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Wellington’s hidden bars

1 Jul 2015 • 5 Comments

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Popping out for a couple of drinks and nibbles is a key ingredient in the capital's socialisation diet. Luckily this hunger is easily satisfied by an abundance of bars that cater for the 5pm beer, nightcap, and even the dreaded hair of the dragon.

As a self-proclaimed creature of habit I have inadvertently limited my bar choices to either trawling down Courtenay Place, or the compulsory wine-in-the-sunshine at St Johns. With this in mind, I embarked on a critical mission to leave my Mishmosh loyalty card at home and see what hidden gems the Wellington bar scene has to offer. I am huge fan of flying solo for my nightcap so these establishments cater for my internal banter and people watching needs!

Hawthorn Lounge

Hawthorn Lounge instantly epitomises the literal definition of hidden, nestled inconspicuously in upper Tory Street with only an unmarked black door revealed to passers-by. As I climbed up dimly lit stairs, I thought I had fallen prey to another case of my direction blindness, only to pull open a door and be transported back to the 1920’s.

The immaculately dressed barman, the rich aroma of cinnamon and the mood lights basking those who were undoubtedly regular dwellers, I had just walked in on a fully established secret society. Maybe even a jazz age, peaceful version of Fight Club.  The drinks menu boasts an elaborate range of cocktails and adds an extra touch of class to your classic gin fizz or Savvy B. I engaged of all of the above, whilst lounging next to the red velvet curtains and reveling in a highly intense game of scrabble taking place next to me. I know I’ve broken the first rule of Fight Club by sharing, but this is worth the risk!

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The Arborist

If you are a sangria loving regular at El Horno you will be delighted to find many of the same bartender faces at The Arborist. However this new bar and eatery on Willis Street has a completely different charm to its ‘Living on a Prayer’ blaring sister. The decor revels in true arborist style, with the walls beautifully lined with decorative foliage and lights, complemented by the staff’s lumber jack style uniform.

Browsing the elaborate menu of small plates I found to my absolute delight it was entirely possible to choose my level of gluttony. Clean eat options of vegetables and straight- up meat, meant I could justify more extensive experimentation of the drinks menu. I used my nostalgia of my youth to dictate my choice of cocktail for the night, appropriately named “Forever 21”, a blend of all things fruity, youthful and sour, which tasted deliciously (and dangerously) non-alcoholic. All the other liquor bases are fully covered too – including the owners signature sangria. 


I’ve probably been watching way too many American soap operas but when it comes to the restaurant and bar combo, I have a terrifying image of being surrounded by tables of hungry families and lovers, who wouldn’t understand my drinking in solitude. Dragonfly addressed my irrational fear by providing a sizable bar area and courtyard, separate from the main restaurant.

Those who choose to engage in courtyard dining spoke the language of the solo nightcap, as I felt fully comfortable cozying up on one of the bench seats and losing myself in the social interaction around me. The Kung-Fu Panda cocktail on the Uncle Chang’s cocktail list was my liquor indulgence of the evening. A creamy array of baileys, kahlua, frangelico, creme de cacao and cream made me want to find this Uncle Chang and give him a kiss on the forehead for his genius concoction. All in all the attentive service combined with the rustic Asian atmosphere created by the lights and décor has turned my soap opera fear into a fantasy. 

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So if you’re looking for something more than your standard vodka, lime and soda perhaps it’s time to ditch your old faithful haunts and head to one of these treasures. I can almost guarantee you won’t bump into any of your tinder swipes or vengeful exes. All of these hidden bars have the same blood running through their veins; a unique atmosphere, an abundance of exciting drink concoctions and that bartender who is genuinely happy to listen to your life story.

Even though I like to consider myself a well-seasoned hunter of quality liquor, there's no doubt that I've left a couple of must-visit places of the list so please let me know - where are other go-to secret bars in Wellington?

Add your comment

  • cocktail lover 09/08/2015 3:42pm (2 years ago)

    Agree with Bar Hopper. Love Thief in Edward Street.

  • Jaimee Brooking 02/07/2015 2:42pm (3 years ago)

    Hi Steve, if you click the name of the bar it is hyperlinked to a page on specific to that business which will give you all the information you need, including the address. Hope this helps!

  • Steve 02/07/2015 2:38pm (3 years ago)

    Addresses would be helpful.

  • Bar Hopper 02/07/2015 2:33pm (3 years ago)

    I'm not sure if I'd call these hidden gems. I agree with the poster below, what about Cavern Club? Thief? The new upstairs bar at Basque?

  • Mike 01/07/2015 10:16pm (3 years ago)

    What about Cavern Club? It's literally underground hidden down Allen St....great little rock n roll bar named after the bar where the Beatles were discovered!! Complete with a giant Elvis statue!

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