A popular conversation topic among us during the 2020 lockdown in New Zealand was the places we missed eating and drinking at and where we would go first once restrictions were lifted.
Reminiscing with friends led first to my Wellington brunch guide and has now led to the Wellington bars and local pubs I love the most.
So, in no particular order…
Wellington bars for cocktails
The Library gets very busy at peak times and it can be difficult to get a table but I love the atmosphere with mood lighting and so many books. Attentive staff top up water glasses and offer salty roasted almonds. The Lemon Meringue Cocktail is a must try – a desert in a cocktail.
C G R Merchant & Co
Just hidden away enough upstairs from Courtenay Place, C G R Merchant & Co has a relaxed, cozy vibe and seems full of people on Tinder dates out to impress. The cocktail menu offers a variety of Seasonal Infusions as well as the classics which stick around longer. Ordering the Gingerbread Fizz will make you the envy of the table; Isn’t She Lovely is a favourite of mine and there are also cocktails with a bit of an unexpected kick such as the Siren’s Song.
If you’re unsure what to order take the option of a short mystery gin or run drink, handcrafted by the bar staff.
Hawthorn Lounge is where I take friends from out of town I want to show off what Wellington has to offer those who love and appreciate a great cocktail. Because it’s slightly hidden up several flights of stairs in a nondescript building, off the main drag, those there have not stumbled across it but are in the know. It’s a charming little speakeasy, with a cozy fire in winter, and amazing staff who will concoct you something to your taste if you have no idea what anything on the menu is. They do traditional drinks extremely well.
Black Sparrow has a beautiful lounge setting and is the perfect place to enjoy a wine or cocktail before or after a movie. Black Sparrow has different drink deals each night of the week and the fireplace is definitely the place to gravitate towards on winter evenings.
Juniper is cozy and intimate and has an excellent cocktail menu as well as friendly staff making it an classy choice for a date or catch up and snack on the calamari.
I’d walked past Poquito near the bottom of Tory Street many many times, never venturing in because I knew nothing about it. The last I recall this venue was a chocolate shop.
Needing an emergency venue for a book club meeting when we couldn’t get a table for six at our preferred, someone suggested Poquito. At 6:30pm on a Wednesday night it wasn’t too busy and we were able to get the table at the front, away from all the other customers.
The drink menu is thick, so making decisions took a while but five of us ordered fruit spritz drinks which contained various spirits, and I asked for a ‘fruity mocktail’. The bar tender delivered, never needing a notepad, creating everything himself as the sole person behind the bar, keeping our water topped up and creating the ideal personalised drink for me.
The tapas menu is extensive with items like olives, quesadillas and halloumi for snacking on. Poquito is open until at least midnight every night, though it was empty when we left at 8:45pm. This is the sort of quiet bar which exists in Europe and I love that there is one here I will now frequent.
Wellington bars for wine
I love catching up with friends over a bottle of wine and a wine bar has been lacking in Wellington for some time since others have closed down. Given the extensive wine list at Noble Rot we were disappointed to not find a red under $45 so it’s obviously not cheap, however the Judge Rock, Central Otago Reisling we settled on instead was lovely and not something I would otherwise have come across. The staff were truly knowledgeable and attentive, bringing out the perfect wine glasses, an ice bucket for our bottle and continually topping us up as we consumed our drinks. Will be back for a meal as everything being eaten around us looked divine!
Concrete has become a handy Friday night haunt for me but it is always busy – sending someone along early to bags a table is probably the best advice I can offer! The venue really narrow and the balcony over cable car lane tends to be packed as well. I’m slowly working my way through the cocktail menu and while their Salted Caramel Martini featured far too much chocolate sauce the fruity cocktails (like the Peachy Keen) are extremely drinkable. Concrete serves poutine as well as sharable favourites like loaded fries, double cooked fries and bread with dips so you’ll snack too much to require dinner after a visit here.
No one does Beer Battered Fish and Chips as well as Dockside do – the freshest fish and choice of crumbed or battered with the option to add scallops, prawns or oysters. If you get the opportunity to have a long, Friday afternoon lunch on the deck at dockside with good company and an excellent bottle of wine make sure you take advantage.
I’m not one for coyboy hats or mechanical bulls but Dakota’s pub quiz is the best I’ve ever been to! They use a speed quiz with ipads which saves the whispers, frantic writing and time spent marking that comes with traditional quizes. The host, friendly staff, drinks specials, yummy bar snacks and prizes really add to a great evening.
The best Wellington pubs
The Cambridge Hotel
Great atmosphere for watching rugby and loved their breakfast – ordered by circling the hot items you want on a piece of paper. Nothing fancy, just great comfort food and cheap as. May have to make it my local.
Hop Garden just became my new local – I wish I’d known about it earlier. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but inside the garden conservatory feel and extensive drinks menu with a huge selection of beverages from New Zealand craft breweries makes for a lovely place to catch up with friends. There is also a great tapas selection as well as a Roast of the Day and Burger of the Week.
Despite being one of only three tables at 10am on a Sunday morning the coffees took forever to arrive (our meals, ordered a good 10 minutes later appeared much earlier). The waiter also didn’t seem entirely onto it, asking for orders when we’d not had a menu, not knowing whether the orange juice had pulp in it or what the eggs benedict was served with. When the coffees did arrive they were very bitter but the eggs benedict (with spinach or salmon) was ok and they had meals from $6 on the brunch menu. Very reasonable and as we had an Entertainment Book voucher for 25% off it was even cheaper.
The Featherston was very busy when I visited on a Friday lunch time with a friend. The menu (full of comfort food) looked appealing enough that we opted to wait for a table which took around 10 minutes. There was plenty to choose from, the house white wine was sweet, very reasonably priced (from memory less than $8 for a glass) and the smoked fish pie I settled on was very cheesy and warming.
Macs is the perfect place year-round to meet friends for a drink. It’s central to everyone, cosy inside in Winter and uoi can sit outside in the sun and enjoy the harbour view in Winter. You can’t go wrong with Macs beers on tap, decent house wine and hefty platters to share. Also a great location to hold an event or conference upstairs. Thr staff take care of everything. And make it super easy.
I regularly take visitors to the Backbencher as it’s a pub with a bit of personality and something different Wellington has. Since it was reopened following several fires a few years ago it seems to have lost the majority of it’s puppets but the ones there are recent political and sports figures which are easily recognisable. The pub has been nicely refurbished and has a wide range of beers and wines by the glass, and it’s location makes it perfect for a drink on the way to a game at the Stadium.
A colleague joined The Greenman Pub VIP Club and received a voucher for a free bottle of wine for her birthday. Well worth signing up! We visited for lunch on a weekday and found it quite ‘middle of the road’ – a mix of corporate types and those just hanging out watching the races on a Friday. The ‘Fun Guy’ – mushrooms in a creamy blue cheese and red wine sauce on polenta was lovely, the fries with curry sauce surprisingly nice and the free bottle of wine certainly drinkable.
The Thistle Inn is a historic pub which is basically always busy, but the fireplaces mean it’s also warm and cosy on cold Wellington evenings. What is technically the smoking area upstairs can be the quietest place to talk to friends and there are heaters and blankets. The staff are friendly and welcoming and it’s certainly an easy (though loud) spot for a drink before heading to games at The Stadium, but you’ll find the drinks are priced at central city levels rather than what you may expect from an unpretentious pub. With meals expect fancy comfort food and a decent serving size, mains cost from around $26 to $36 and there are suggested wine matches on the menu.
Little Beer Quarter
I’d only heard good things about Little Beer Quarter so took a friend visiting from Auckland there for lunch to show off Wellington’s craft beer scene. The fridges are full of different bottles of beer and there are more on tap. The selection could be overwhelming for many a beer lover but we asked the knowledgeable bar staff for recommendations according to what we liked and were not disappointed. I was super impressed also with the number of vegan items on the lunch menu, as well as the number of snack items. I ordered the vegan tacos rather than the fish version simply because they sounded amazing and found them to be extremely filling and yummy, while my friend had the loaded fries (the only disappointment – they weren’t really ‘loaded’, just sprinkled with Parmesan with Aioli on the side) and chicken nuggets.
With this list you’ll be able to plan your own personal and perfect Wellington bar crawl!