Dive into a pint at craft beer haven Golding’s Free Dive
This cool, kitsch and cosy neighbourhood bar is a shrine to good beer and great design, with local brews and interesting wines aplenty
14 Leeds Street
Tucked away down a laneway, Golding’s Free Dive is one of Wellington’s most-loved bars. But its name is a bit of an enigma: what’s ‘free’ about it, and what’s diving got to do with beer?
The ‘Golding’s’ part is straightforward: this cosy craft beer bar was founded by Sean Golding in early 2013. The bar is located down an inner-city laneway famed for its foodie credentials: Golding’s is flanked by a bakery, a chocolatier, and a cocktail bar - but it wasn’t always this way. Before he opened Golding’s, Sean saw that the laneway area could become something amazing: “back then, it was quite rough, but I thought it had great potential”. The bar has led the charge, and the area is now a culinary destination in its own right, topped off with modern Kiwi eatery Shepherd, which Sean co-founded in 2016.
‘Free’: while some bars are only allowed to serve drinks from certain brands, Golding’s is a free house, which means they don’t have contracts with any breweries. This means they can put whatever they want on tap, and Sean says, “this means we can choose the best and freshest beer at any time”. You’ll always find an ever-changing array of tap beer and cider from the best local breweries and some exciting imported drops too. There’s also a fridge full of bottled and canned beers, a small but perfectly formed menu of interesting wines, and some great whiskey and rum options. If that all sounds a bit daunting to you, just ask the staff for a recommendation - they really know their stuff.
‘Dive’: The bar was inspired by “very modest neighbourhood bars in the USA where locals gather to drink and catch up - a third place, so to speak”. Golding’s has definitely become that community space for beer-loving Wellingtonians to meet. There’s a cohort of regulars, including many who live in the apartments above and pop down for drinks, and on sunny days you’ll have to be quick to nab a seat in the sheltered outdoor terrace. There are usually a few canine friends around for pats, or feel free to BYO hound.
Inside the bar, you’ll see plenty of evidence of Sean’s creative background as a signwriter, set finisher, miniatures technician and prop painter. The bar is a shrine to good design, with exposed brick, twinkling lights, kitsch taxidermy, hand-painted details, Star Wars memorabilia and repurposed miscellany jostling for attention. It’s been described as “like drinking inside a pinball machine”, a description Sean approves of, and the light-up ‘BEER’ sign above the door has graced the Instagram of most beer-drinking locals.
While the bar serves a delicious array of salty snacks, if you’re in search of something more substantial, the collaborative ethos of the laneway comes into play. Just across the lane is Pizza Pomodoro, who have been “feeding our hungry patrons since day one” but you don’t even have to leave your pint - order your pizza at the bar, and it’ll arrive at your table in no time.
On his visit to New Zealand in 2019, Stephen Colbert drank a beer at Golding's Free Dive with Lucy Lawless and Brett McKenzie - look out for Golding's cameo at the 8-minute mark