Bars & Nightlife
New Zealand’s culinary capital amps things up when the sun goes down, abuzz with hidden watering holes, on-trend night spots and the classic convivial pub. Drink prices are pre-millennium and “cover charge” is rarely uttered; add to that a reputation as the “Craft Beer Capital” and you’re pretty much guaranteed a good night out in the Windy City. Prefer your beverages with a little less fizz? Let’s just say being tucked between two of the country’s finest wine regions (namely Wairarapa and the South Island’s Marlborough) certainly comes with its benefits!
Pass through the swing doors at the end of an inconspicuous Cuba Street corridor and enter the world of the Matterhorn, where tall tales are swapped over artisanal share plates and an aperitif or two. Constantly gracing Wellington’s “best bar” lists, the Matterhorn is a cafe, restaurant, supper club and cocktail bar all in one, and a real treat for the discerning winer-and-diner. Order a signature Falling Water cocktail (feijoa vodka, ch’i and cucumber) as the band swings and jives into the night.
Address: 106 Cuba Street, Wellington
Enjoy a full glass of New York nostalgia at the clandestine Hawthorn Lounge, where the drinks are cold and the atmosphere is especially cosy. Dapper “mixologists” shake and stir in their waistcoats, creating old-timey cocktails (and mocktails) classics as patrons sink deeper into the cushy leather armchairs. Loved and lauded for the affordability of their tipples, Hawthorn Lounge is the perfect haunt for a boozy game of Scrabbly or poker night at the green baize table.
Address: 82 Tory Street, Wellington
Yet another tucked away treasure on the Wellington bar scene, Motel Bar whips up some 200 cocktail variations mixing classics, forgotten favourites and exciting new blends. Motel Bar has been doing its thing since 1999, leading the charge for Wellington’s now prominent bar scene. Sophisticated, chic, jazzy and refined, it’s no wonder Motel Bar has found its way onto the World’s Best Bars list. Ring the white door bell, wait for the buzz and see for yourself.
Address: Forresters Lane off Tory Street, Wellington
C.G.R Merchant and Co.
The kind of place you might imagine a swashbuckling pirate with a taste for the finer things in life to rate, C.G.R Merchant and Co is a relative newcomer to the city’s boutique bar culture. Standing for Coffee, Gin and Rum, C.G.R specialises in creating their own rum and gin infusions with blends of seasonal herbs and spices. As one reviewer says, you almost expect to see classic Caribbean types striking a deal wearing panama hats, nursing a rum and cigar.
Address: 46 Courtenay Place, Wellington
Golding’s Free Dive
Paying homage to the neighbourhood “dive bars” of America and Europe, Golding’s is the perfect place to broaden your palate and increase your knowledge about the art of craft beer. The “free” part represents freedom from restrictions that control what the bar can pour on tap. As such, Golding’s offers an ever-changing line-up of microbrews and craft beers from near and far, as well as a small selection of wine, cider and spirits.
Address: 14 Leeds Street, Wellington
Hula hooping, burlesque, roller-skating, ukuleles, indie bands, markets, rockabilly and eating competitions: if you like any of the above, chances are you will be pretty smitten with MightyMighty. No-frills fun is guaranteed at MightyMighty, which is a favourite haunt for hipsters and trend seekers. Settle in for the night and enjoy a game on the Pac-Man machine and a special “stoner” toasted sandwich accompanied by a jug of beer.
Address: 104 Cuba Street (upstairs), Wellington
There’s nothing much more homely than a good library, stacked full of stories, memories and anecdotes. What’s even better is when the books lining the walls of one of Wellington’s favourite watering holes are rumoured to contain cocktail vouchers! With an extensive menu of sweet treats (think Earl Grey Creme Brulee) and drinks like Sea Salt & Caramel Fudge Martinis, The Library is the perfect place to cuddle up in a booth and enjoy the post meridiem hours.
Address: 53 Courtenay Place, Wellington
With more bars and restaurants per capita than New York, it’s not hard to stumble across a spot for a nightcap or somewhere to settle in for the evening with a fine wine in hand. However, there are a few designated districts where all signs point to revelry.
Known as a hive of theatre and entertainment, Courtenay Place and adjoining Blair and Allen Streets see a large concentration of party people when the weekend rolls around. Get a little crafty with a hand-pulled pint at Malthouse, or peruse the extensive five-section cocktail menu at Ancestral, inspired by 1930s Shanghai. Channel your inner Manhattanite at Apartment, or lounge at The Library where you might just unearth a drinks voucher nestled in a novel. If you’re in for more of a casual evening, catch the game at “the best sports bar in New Zealand”, Four Kings. Bars and clubs are creeping into nearby Tory Street as well, including the jazz-era inspired Hawthorn Lounge and the hidden gem that is Motel Bar.
Colourful Cuba Street is an icon on the Wellington social scene. The bohemian precinct is self-proclaimed as the “coolest street” in the country, and they certainly have enough dining, drinking and dancing hotspots to back that up. Raising the bar when it comes to a night on the town in Wellington, Cuba Street lures barflies and social butterflies to some of the best pubs and clubs in town: the much awarded Matterhorn, the quirky-quirky Mighty Mighty, beer-and-band hub the San Francisco Bath House and Chinese cocktail kitchen Good Luck, which is quietly tucked away in a basement underneath Cuba Mall. Shhh.
When holidaying in harbour-bound Wellington, enjoying a sundowner with an ocean view is almost mandatory. Wet your whistle along the Waterfront by journeying from Oriental Parade to Cable Street and around to Jervois Quay. Pull up a stool at Mac’s Brewbar for an award-winning locally brewed beer (try the English-style Sassy Red) with brunch, lunch or dinner. At Queens Wharf you will find Foxglove, boasting almost 50 wines and a modern gastronomy menu. If you spy an antique oak wardrobe at Foxglove, sneak on through to their sister establishment Foxtail for rare whiskies, champagne and other decadent delights. St John’s Bar, housed in the old ambulance building, and Cuckoo Cocktail Emporium round out some of the local favourites by the water’s edge.