In “Our Favourite Places” feature, the Jesuit acts as editor for a series of short reviews of bars, breweries and beer drinking venues from across the archipelago.
Cult beer bar
photographs and text: the Jesuit
Location: 25 Taranaki Street, Wellington, New Zealand
– just behind and immediately below Zibbibo. This location has been home to a number of venues of varying degrees of longevity, most recently we believe The Monkey Bar (circa 2000-07/08). However, Hashigo Zake has occupied the premises for just over two years and looks like staying, despite or perhaps because of a recent influx of competition.
Ambience: They’re clearly going for some version of understated Japanese elegance and more or less bring it off. This aesthetic is most evident in the area immediately around the bar and the tables in the northwest corner. The lounge that occupies most of the southern half of the premises is somewhat more cosy, or slightly divey (in a good way). In any case, the low ceilings – a reminder of the space’s origins as police cells.
The music selection tends towards unobtrusive Indie and there’s a video display that not only lists all the current tap beers but also tells you what you’re listening to at any given moment.
Beer: With eleven frequently changing taps, including a couple of hand pulls, and dozens if not hundreds of bottled beers from throughout the world, Hashigo Zake can easily claim the widest selection of any Wellington venue. Only the venerable Malt House is even within striking distance. What’s more remarkable is that the owners achieve this status without recourse to the numerous mass market lagers that infest almost every other specialist beer pub in the city. They even have a certificate near the front door proudly declaring themselves a Heineken Free Zone. Cop that one, St. John’s Bar!
More to the point, Hashigo Zake has been in the forefront of bringing beers from as far afield as Denmark, Norway, Québec, Brazil, and Japan to Wellington. Not to mention lots of great stuff from the States and the cream of New Zealand’s craft beer crop. It’s almost guaranteed that even the most well travelled beer aficionado will find something novel on every visit.
Food: By their own admission, Hashigo Zake has a tiny and barely serviceable kitchen with the result that their food offer is confined to a few Japanese themed bar snacks and a range of spicy hand made pies. On special occasions they have been known to extend themselves as for example during this year’s Super Bowl when they offered a particularly enticing Chilli con Carne.
Staff: The staff are generally friendly but always well-versed on their inventory. If they don’t have a particular beer in stock, they’ll gladly offer an alternative selection that’s as close as possible to what you were after and sometimes even better. As with any good beer venue, they’ll happily provide samples of anything on tap and will often provide insightful commentary.
Clientele: Hashigo Zake has always been a bit blokey although the number of women patrons has been increasing noticeably over the last year or so. Aside from the odd suit (myself included), most of the regular punters are endearingly anorakish, the kind of studious types that other parts of the world might devote themselves to spotting trains or sifting through bins of rare vinyl (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Summary: The Thirstyboys are somewhat divided in our appreciation of Hashigo Zake. For some of us the range and variety of the beers on offer is more than sufficient to offset a few minor quibbles, such as the limited food offer. For others, the close confines of the space make it less attractive to stay for an extended time. On balance, if you regard drinking beer as an end in itself and value the adventure of discovering the exotic and unknown, Hashigo Zake provides broader stretches of unexplored territory than any comparable venue in this country.
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LINK: hashigo zake website www.hashigozake.co.nz