the homogeneous sea of ray bans, skinny jeans, fringes and irony is an affront to the senses.

Go out and explore!

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