This cosy speakeasy is hidden behind a black door. Low light, comfy couches, a fireplace – it’s like slipping into a hidden room inside a nice house. Cocktails are the speciality. Pick classics like an espresso martini – or tell a server what you enjoy and they’ll whip up something just for you.
When Wellingtonians say they’re going to The Library, they often mean they’re going to this intimate bar on Courtenay Place, where the book-lined shelves and secluded nooks beckon you to stay. The drinks menu takes its cues from books, films and TV, with cocktails like Through the Looking Glass (combining sloe gin, tangelo liqueur and sparkling wine) on offer.
At Kuikui Lane, tucked in a pretty arcade off Victoria Street, owners Riann Umaga-Marshall and Hamish Mexted emphasise manaakitanga – the Māori concept of showing respect, generosity and care. Kuikui Lane is an inviting place where you’ll discover clever cocktails like Tahu (Imperial yuzu tonic and pineapple) and the Wellington Wash – Black Collar golden rum and boysenberry liqueur.
Cuba Street’s a haven for gourmet travellers – and Noble Rot (around the corner on Swan Lane) marries good food like venison, pomegranate-glazed squash and seared scallops with more than 500 wines. Staff can make suggestions depending on what you’d like or what country you want to try wine from. You’re encouraged to be adventurous.
At the end of a long room inside the Intrepid Hotel is a doorway. Walk through and you’re in Puffin. Taxidermied peacocks and plush velvet booths suggest you’ve been transported to the 1920s. Though known for wine, they also do terrific cocktails like a sweet and fruity amaretto sour.
Image credit: Jake Mein
For fun, friendly vibes and industrial-chic interiors in a central location not far from Cuba Street, Whistling Sisters is the place. It’s a craft brewery with playfully named offerings like the Riveter Lager and Welder IPA, which go well with dishes like the coastal prawn masala with curd rice.
Garage Project 91 Aro7/16
Garage Project 91 Aro embodies Wellington: bohemian, chilled and full of surprises. This taproom in the pretty Aro Valley is a microcosm of this: mirrors and murals line the walls and a rotating list of dozens of craft brews aim to delight. Regular favourites include Hāpi Days (a Pacific pale ale) and the descriptively named Beer (a pale lager).
At the top end of Cuba Street lies a mint-green building. Inside (or outside if you want to sit on the many comfortable benches in front) is Heyday Beer Co. Watch beer being made at this Wellington institution and quench your thirst with the venue’s signature hazy IPAs – or try something more unusual like a tiramisu stout.
Golding’s Free Dive9/16
Ever wanted to order a drink while Star Wars characters judge you? The unique decor (there’s also a pretty cool sticker collection) is one thing Golding’s is known for. There’s also its delicious, gooey cheese pizzas made by neighbours Pizza Pomodoro. Drinks include beers from local New Zealand breweries such as Parrotdog and Tuatara.
At the corner of Cuba and Ghuznee Streets, venture up a staircase wrapping around a metal cage. Then, go through the black door with the lion-head knocker: Night Flower is a speakeasy with cosy booths, chandeliers and even a balcony. Locals love the handcrafted cocktails. Tell the team what you like – sweet or sour, fruity or caffeinated – and they’ll make you a drink to remember.
Only a level up from Night Flower is Ascot. The speciality here is wine… and hot dogs (and vegan carrot dogs). The mishmash is very Wellington, complemented by a lovely outside deck from which to watch Cuba Street over a drink or two. The wine list is ever-changing (they’re usually organic, though) and the hot dogs are guaranteed to surprise you. They’re delicious, with condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, relish and more available.
St John’s Bar & Eatery12/16
It’s not just the beautiful Art Deco building that makes St John’s a great place for a drink – it’s also the grassy lawn along the waterfront. There are wines like a Pencarrow chardonnay from the Martinborough region, cheeky cocktails like Tiki Johns with Kraken spiced rum and Galliano amaretto liqueur, and savoury fare to whet your appetite like burgers and pork belly.
The Garden Hotel13/16
Don’t let the name of The Garden Hotel, on Courtenay Place, fool you. Here you’ll find hanging plants and a vibe that feels closer to a quirky indoor garden party. Shareable fare includes cheeseburger dumplings, while their famed cocktails include tipples like the Queen of the Meadow, with Absolut citron, triple sec, raspberry, cranberry juice and lime. They also do a fabulous Wednesday pub quiz.
Above the city centre, Kelburn’s a quiet, cosy area – and Graze is an intimate neighbourhood wine bar. Wines from New Zealand (like a wonderful Astrolabe sauvignon blanc from the upper South Island) and abroad are on the menu – but so are dishes like butterfish ceviche, mussel buns and pierogies. The menu and wines change every few weeks.
Courtenay Place is known for nightlife – and Lulu is a must-visit. The shareable menu and decor are inspired by the South Pacific, from the steamed maitaitai with Fijian turmeric to the parāoa rēwena (sourdough flatbreads) with horopito leaves – a shrub that is endemic to New Zealand. Take your meal to the next level with standout cocktail, Kupe’s Odyssey – a fruity concoction that blends Absolut vodka with passionfruit, absinthe mist, lime, cranberry and mango.