First Look: George
Words and photos by Alice Harbourne.
“We’re opening late. 30 mins?” reads a text from Ella Mizrahi on a particularly springlike Thursday afternoon. Too late, I’m already parking outside George, the second Ponsonby Road bar she’s opened in a year with her partner Oliver Driver.
Mizrahi is an old pal, so instead of politely waiting in the car, I opt to shadow her as she preps for a night of business. She’s five months pregnant (she reminds me by proudly snapping the elastic of her new maternity jeans) and isn’t ready to put her feet up yet, carting boxes of beer and shifting tables with typical exuberance.
Graft has become Mizrahi’s default after years of running arts production company Celery with childhood friend Celia Harrison. The duo are taking a break from producing large-scale events like Art in the Dark for now though, and while that means no magical light installations in Western Park this year, it does mean more fun on Ponsonby Road.
In March, Driver, Harrison and Mizrahi gave us Harry, a dive bar explicitly targeted towards those in the media and arts industry, who can enjoy exclusive discounts on certain nights. With arts-focused events such as talks curated by Gather and Hunt and thesp-magnetising karaoke nights (Harryoke Sundays), Harry drew the right crowd, but the vibe brutally clashed with the adjoining bar, Ponsonby Working Men’s Club. The name said it all: liberals and feminists, step-aside, the Working Men are here to drink.
When the lease of PWMC was up, Driver and Mizrahi (Harrison is currently working in Iceland) decided to give Harry a younger “messier” brother, George.
“We did things our way” says Mizrahi. “We got theatre lighting designers (Rachel Marlow and Brad Gledhill) to spend three days rigging par cans for us, and all the brick work was done by Oli’s friends, the same art department that worked on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
The brick work she’s referring to is a wall that divides Harry and George, which looks convincingly rustic and authentic, it’s hard to spot where there was once a door connecting the spaces. The decor is deliberately shabby, all wooly, mid-century sofas and formica tables, with a Pinteresty bar comprised of chopped-up chest of drawers. It feels grungy and uncontrived.
“When we opened Harry we had this idea of making a young person’s bar for young people,” Driver says, “and we failed dismally at that; the people who are actually coming are old. On Saturday night there were all these 50 and 60 year-olds listening to jazz.”
Instead of a set target market, at George there’s simply a focus on craft beer, tequila, rum and an eclectic schedule of well-known and emerging bands curated by musician brothers Finn and Tam Scholes. It’s the spontaneous antidote to a rising sense of corporate formality on Ponsonby Road, and all the more welcome for it – just don’t expect it to be open bang on time.
155 Ponsonby Rd
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