Capital place for beer - shame about noise
I've decided I don't like getting older. Although the adage suggests that with age comes wisdom, I'm becoming increasingly aware of the downsides, that my senses are gradually failing me.
First it was my eyesight. After being lasered for short-sightedness in the early 1990s I enjoyed two decades of near-perfect vision, but a couple of years ago a sight test revealed I needed spectacles for driving. These days I also wear them when I'm playing tennis. What a drag.
And now my hearing's packing up, too. For some time my wife has complained I crank up the volume far too much when watching television. A hearing test confirmed that numerous rock concerts and 20 years of film and videotape editing have taken their toll. At the tender-ish age of 58, I now need hearing aids.
So, for the last few weeks I've been road-testing a couple of different models and on Friday I began trialling the latest pair.
I was in Wellington for the weekend with a group of friends from Blenheim to celebrate Mike Pink's 75th birthday. Mike, who is the landlord of The Old Bank Tavern in Blenheim, shares my love of a decent pint, so our itinerary had been carefully organised to include visits to several of Wellington's finest craft beer hostelries.
The weekend proved to be the perfect testing ground for my new hearing aids and gave me a new perspective on busy city bars.
On Friday afternoon we gathered at Little Beer Quarter (6 Edward St, Te Aro), a delightful central city craft beer bar that's tucked away in a precinct just off Manners St. When we arrived at LBQ about 4.30pm it was already filling with folk, and within half an hour the place was heaving.
The music when we first arrived had provided a comfortable background to conversation but it was soon relegated to a dull rhythmic thud above the hubbub. As is often the case in a busy bar, conversing with anyone other than those sitting next to you soon became impossible.
We had planned to visit a couple more bars but figured most places would be equally busy and, having bagged enough seats for everyone, were reluctant to leave. Besides, with several flavoursome brews below 5 per cent - including Emerson's Bookbinder (3.7 per cent), Brewaucracy Clock Watcher (4.1 per cent) and Townshend Number 9 Stout (4 per cent), the latter cask conditioned and served by handpump - and hearty food, LBQ ticked all the boxes for an extended evening's enjoyment.
If only the place could have been less noisy. After four hours with my new aids working overtime, my ears were ringing.
By 8.30pm we decided to move to another of my favourite Wellington haunts. Goldings Free Dive (14 Leeds St, Te Aro) is midway between Dixon St and Ghuznee St, at the base of what used to be the Hannah's shoe factory buildings.
This quirkily decorated dive bar - look out for rubber ducks, Star Wars memorabilia as well as skis and upturned coloured buckets (acting as lamp shades) above the bar - has quickly become a favourite with Wellington's beer cognoscenti. And me. It is often very busy and noisy and although we were lucky to arrive while there was still space, we still had to stand at the bar.
Goldings offers an ever-rotating selection of craft beers, the range at the time featuring several beers from the city's cult brewer, Garage Project, and Cassel's Milk Stout on handpump.
Aside from beer the bar was also doing a roaring trade in wood-fired pizzas. These are listed on a blackboard, ordered at the bar and then sent over from Pizza Pomodoro, which is just across the road.
Sadly, by the time the last of our group had found their way to Golding's it was packed and they were refused entry. At that point we all decided to call it a night, which was probably just as well as the noise level was really getting to me.
The following morning we took the cable car up from Lambton Quay and walked to Kelburn for a long lunch at the Kelburn Village Pub (87 Upland Rd). This comfortable, welcoming local has a fine beer and wine list and an appetising menu. Tuatara IPA and APA were both on fine form, but for me the icing on the cake was the opportunity to sample Panhead Fresh Hop Vandal on tap.
The Upper Hutt brewery's wet-hopped double IPA reeked of passionfruit and diesel, the trademark aromas of Kiwi-grown Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka hops, but in the mouth the beer's oily hop resins and punchy bitterness were perfectly tempered by a firm caramelised malt sweetness. Great stuff.
By the time we'd walked back to the cable car we all wished everywhere had a local like the Kelburn Village Pub.
In a former life Mike Pink used to run a bar in L'Estartit on the Spanish Costa Brava and he often goes on about how much he loves paella, so we'd decided to mark his special birthday by taking him out for dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant which specialises in the dish.
Despite an unassuming narrow road frontage alongside a backpackers, Osteria del Toro (60 Tory St, Te Aro) opens out into a cavernous restaurant, and by the time we arrived (at 6.30pm) the place was already almost full.
Over the years I've come to expect a mundane beer list at the majority of restaurants, but alongside the inevitable battery of international lagers, the list included the classic Italian bock Moretti La Rossa (ideal to accompany one of the restaurant's fine pizzas), as well as fine local brews such as Emerson's Porter, Tuatara Pilsner and 8 Wired Hopwired.
I was further heartened when our waiter informed us that they also offered a beer of the month, in this case Panhead Supercharger APA, but less so when we she told us they had sold out.
Nevertheless, everyone seemed to enjoy the meal and we travelled back to Blenheim on Sunday, vowing to return to Wellington soon.
However, I've learned from the experience. Next time I'm visiting the capital's busy bars I'll be sure to carry the case for my hearing aids, so I can take them off. Oh, the joys of getting old.