Running down underground to a dive bar in Welly-town

by The Masked Barfly on August 20, 2012

A few Wellingtonistas recently had occasion to discuss the possibilities for getting a drink – a serious drink, mind, not a Mimosa or Bloody Mary – at 9:30am on a Monday. Now we’d hate to advocate heavy drinking to anyone (though it’s always worked for us), and none of our speculation should be seen as in any way suggesting that these establishments would set you up for a pre-elevenses binge. But there are mornings that definitely call for a slug of something medicinal, so we considered this a very reasonable request, one that any city worthy of the name should be able to fulfil. And yet we were stumped.

There are a few cafés around that might happily grant you a tot from the stash intended for “special” coffees, and somewhere like Scopa could assist with a bracing glass of grappa to finish off breakfast in proper continental style. But even if the likes of Meow suggest a more raffish and boozer-friendly ambience, there’s something discordant about knocking it back when surrounded by lattes, fluffies and disgustingly perky breakfast meetings. What we’re looking for is a dive bar.

Do such things even exist in New Zealand? Sure, there are a few old sticky-carpet pubs that have retained their grottiness against the tide of gentrification, such as the Stadium Bar, Lovelocks and to some extent The Cambridge, but I’m thinking something more along the lines of a battered bar-top, dark spirits on the rocks and wisecracking bartenders, rather than formica leaners, jugs of Lion Brown and Sky TV.

Is that more of an American and European thing? Does it require an established urban working class, rather than a rural or suburban drinking heritage? I can think of a few similar spots, but they’re very much late-night and gig-oriented (such as Medusa, Fringe Bar, SFBH and Bodega) rather than haunts for the midweek barfly. There are other disreputable boozeholes, but they tend to be aimed at students and backpackers, all Jaeger Bombs and whooping pubescents, rather than world-weary soaks lamenting divorces and politics over a couple of whiskies.

But give us your suggestions, fellow barflies. Where’s your favourite refuge for a pre-lunch tipple? And what are the dive-iest dive bars in town?

Marc Honoré August 20, 2012 at 11:16 pm

An American/European thing? Where did that come from? How so? Dive bar as a place that sells dark spirits on the rocks in the morning? Hmm….sounds like you’ve seen a few too many films with Daniel Auteuil or Jean Reno as the misunderstood, tortured, drunken cop/bad-guy-with-a-heart, downing pastis at all hours, Bad Lieutenant a few too many times, or perhaps too many episodes of Mad Men?

Only places I know around here that move liquor at 9:30 on a Monday morning are the bottom-feeders in the trade….bottles of beer directly out of a crate to alcoholics or shift workers. Nothing sophisticated about it. Sure I can buy liquor in a cafe – if I could find one open before 11AM. That’s my “European” experience. Not sure that there is a serious clientele for anything else pre-lunch in my neck o’ the woods. I’d be more interested in finding a decent brunch….it’s easier to score class A narcotics on the streets of Copenhagen before 11AM than it is to find a decent feed.

The Masked Barfly August 20, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Mostly American: too much Serpico, French Connection and Moe’s. But my post title rips off the Pet Shop Boys, so I suppose there must be dive bars in the West End town … though more likely to be dusty old wine bars than Pernod or bourbon joints. Other than that and the idea of working class cafes in provincial France or Spain dispensing nips of the local eau de vie or aperitif alongside strong coffee for truckers and dockworkers … yeah, it’s mostly American, and probably more cinematic than real. Burnt-out reporters, DAs on the take, hookers with a heart of gold, bookies with an eye for the main chance … you know the drill.

Phil August 21, 2012 at 10:16 am

What time does Fast Eddies open? It’s the dive-iest dive bar I can think of in Wellington, complete with shitty pool tables and back-alley entrance… I love it.

Nick August 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Many moons ago these types of ‘bars’ were found all over decaying suburban neighbourhods. The Broderick (colloquially known as the Brod), Top Tavern in Cannons Creek (this one might actually still exist but it’s probably not worth risking your life finding out) and even the Newlands Arms were particularly dive-ish. The Brod had its windows permanently boarded up from memory.

Nowadays most of these places have been replaced or severely tidied up. I’d say it’s a shame, but tbh these places were lower than dive; they were damn near obscene.

Marc Honoré August 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Yeah, but most of the Hutt Valley as I remember it was a dive (Newlands sort of counts as Hutt Valley – it’s on the way). Does it count as “Wellington”. I always thought of the Hutt as being in a class of its own.

Adam August 22, 2012 at 9:27 pm

The TAB bar on the corner of Bay and Rongotai Road in Kilbernie.

What about the Adelaide?

Marc Honoré August 22, 2012 at 9:33 pm

You mean the old Tramways, or the Caledonian. All of these places are/were just working class pubs. Divey yes, but the sort of New York/Hollywood-fiction watering hole our Masked Barfly is referring too – no way.

richard maclean August 31, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Anyone of a certain age will remember that plenty of pubs in the CBD used to be early-openers. There was everything from the Railway in Thorndon Quay, the Midland, the Waterloo, and the Albion on the corner of Courtenay Place and Tory Street. I’m sure wiser and more experienced heads will name others. They all catered for night-shift workers on the ships, the wharves, the rail yards and, in the case of the Albion and others nearby, the blokes who worked overnight in the fruit and vegetable markets in Blair and Allen streets and the street cleaners and other workers from the council depot on what’s now Waitangi Park. Most of these jobs have disappeared or gone elsewhere and most of the buildings were bowled in the 1970s and 80s. The burnt-out reporters, DAs on the take and all these other wankers who seem to populate the Barfly’s fantasies wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in these pubs. In fact I distinctly remember the cops descending on the Albion in the mid-80s to break up a fully-fledged brawl – at 10am.

nicole September 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Although I have never been inside, the “Turbo Bar” in Kilbirnie has a sign indicating it opens at 7:30 am for those of us who need a beer before work. It looks pretty dive-y from the outside!
I remember stories of a bar in my former home of Chicago that opened at 7 am and would serve a breakfast special consisting of one whisky, one bourbon, one beer, and a pickled egg.

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