First Look: 69 - a cocktail lounge with late night dining
Words by Alice Harbourne, photos by Ken Downie.
As Sabastion Smith talks about 69, his new K’Rd cocktail lounge, he can’t seem to stop running his hand across the surface of the round, dressed timber table in front of us. He sourced the wood from Matakana, he liked the subtle hint of silver in the grain, so skimmed a millimeter off the rough surface and treated it with beeswax to make it soft to the touch. “I’m a tactile guy,” he explains, which is reflected in the plaid, exposed brick, aluminium, terracotta and timber interior he’s helped to create with Paul Izzard. Inspired by retro American speed shops and locally sourced materials, the harmony of new, shiny surfaces and gritty, gratified walls makes the whole place feel lived-in and warm.
With a concrete balcony overlooking the pink bike path (okay, the motorway), before it was too late I’d uttered the lamest sentence out loud: “It’s all very New York”. I’m not far off: Smith’s global travels (he’s worked variously in hospitality and as a publisher in Sydney and London and traveled the states) have informed his taste. The result is a place that satisfies the needs of Aucklanders like him that have previously gone fairly unfulfilled: real late-night dining (69’s open 3pm-3am, 6 days a week), music that’s loud enough to be fun but won’t drown out the convo, and a genuinely laid-back approach to hospitality. Combine that with Smith’s years of experience working with proflific restaurateur Mark Wallbank, and you’re right to get excited.
69 is serving food that’s trending in London right now, but scandalously not on our shores: Polynesian street food. Smith is half-Fijian, half-Italian, two cultures that are known for sharing food and championing a few key, fresh ingredients. The kokoda – raw fish with lemon juice, coconut cream, chilli and coriander – is made by head chef Marcus Newton to Smith’s Fijian grandfather’s recipe; while the vakalolo lamb – meltingly tender meat, sourced whole from 69’s farm up north and served with deep-fried casava . Late-night-friendly gourmet fast-food comprise the bulk of the menu: “K’Rd dogs” on potato brioche, duck schnitzel, deep fried bread, mince and cheese and hearty lamb sandwiches with chopped liver.
The drinks list is very much the hook the food hangs off though. With 18 cocktails on offer devised by Nicolai Gaudriller-Becker, and a library of single-batch, independent whiskys, you could probably spend all year drinking here and still feel like there’s more to discover. The same goes for the wine list, which takes a similar approach to London bar 10 Cases: stock just 10 cases of any one wine, and when it’s out it’s out. It means no dusty wine bottles and a constantly evolving list of interesting varieties, which are all priced $13.80 a glass (there’s an esoteric reason why it’s such a specific price, ask if you’ve got time to kill).
69 is going to be where it’s at come summer: the curtains will open, there’ll be pavement dining and DJs out front, sunday sessions where the balcony will come into its own – as will the kokoda. 2am on K’Rd is about to take on new meaning.
375 Karangahape Rd
Revised on 16/08 to include mention of bartended Nicolai Gaudriller-Becker.