Living-room style a winner for best bar

03:04, Sep 27 2012
sprig and fern
BEST BAR NONE: Sprig & Fern Tavern Milton Street Duty Managers Andrew Lee, left, Rachael Bastion-Holmes and Andrea Dixon with owners Tracy and Ken Banner.

Sprig & Fern owners Tracy and Ken Banner were this morning "pinching themselves" after their Milton Street bar was last night named the best in the country at an awards ceremony in Wellington.

It was among three Nelson hospitality businesses to have been lauded for their success in making headway in tough economic times.

The Little Rock Bar and Nightclub won the excellence in host responsibility award, the Sprig and Fern Milton St won the best bar category and the Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco won the award for excellence in marketing at the Hospitality New Zealand Awards for Excellence announced in Wellington last night.

Mrs Banner, who is the Sprig & Fern's head brewer, said the award was "huge" for them.

"This is really significant for us to have achieved this - the best pub in the country.

"We went to the awards last night as the only finalist from the South Island, knowing that we'd done well to make the national final and didn't really give it much more thought.

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"Then we got there and thought, ‘we can do this'."

Mrs Banner said the announcement they had won best bar was met with wide applause, which surprised her as she did not think the Sprig & Fern brand was widely known north of Wellington. Lately they had noticed people from Auckland and from the south of the South Island had visited the Milton St pub because they had heard about it.

Mrs Banner puts part of its success down to the synergy with the Milton Street Takeaway next door. She said people liked the option of having affordable food with their drinks.

Mr Banner said the bar encouraged people to order their fish and chips, burgers or pizzas and have them delivered on a platter.

Mrs Banner believed the "living room" atmosphere of the Sprig & Fern had also proved popular.

"We've not got the TV, the pool table or the pokie machines. What we've done is brought back the art of conversation among people, and that's been really important.

"Milton St is very much a ‘locals' bar', but as I said in my speech last night, we may have these assets now but our biggest asset is our staff," Mrs Banner said.

Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Bruce Robertson said judges noted that Nelson's winning entries were reviving "old school" hospitality practices such as marketing strategies around strong local customer networks, fostering staff loyalty and offering an ambience that recognised New Zealand's heritage.

"The judges noted that a repeated theme in many of this year's winning entries, particularly those from Nelson, was a determination for their businesses not to be stymied by a slower economy, and daring to be different in what some customers see as a ‘vanilla' or homogenous marketplace," Mr Robertson said.

He said the trio of accolades collected by Nelson businesses was a positive sign that, despite the continued tough trading environment, some were prospering and taking advantage of the discerning consumer dollar to build their customer bases.

Nelson could be "particularly proud" of what its hospitality businesses achieved against stiff competition from big cities, Mr Robertson said.

Entries from around the country were judged over six weeks by a panel of independent industry professionals.

The Nelson Mail