My highlights for 2011
I had a busy year, which shows in my poor posting record recently. Despite the manifold reasons to be cheerless, there were also plenty of good things happening in Wellington: on the waterfront, up Cuba St and all over town.
Taranaki Wharf Precinct: While it took a while for Te Raukura (the official name of the Wharewaka) to house any waka, the building and its associated landscaping have been a huge boost for the waterfront. The green lawns that step down to the water have proved tremendously popular, and Karaka café has struck a mix of high-quality meals and affordable counter food that helps it engage with the space rather than colonising it. Combined with the opening up of the karaka grove and the advent of free Wi-Fi, this has enlivened a vital corner of the waterfront.
The revival of upper Cuba St: The top two blocks of Cuba St have languished in the wake of Karo Drive’s disruption, but this year the life began to return. It’s a relatively boutiquey, gentrified life compared to the organic pre-bypass messiness, but there are some genuinely affordable vintage treasures at Particles of Time and Aeon to go with the more calculated whimsy of Emma and The Powder Room. My favourite new place is Arthur’s, with its hearty chappish food and cosy retro feel: tuck into some black pudding and bubble & squeak while eyeing up the pith helmets in the shop windows across the street. 2012 may see one or two other new cafés or restaurants open up in the vicinity, so with luck the revival will continue.
Craft beer goes mainstream: We’re occasionally accused of being pretentious hipsters, but on the contrary, we’re sometimes glad when our favourite things emerge from the underground. On the pub scene this year, beery stalwarts Hashigo Zake and Malthouse were joined by Hop Garden, the Brühaus, Tap Haus, Little Beer Quarter and the Fork & Brewer, justifying claims of Craft Beer Capital status. Perhaps more importantly, as it dawns on people that beer is actually allowed to taste of something, drinkers will no longer put up with commercialised swill and will instead demand a better range in all bars and cafés. Oh, and just in case you are a hipster: HZ, LBQ and Hop Garden definitely beat the more corporate vibe of the others.
Old favourites: We may have had occasion to mourn some Wellington institutions this year (Ernesto, Coffee Stop, Offbeat Originals), but in this financial situation we can be grateful that some old favourites are still around to provide essential levels of caffeine, booze and good times. Hooch keeps serving up rum-fuelled late-night debauchery; Pollux provides a more sedate vantage point to enjoy a crisp Martini while smugly watching the post-work commuters trudge past; and Duke Carvell’s may have tinkered with its menu a few times, but it’s still my favourite hangover haunt as well as a place to enjoy a few drinks while certain people (who will not be named) make inappropriate comments about the delightful staff.