Jun 9, 2021 Bars
605 New North Rd, Morningside
There aren’t a whole lot of places left like 605: sorta divey, laid-back and unpretentious. Everything is stripped back with a DIY feel, right down to the “People drink here!” tagline hastily hand-drawn on the entrance. Open-mic nights are a regular feature (so if you’re looking for somewhere to jam, this could be for you — free entry!) and there’s a pub quiz, too. Plus, those wings. Yum!
K’ Rd Food Workshop, 309 Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
Hearts were broken and mournful Instagram posts were published when Acho’s closed its doors in St Kevins Arcade last year. After months in the wilderness, however, it’s back, taking over the old Argentinian grill space in the K’ Rd Food Workshop, alongside Electric Chicken. No cocktails on offer, but a deep selection of Japanese beers and spirits as well as a tasty menu packed with Japanese snacks. Buzzy and fun.
Alibi Brewers Lounge
70/72 Onetangi Rd, Waiheke
Sit on the outside flagstone patio so you can take in the Tantalus Estate vineyard landscape, or retreat inside to a brick-walled cellar, refreshingly cool in the summer and cosy in winter. You come here for the beer, of course, of which there is plenty, but the cocktails are also surprisingly good; we can recommend the Chai Colada — sweet and delicious. We also like the snacks, which range from chicken wings to Te Matuku oysters.
277 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Further down from the main drag of Ponsonby Rd, Annabel’s has a remarkably chill vibe that makes it perfect for a relaxed weekday evening. There’s sometimes live music, wine launches and guest chefs from pop-ups and other Auckland kitchens, all elements of a hyperlocality we love and want more of in 2021. Annabel’s is also now open as an espresso bar from 7am, which makes it an ideal spot to start and end your day.
280 Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
The thing to do at Apéro is rock up, cross your fingers for a window seat, and listen to Mo. Mo Koski (who co-owns Apéro with his partner, Leslie Hottiaux, the head chef) can often be found running front-of-house and recommending interesting, unique wines to anyone who wants one, of which they have many by the glass. Pair with a charcuterie platter to nibble on and the night will be golden.
146b Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
Though Céleste’s owners have a shiny new venue over on East St, this smaller, more intimate space on Karangahape still delivers. The food is an obvious drawcard (stay snacky with oysters, burrata and sourdough, maybe some tomatoes) and a revolving daily list of wines by the glass keeps things interesting. (If you want to take a bottle or two home, they’ve opened a bottle shop, Star Superette, just a few doors down.)
43 Martin Ave, Mt Albert
Hannah Sharp (who owns Bar Martin with partner Ruben Maurice) is an architect by day, so it’s no wonder this new neighbourhood bar looks so good, decked out in salvaged kauri. There’s also a sprawling courtyard out back, which basks beautifully in the sun. It looks good, but what makes it a great bar is the people who run it; the service here is friendly, efficient and warm, the type of bar where at least three people farewell you when you leave. Welcome to the neighbourhood.
Beau, Wine Bar
265 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
The best seats at Beau are hidden outside in their sweet little sun-drenched courtyard, away from the busy life of the main street. We recommend an evening out there with a glass in hand — glass pours are always changing, but expect natural as well as more traditional drops — and a couple of good friends. Arrive hungry to feast on generous scoops of trevally ceviche and beef tartare, or even the fried chicken, a favourite from the owners’ previous venture, Freaky.
The Beer Spot
54 Northcote Rd, Northcote
Behind the roller door, this is a bar that understands variety is the spice of life. You can sit back and let the friendly staff recommend a pour from the dozens of beers on tap, or get a bit nerdy about it with people who know their stuff. The atmosphere is chill and fun, with a dogs-welcome policy that is, happily, regularly taken advantage of. If you’re after some kai, there will be a food truck there to feed you; check the website for which one to expect when you pull up.
235 Parnell Rd, Parnell
Ed Verner reckons chefs make better drinks than bartenders, and we think he might be right. You’re encouraged to book a spot at Boxer, and the drinks served here — made using spirits that are distilled in-house using a rotary-evaporator — are as complex, balanced and refined as any of the dishes you’ll find at Pasture, his six-seater restaurant next door. There is beauty everywhere in the details — from the lush bar food and seasonal cocktails, to the specially crafted decor and the vinyl that provides the soundtrack — resulting in an experience unlike anything else.
Park Hyatt, 99 Halsey St, central city
The Park Hyatt is a recent addition to Auckland’s waterfront, and so, too, is the resident bar, a chic and cosy den in the heart of the city. Along with a beautiful night-time view of the Viaduct, the staff are sweet and friendly. The cocktails for two, made to share, make it perfect for date night. These fall into the “traditional with a twist” category, like the White Cloud — it’s similar to an espresso martini but with chocolate and cream — or the N14, which is like a whisky sour but with nitro lemonade.
38 Roukai Lane, Britomart
When you find yourself not quite ready to let the night go after a dinner at one of Britomart’s many restaurants, Caretaker is there to, well, take care of you. Spotlights illuminate the snug seats and bar area in the moody lounge, where you can watch expert mixologists shaking up the bespoke cocktail you requested after having a conversation with one of Caretaker’s servers. It’s also open till 3am every damn day, a rare quality for any bar in Auckland.
854 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden
Existing in the imagination of Aucklanders more as a restaurant, the Cazador bar provides its own unique pleasures. Inside, it’s a warming stucco’d area next to the restaurant’s kitchen; outside, a garden sheltered by one of the city’s biggest olive trees. An impressive selection of port is carried over from its long history and maître d’ Simon Benoit (ex-The French Café) brings with him a welcoming presence and deep knowledge of the thoughtfully put-together wine list.
1a Charles St, Mt Eden
A new brew pub at the city end of Dominion Rd, Churly’s is the home of the Behemoth Brewing Company, so if you are into its beers, there’s really no better place for you. The presence of A Lady Butcher (buy her bacon) in the kitchen and the accompanying impressively meat-heavy menu (most notably, the charcuterie) lift it considerably as a destination. The vibe is often bustling, especially on weekday afternoons when local workers pile into the place, perhaps a little earlier than their usual knock-off time. We won’t tell.
366 Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
If you’re in the mood for wine and want to try something new, Clay strikes all the right notes: a huge array of bottles, regularly rotating glass pours, small inventive plates and expert staff on hand to guide your ordering towards something delicious. Clay is co-owned by Brendan Manning and Dan Gillett. Gillett also part-owns corner bottle shop Everyday Wine just down the road, so you know they know what they’re serving you.
3/175 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Indecision is the worst thing that will happen to you at Clipper, where the reinvented classic cocktails are made by bartenders who really care about their craft, a bit of a rarity in this town. We suggest something from the list of seasonal “bangers” such as the tomato martini, rhubarb negroni sour, or banana caramel old fashioned. There’s a full vermouth list, grilled cheese sandwiches and, as an added bonus, you can order more substantial feeds from the adjacent Ponsonby Rd restaurants. (Hello, Ockhee.)
376 Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
The longest-standing of the current wave of K’ Rd hospitality venues has weathered Covid and interminable footpath rejuvenation and come out the other side still sitting proudly on its little bit of the street with a new coat of paint and the same great Italian-inspired menu. The happy-hour pasta remains affordable and pleasing comfort food to accompany drinks after work. Plus, if you go on Pizza Tuesday, one pizza will set you back only $13.
Coley & Punch
Shed 22, Princes Wharf, central city
Coley & Punch is a bar that knows exactly what it is: a bar. Not a restaurant and bar, “not a venue, not a catwalk, not a hideout” as it proclaims on its website. A bar. It’s a good bar, too, with an appropriate drinks focus to match, including an extensive list of strong cocktails. It’s also a bar for whisky lovers, all dark, glittery and moody; there’s around 250 whiskies on offer.
Conch Kitchen & Bar
115a Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Conch is one of those much-loved drinking spots that are always bustling with 20- and 30-somethings who drop in after work to sip on a gin and tonic (served with capsicum, $14). There are great separate spaces to while away the hours in, whether that’s at the tables out front, colourful high stools by the bar or wooden alcoves in the courtyard. It doesn’t hurt that the food (South American-inspired) is good, too.
45 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Now the benchmark for cocktail bars in Auckland (“Is it as good as Deadshot?”), this period-perfect speakeasy still has its boozy hold over us, with its moody interior, late-night antics and serious attitude to delivering serious cocktails. As in its sister joint, Caretaker, Deadshot makes drinks off-menu, meaning the staff will ask what you want, then deliver that to your table. Easy.
The Elbow Room
198 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay
Open all seven days of the week, The Elbow Room is the most reliable bar in Herne Bay, a fact reflected in its busy afternoons, when groups of locals park up outside on the pavement seating. There are plenty of things to snack on (think cheese platters and bread), and $10 pizzas on Sundays and Mondays. Conveniently, one of the best fish-and-chips places in Auckland is right next door, so it really is the perfect spot for any early diner.
East St Hall
5 East St, K’ Rd Precinct
Operating out of the old Samoan church’s hall on East St, this multi-purpose space from Bar Céleste’s Nick Landsman and Emma Ogilvie and Annabel’s Henry Temple has set out to be more than just a bar by centring the venue around Karangahape Rd’s diverse community, with club nights and day-time markets alongside relaxed nights out in the courtyard. Meanwhile, the drinks revolve around organic wines and a short list of fresh cocktails, and food is Tel Aviv-inspired, so think falafel, hummus, labneh and pitas.
440 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn
This West Lynn neighbourhood bar is now just one year shy of being opened for a decade, which is what we call “longevity” in this day and age. That’s because Freida’s is always a reliably fun place, evident by the consistent crowd of people packed in and spilling out of its door and onto the street. Get there on a good night and you’ll be treated to some sort of jazz, funk or soul tunes (though, arguably, every night is a good night at Freida’s).
2 Mt Eden Rd, Eden Terrace
We’re still loyal fans of Galbraith’s, the long-established pub holding down its corner of Eden Terrace. The quality of food is excellent and the menu accommodates a wide swathe of intolerances; the daily cocktails are priced for drinking; the staff take justified pride in their house beers; and the outdoor garden area has been thoughtfully re-landscaped, making for a great place to see out a warm afternoon.
GG X Flamingo
269 Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
There is an infectious energy that permeates GG, from the bartenders’ colourful Hawaiian button-ups to the innovative cocktails that often have a spiced-up twist. Though the hessian-covered seats leave a lot to be desired in the comfort department, they’re at least no hindrance to fun. Recently, we visited during a Beach Party event — the floor lined in layers of sand; a paddling pool set up in front of the DJ; and skewers of tandoori pork belly and prawns being grilled out the front. See? Fun.
Commercial Bay, Level 2/1 Queen St, central city
Ghost Donkey is one of four American imports in the new Commercial Bay shopping precinct, a Mexican-inspired experience housed between Hawker & Roll and Burger Burger. The drinks programme is rooted in mezcal and tequila, giving the bar a welcome point of difference which has materialised itself in delicious cocktails like the Mezcal Negroni or Mushroom Margarita. Given it’s in what is essentially a mall, the small closed-in Ghost Donkey room is bustling with good vibes, helped along by the pink glow of neon.
1171 Coatesville-Riverhead Highway, Riverhead
Set on a sprawling landscape among lush manicured greenery, Hallertau is the ultimate multi-use space where people can gather from their day trips out west and locals pop in for Sunday lunch with their dogs. The kid-friendly outdoor space is particularly good in summer. That’s all before we even mention the drinks, which, being Hallertau, is delightfully beer-heavy. You can take home a one-litre Keeper, too — beer bottled in a vessel reusable for a refill the next time you come around.
1 St Marys Rd, Ponsonby
While Hugo Baird’s other restaurant, Lillian, is usually too busy for you to pop into solely for a drink, he has transformed the old Augustus spot (which for decades was Ponsonby’s Post Office) into a sprawling “public bar, bistro and beer garden”, with plenty of room for all types of eating and drinking. It doesn’t hurt that the interior is beautiful as well, with the tiled floors and soft lamp lighting delivering major luxe vacation vibes alongside your pint of Parrotdog, on tap.
House Bar, Hotel DeBrett
3b O’Connell St, central city
You often see people sinking an after-work wine in the streetside corner bar downstairs, but it’s the House Bar upstairs that we come back to time and time again. The cosy space, decked out in mid-century furniture and art-deco-inspired glam, feels like a bit of luxury hidden away from the central city, an ideal place to enjoy a drink from the extensive cocktail list. The word “classic” gets thrown around a lot but, in the case of House Bar, we think it fits perfectly.
87 Federal St, central city
SkyCity’s upmarket Chinese restaurant Huami 花 蜜 also has a small and sweet separate bar space, with the largest range of baijiu (a Chinese spirit) in the whole of New Zealand. That would be our pick here, which, if you prefer, you can down mixed in a cocktail. There is also an incredibly comprehensive wine list, local craft beer on tap, and $10 gins from 4-7pm daily.
Japanese Lantern Street Bar
484 New North Rd, Kingsland
True to the bar’s name, the ceiling here is absolutely festooned with lanterns, creating a lower-ceiling effect that imbues an otherwise-unremarkable room with lively character. Out back, a closed-in balcony space overlooks Sandringham, and, on the rare occasions Auckland chooses to show up for the Blues, crowds filing into Eden Park. We recommend the sushi and a dry-ice selection for a tasty and very Instagrammable accompaniment to the wide selection of Japanese beers and spirits.
7 Fort Lane, central city
If you are going to order a whisky at The Jefferson — secreted away o Fort Lane — be prepared to get specific about what you are looking for. With hundreds of varieties lining the back wall, the rows of glowing amber bottles are all part of the art-deco charm. The well-versed staff take things seriously, guiding your choice when necessary. But if you want to become a more informed drinker, we suggest booking in for a whisky tasting to make the most of their offering.
Ken Yakitori Bar
89 Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
Although Ken Yakitori has long been displaced as the place to eat and drink on Karangahape Rd by various waves of gentrification, its menu and drinks list are largely unchanged and still great. Now that the crowds have moved on, its delicious skewers arrive almost as soon as you order them and the thick, soft wooden tables and bar still provide the same distinct tactile pleasure. Worth revisiting.
Snickel Lane, 23 Customs St East, central city
There are two very compelling reasons to visit La Fuente: mezcal and wine. With bottles upon bottles lining the shelves and cooling in the fridges ready for you to take home, La Fuente sells its wine by the glass or as a taster, so you can get through a wide variety of interesting pours. Mezcal gets the same treatment, and La Fuente is the perfect place to come if you’re unfamiliar with the sipping spirit (be ready to be taken under owner Edmundo Farrera’s wing).
Cnr of Queen and Wyndham Sts, central city
There’s something sweetly intimate and personal about Little Culprit, a spin-offfrom its older sibling just across the road. (When we visited, there were at least two first dates taking place.) The cocktails are thoughtful, each made with what feels like Little Culprit’s own special thing: think wax-washed rum in the Candlelit Daiquiri, or a bourbon washed with nougat in the Miso Old Fashioned. Happily, the bar also has a selection of low- and no-alcohol cocktails.
490 Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
Co-owner Pablo Arrasco Paz may be one of the most generous hospitality figures in the business, regularly fashioning a table out of nowhere and seating you with a warm welcome. Nab a spot outside in the warm summer months and it’ll be one of the best places to down a cocktail on the strip (we’re partial to its pisco-based concoctions). The anticuchos are great drinking snacks, or get along on Taco Tuesdays and put away a tostada or two.
Supreme Winner, Top 10
90 Federal St, central city
With the inside always busy with diners, it’s easy to forget how nice it is to drop in just for a drink and some snacks at one of Masu’s outdoor tables, which look out onto the pedestrian-heavy Federal St. Just as the people-watching is great, so too are the cocktails, split up into helpful flavour profiles such as sweet, salty, sour and bitter. We recommend anything under “umami” (savoury and refreshing), but we also like the “East End Sling”, an improved take on the much more dull Singapore Sling.
9 Durham St East, central city
Set above a bustling High Street, Mezze serves as an oasis for central-city workers and preshow goers looking for somewhere cosy and comfy, with plenty of tapas to graze on. There’s also plenty to drink, with carafes of bright sangria, Spanish wines and local craft beers, most for a sharp price. We’re particularly partial to the lovely, warm room, especially in the late afternoon when the light streams in through its generous windows.
5 Federal St, central city
Occupying its tiny corner of the city for more than 20 years, Mo’s has been a consistently unimpeachable choice for a last, late-night drink on the way home for all of them. Its unique position, sitting on the edge of the devastation that is Wolfe St, makes it also a great spot to nurse a drink and contemplate the snail’s pace of downtown rejuvenation.
352 Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
Everything, from the food menu to the drinks list to the specials board, is handwritten here, a charming affableness that extends to the service and vibe of the place. It’s easy breezy but with a very good wine and beer list, and remains one of our favourite places to head to during happy hour so we can steal a coveted outdoor spot and watch Karangahape go by.
Rosanna’s Garden Bar & Eatery
503b New North Rd, Kingsland
Somewhat hidden down a driveway on the city side of the Kingsland shops, Rosanna’s is blessed with a large outdoor area — a rare commodity in a Kingsland bar — and, oddly, seems to have made health and wellness central to its brand (a hangover from Monday’s, maybe?). Its does a weekly beer-and-yoga night, and the menu leans into health food while also offering a broad selection of beers. There are options for each wine varietal (though not a paralysing amount) and a cocktail list that leans into the sweeter side of life.
Satya Chai Lounge
515a Sandringham Rd, Sandringham
Frequently a top performer in this list, Satya Chai Lounge is consistently great, with an immense selection of beers. Happily, it’s also the ideal place to take friends for the first time; they’re always pleasantly startled to venture down the beer-can-decorated alleyway out of place between buildings within the sea of Paradises. While founder Samrudh Akuthota is rarely found at the Sandringham location, his replacement, Kamesh Kunala, ably fills in for his absence with his always-attentive service.
354a Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
Sly is an apt name for a bar hidden away in a street flooded with places to drink and eat. Beyond the photo wall of frames, you’ll find an eclectic room in bejewelled tones, with cosy rugs and discreet lighting casting a moody, speakeasy atmosphere over the lucky people who have stumbled across its secret. Come here for the cocktails, slung expertly by some of the friendliest people on the strip.
23b Westhaven Drive, Westhaven
We dare you not to be charmed by Swashbucklers, which is dressed up in someone’s proud collection of old licence plates, various flags, and framed portraits of maritime scenes (there are a lot of lighthouses). The Swashie’s bar (or the “Boatshed Bar”, to give it its formal name) has nothing special in the way of drinks, but knowing exactly what you’re going to get is a comforting proposition, especially these days.
5 Clarence St, Devonport
It’s obvious that Tiny Triumphs is a beloved bar for Devonport locals, pumping as it is on weekday nights. There’s a collection of tables and stools on the deck out front that get shuffled around as groups big and small descend on the place, lounge couches inside, and a rough-around-the-edges community vibe that’s immensely charming. Apart from the ambience, the craft beer selection is a drawcard.
Urbanaut Brewing Co Cellar Door
597 New North Rd, Morningside
Sure, Urbanaut has a tasting licence only, but that makes for the perfect excuse to veer from your usual and sip on something a little different. Make up a beer flight from the array of beers on tap (usually about 10-plus at a time), then settle into a cosy couch to enjoy it all. Once you’ve decided on a favourite, grab some cans to savour on your own couch at home.
8 Victoria Rd, Devonport
Vondel has everything we like in a bar — great wines, a able service, and yummy snacks — but it also has one advantage over all the rest: Curtis, the resident dog. Curtis (“he grew up here”) can often be seen curled up on the sundappled couch by the door, looking so peaceful that you give up any notion of settling into that prime spot so as not to disturb him. That’s okay, because there are plenty of other seats in which to enjoy one of Vondel’s glass pours (including, yes, a good selection of natural wines) and its vaguely Korean-inspired menu.
10 Vulcan Lane, central city
If you love craft beer, you’ll love it here. But even if you don’t, there are lots of reasons to stay another round once you’ve settled into the weathered red banquettes. The owners of this free house encourage you to try something new from the 22 rotating taps, or the cornucopia of cans and bottles stacked in the fridges. There’s sports on the TV; shabby couches and arcade games downstairs; and a menu of beer-friendly bites such as buffalo wings and brisket toasties.
Wild On Waiheke
82 Onetangi Rd, Waiheke
Immensely popular with the locals, Wild on Waiheke houses Waiheke Island Brewery, the island’s “original brewery”. The spacious interior space itself was recently remodelled by Paul Izzard, smartly done up in wood and leather. There are great outdoor areas for visitors, too, with oversized chess and a playground for the youngsters, as well as archery and clay-bird shooting for parents. Drinks-wise, we’d stick with one of the beers brewed on site.
St Kevins Arcade, 183 Karangahape Rd, K’ Rd Precinct
If you’re ever experiencing the feeling of being slightly too clean, the Wine Cellar is the place for you. Dark, dingy, sometimes surly and always with a feeling of grubbiness, it is by far the finest example of a dive bar (or “low key” as Google describes it) in the central isthmus and scratches the itch that only a place buried this far from the grace of God’s love can reach.
Captain’s Bar Park Hyatt, 99 Halsey St
Caretaker 38 Roukai Lane, Britomart
Coley & Punch Shed 22, Princes Wharf
Ghost Donkey Commercial Bay, Level 2/1 Queen St
House Bar, Hotel DeBrett 3b O’Connell St
Huami 87 Federal St
The Jefferson 7 Fort Lane
La Fuente Snickel Lane, 23 Customs St East
Little Culprit Cnr of Queen & Wyndham Sts
Masu 90 Federal St
Mezze Bar 9 Durham St East
Mo’s 5 Federal St
Swashbucklers 23b Westhaven Drive
Vulture’s Lane 10 Vulcan Lane
Tiny Triumphs 5 Clarence St
Vondel 8 Victoria Rd
Galbraith’s 2 Mt Eden Rd
Freida Margolis 440 Richmond Rd
The Elbow Room 198 Jervois Rd
Acho’s K’ Rd Food Workshop, 309 Karangahape Rd
Apéro 280 Karangahape Rd
Bar Céleste 146b Karangahape Rd
Clay 366 Karangahape Rd
Coco’s Cantina 376 Karangahape Rd
East St Hall 5 East St
GG X Flamingo 269 Karangahape Rd
Ken Yakitori Bar 89 Karangahape Rd
Madame George 490 Karangahape Rd
Peach Pit 352 Karangahape Rd
Sly 354a Karangahape Rd
Wine Cellar St Kevins Arcade, 183 Karangahape Rd
Japanese Lantern St Bar 484 New North Rd
Rosanna’s Garden Bar & Eatery 503b New North Rd
605 605 New North Rd
Urbanaut Brewing Co Cellar Door 597 New North Rd
Bar Martin 43 Martin Ave
Cazador 854 Dominion Rd
Churly’s 1a Charles St
The Beer Spot 54 Northcote Rd
Boxer 235 Parnell Rd
Annabel’s 277 Ponsonby Rd
Beau Wine Bar 265 Ponsonby Rd
Clipper 3/175 Ponsonby Rd
Conch Kitchen & Bar 115a Ponsonby Rd
Deadshot 45 Ponsonby Rd
Hotel Ponsonby 1 St Marys Rd
Hallertau 1171 Coatesville-Riverhead Highway
Satya Chai Lounge 515a Sandringham Rd
Alibi Brewers Lounge 70/72 Onetangi Rd
Wild on Waiheke 82 Onetangi Rd
*Editor’s note: Boxer is co-owned by Hillary Eaton, a Metro restaurant critic, and La Fuente is co-owned by Edmundo Farrera, who is on Metro’s Top 50 Wines judging panel in this issue. Neither had any influence on the judging of our Top 50 Bars but, due to their involvement elsewhere in the magazine, neither bar was considered for the Top 10 or any category award.