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Review: Is Schapiro's the decent sports bar Auckland needs?

Guys being dudes.

Review: Is Schapiro's the decent sports bar Auckland needs?

Feb 7, 2023 Bars

We don’t like to admit it, but Aucklanders don’t really like sports. TV ratings are bad, no one not on their way to a game wears local team merchandise and, apart from the two or three All Blacks matches a year, live games are poorly attended (plus those games tend to be filled with an anxious silence — the crowd more fearful of a loss than hopeful of the win). This has not been helped by the current fallow period being experienced by the Blues, Warriors and Breakers — three Auckland teams which, for some reason, don’t have ‘Auckland’ in their names. That might explain why we’ve not developed a particularly strong bond with any of them.

All these things go some way towards explaining why we have never had a good sports bar. Previous attempts have always been stymied by that bad sports bar atmosphere of pokie machines, poor decor, lousy food, terrible clientele and annoying locations, so it was with high hopes that we visited Schapiro’s — the new venture of Otis Gardner Schapiro, head chef of Metro Top 50 restaurant Lilian .

Situated at the top of Symonds St in the old-banky-looking building that until recently held the fun but short-lived arcade/bar Save Ferris, Schapiro’s has had a comprehensive work-over, with large screens and booths built into richly coloured wooden joinery that fill the space. A large and similarly expensive-looking bar takes up the whole south wall. Beneath the screens and above the booths, windowed cabinets house an impressive collection of local and international memorabilia — signed balls, bats and photos — while the walls are loaded with more photos and framed autographed jerseys.

The sheer amount of wooden furnishing and the lush cosyness it creates successfully warms up what has previously been a cavernous, cold-feeling room. It seems like it may be modelled on one of the better types of US sports bars (Americans tend to do this sort of thing very well), but the local collectibles and photos stop it from sliding all the way into annoying Americana.

The booths and TVs feel like they may be perched a little too high — it’s easy to imagine the slight neck-craning elevation needed when the place is packed full during a big fight or test. The ordering system, as is the new way of things, is phone-based and launched from a QR code on the corner of each table. But, unlike some recent experiences, the process here is smooth and intuitive and, with the menu being fairly short, you don’t have to spend a lot of time scrolling through endless options to find something you want. The downside to this is the same as it is everywhere else — a lot of the hospitality is stripped from the experience, and the personality of the staff is largely absent; you briefly see them as they drop off your order but that’s as far as the interaction goes. That said, I suppose in this era of masks, it may be a sensible solution to a bad set of circumstances.

The compact menu offers good, sometimes decently elevated, executions of traditional sports bar fare: eight burgers and sandwiches, four sides, five sharing plates and two ice creams. We tried the cheeseburger — a fantastically salty smashie — and the pork roll — slightly spicy and very juicy (I had looked closely at several Instagram pictures that had me worried the bun might be a little dry, but it wasn’t, and I have resolved to spend my time more wisely). The French fries were the highlight of both of our visits — a good potion perfectly fried, served with a tasty aioli and seasoned with a tangy salt.

The chicken wings are larger than you usually find at other places but come in a serving of three — our first visit was with a party of four and some tension occurred while trying to divvy them up evenly between us. We tried the lemon pepper and spicy versions, both of which were done well, but the spicy version could afford to be a few degrees hotter, especially in the absence of a Buffalo option. We also tried the ribs on our first visit, which were not good — not the messy, wonderful orgy of deeply marinated madness you hope for, and weirdly citrus-sweet. They have since been removed from the menu.

The Bavette Steak was tasty and excellently cooked, but, split between five, I wanted more — something I couldn’t achieve without a fairly egregious breach of decorum. The raspberry crumble and chocolate hazelnut and miso coffee caramel sundaes were both fantastic: attractively assembled in generous but sensible portions, and a great palate cleanser for the end of the night.

All that being said, most people will not be coming for the food. This is a place for men to talk the talk that men talk — a sports bar, even a well-executed one, is a temple of weird masculinity and Schapiro’s is no exception. On both of our visits, the booths were filled with similar groups of similar-looking men wearing similar caps and shirts and facial hair, watching TV, drinking beer and eating salty food. Despite its nods to a more contemporary dining experience — clams with confit tomatoes, $130 bottles of Californian natural wine — it is a very boysy crowd and, if that is not your thing, this is probably not your place. But if it is your thing, you finally have a non-embarrassing place to go and scratch that itch.

Contact 022 554 4762
Dinner Bill
BURGERS $16–$22, SIDES $8–$10, DESSERTS $6–$10
This feature was published in Metro 435
Available here in pdf format.


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