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.
photographs and text by greasylightbulb
Location: In the heart of Newtown! 167 Riddiford Street to be exact. That fact is totally one of Bar Ed’s strengths since Newtown is the most exciting, vibrant, open-minded, multi-cultural and above all fun suburb in Wellington. You can hang out all day… start off by visiting the market that’s come all the way from China via Otaki. Then get your coffee fix from Coffee Republic, pastry from Simply Paris, or for the hungrier visitor brunch at Baobab, occasionally stepping over locals relaxing on the street. You can get custom tee-shirts from the lovely Duncan & Prudence, pausing to watch a man wearing several people’s clothes shout at a lampost on the way.
In the evening you can catch some poetry or indulge in affordable cuisine options from pretty much every single country in the world, including a few that don’t technically exist now, and all the while enjoying the added frisson of not knowing for sure that that man standing outside hasn’t got a knife. All this without a decent drinking den would be a tragic waste like a having a slim blond supermodel who’s missing a nose. Newtown has The Office, which serves a purpose, several Tui bars like Zoo and the Bus Stop, which aren’t actually that scary if you don’t demand to know from which year exactly that chardonnay was supposed to have come from. There used to be The Adelaide too which I reckoned to be contender for the best pub in the universe and regularly had to deck people who didn’t agree. But the Jewel in Newtown’s crown now is totally Bar Edward.
Number 167 used to be a tapas bar who’s demise is no great loss. Buses stop promiscuously often right outside so you can even visit Bar Ed on a rainy day. In Wellington that’s A Good Thing.
Ambience: Generally chat is the sound you hear, but there’s a small screen above the bar with sports usually and a projector that can be used for significant events. The interior of Bar Ed is a bit of a downside, there’s a slightly superfluous second bar at the back which appears to be always shut and a bit sad looking, but does have a pool table, pinball, darts and the largest stock of pickled eggs in the Southern hemisphere1.
There’s bits of wall in places where you wouldn’t generally wish them and the décor is a bit murky – a brown, cream, orange and… er, Mr Potato Head theme bravely straddles contemporary and retro styles, by accident presumably. The ability to renovate is limited due to the fact that James sadly does not own the building. Visitors would be forgiven for finding the whole experience a tiny bit grubby, but don’t forget people – this is Newtown, it’s supposed to be a little bit shit. Honestly, Bangalore Polo Club or Ancestral would not work here.
Despite the name the atmosphere is that of a pub. What makes a pub a pub, or a bar a bar? For me a pub is somewhere you could come to on your own, and not have to sit in the corner pretending to work on an iTablet when really you’re just using state of the art interface technology to fling fictional chickens through the air. Here it’s like you’re playing The Sims, but in real time and 3-D. Actually that’s just called real life isn’t it?
Oh, the seats out the front get the afternoon sun offer a great spot for people watching. On the inside there’s hooks for coats. Hooks for coats people, put them in your establishment now! It’s not rocket science, it’s psychology: People feel at home after they put their coat on a hook. Lack of hooks is second only to lack of prices in my pet-peeves-of-Wellington-beer-bar trends. Anyway, let’s haul that rant back in….
Beer: six on tap, plus a cider, and one hand pull. The Tuatara range always features and Emerson’s often too. Tap beers are displayed handily on a blackboard with prices and abv, so as to avoid any surprises. I have on occasion been presented with particularly explosive pints which is explained as “it’s because the beer is so fresh”….ah, that’s fine then. They do a tasting tray of beer, which is a great idea, and have a fridge with some variety of bottles and even the odd aged beer on the shelf.
Food: A regular selection of all day pub snacks and bar meals between 4ish and 9.30pm that includes bitter-friendly Lancashire hotpot with bread and butter. Beer also features in the form of the aioli served with their fries. There’s also a pizza selection. The food is nice enough without being revolutionary but prices are a tiny bit cheaper than in town. They used to do roasted nuts which were perfect with a pint but sadly not any more. Vegetarians can eat there, vegans and gluten free will find it harder. Fans of pickled eggs are well catered for.
On Mondays all the above goes out the window and you have the fun of popping out to get your food and eating it inside. Staff will recommend the best options. Luckily Mediterranean Food warehouse have a special on Mondays with their “second-best-in-Wellington” pizzas, or you’re a few yards away from some fish and chips or my favorite falafel and mucver/mujva/zucchini fritters. Nobody has yet complained about taking away grease covered empty glasses….
Staff: Varying beer knowledge and skills. I find it quite endearing when they check to make sure I know what it is I’m expecting of the handpull beer “you know that’ll be flat, right?”. Maybe they had some Americans in once or something. I have however been less amused when told that “of course there’s no oysters used in oyster stout, it’s just a name”. They are easy-going and approachable and always available for chat.
Clientele: There’ll be locals sitting at the bar or nearby tables and see above for a feel of what a Newtown local might be, they’re very friendly as a rule – think Brixton pub. This is just as well as you generally have to navigate through, around or under them to get served.
Other people stop in for a drink while passing through on their way home of an early evening, and there is often a significant contingent from the Hospital. In fact if you position yourself just right you can overhear on a bunch of doctors slagging off nurses while simultaneously eavesdropping on a group of nurses bitching about doctors. On the other hand if you position yourself wrong, well then you’re just surrounded by physios. Legend tells that Newtown is full of genuine mental patients, but that’s actually an urban myth that’s now pervaded by Newtownians to keep people from Miramar from buying up properties and ruining the atmosphere.
Social Media friendliness: Not really, there’s a website that doesn’t get updated often, a Facebook page that doesn’t get updated at all and that’s it. Oh there’s a board outside that will have a couple of beers written on, does that count? But I doubt that there’s much tweeting or whatnot that would make a heap of difference as to whether people go to there.
While It’s not a beer mecca a la The Malthouse or Hashigos but I was still very surprised when on a recent pub crawl a couple of the Thirsty Boys gave away that they’d never been. For me the qualities of Bar Ed make it well worth finding an excuse to venture out of the City. Those who do are rewarded with an entertaining drinking hole where people can relax and be themselves.
To follow Thirstyboys blog click FOLLOW at the right. It’s easy.
This may or may not be technically true, I didn’t bother checking