I fell in love with Wellington and its bars two years back – so much so I wrote a feature about it for The Sydney Morning Herald. Now, after going back to the windy, small but charmingly sophisticated city, I thought an update might be worthwhile.
Most of the bars I wrote about then are still there, with the exception of Sandwiches in Courtenay Place. A few new bars have opened up near the waterfront but, at the end of the day, my two favourites still remain the Hawthorn Lounge and Matterhorn.
Although Matterhorn was recently voted the 16th-best bar in the world in the Drinks International poll, it’s the Hawthorn Lounge that impresses me most. It’s small, cosy, has a retro English vibe and, most importantly, on my last visit they made a great Sazerac and delivered impeccable service. For me it felt like the Wellington version of Eau De Vie.
Matterhorn, located in a converted 50s coffee house, is a much grander affair and with a larger cocktail menu. On the upside, I was impressed with the effort they put into making my Fig and Cigar Sazerac (Martell VS cognac, cigar liqueur, absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters, Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel bitters, figs) – it’s always nice to see a bartender take out a mortar and set alight to fruit within it – but a smile wouldn’t have gone astray. Hell, half the reason I go to NZ is just to see people smile. However, the restaurant service there was faultless and the meals worth trying.
Two wine bars/restaurants I hadn’t mentioned in my SMH feature are Pravda and Arbitrageur. Pravda, as its name suggests, has an European feel – it’s like an elegant French bistro with a great wine selection and the best mushroom risotto I’ve ever had in my life. Arbitrageur has even more of an upmarket feel and prides itself on its wine and food matching – or, if you want, you can just perch at the bar and sample from one of Wellington’s best wine cellars.
I still love Motel, a cocktail bar hidden in a dark dingy alley (Forresters Lane – look for a tiny sign in the wall) and which has my favourite bar counter in Wellington to sit at – it really does have a 50s Rat Pack vibe to it. And, if you just want to listen to great music in a non-pretentious, fun and yet somewhat arty place, then you can’t beat Mighty Mighty.
Lastly, I can’t not mention Logan Brown. Even though it’s a restaurant and not a bar, I did have one of the best dining experiences of my life there and I like how its small bar area, primarily meant for customers waiting for a table, manages to have an aquarium-topped bar counter without looking tacky.
Of course, if you think I missed out on a Wellington bar then feel free to add a comment below: