A warm country welcome was not on the menu at the Tai Tapu Hotel.
Sour grapes by Kate Preece
Having detoured off State Highway 75 at the Tai Tapu shops, we stumbled upon the local establishment that's been pouring pints since 1856. The full car park, which included a bright orange bus, was a sign of interesting things to come at the Tai Tapu Hotel.
Once inside, the staff were quick to point out that a private function had commandeered the restaurant and meals were off. If dinner was wanted, it was important to call ahead, they said. It wasn't a big deal - we had already eaten - but I had intended testing the bar snacks until the drinks order became an ordeal.
I'm not sure what it was about our party of four. Perhaps I asked too many questions? Although "can I have a tab?" hardly seemed unreasonable and inquiries about what beer was stocked seemed fair.
"We just can't do meals; we're a full bar," she said, as if answers to customer questions were also off the menu that night.
Things went from bad to worse when my friend was mistakenly served two drinks. "I don't think I would order two bottles," my friend said, shocked, as she stared at the two small bottles of Lindauer opened and waiting. "You did. You ordered two," said barwoman No 1 hotly, with the backing of her co-worker. Whatever happened to the customer always being right?
I paid for the round ($27.50 for a beer and three wines), abandoned my inconvenient tab request, and scurried to find a table out of the firing line. I was tempted to leave then and there.
The hotel has three different areas: the restaurant, with its own bar and luxurious-looking leather seats; an outdoor courtyard area perfect for summer; and the bar, which had all the trimmings of a country pub, from the deer antlers on the walls to a pool table and TAB corner.
One friend decided we should throw caution to the wind and create our own party atmosphere; she unleashed the jukebox. It was a brave move, one destined to ruffle the feathers of locals after a quiet beer and a bet, but as the music erupted from the glitzy contraption, a switch flicked on our night.
The group that had arrived by orange bus came in from the courtyard. The Sumner Sharks rugby team were out for their annual weekend of "team bonding", accompanied by their own sheriff and Dave Dobbyn lookalike. Whether or not the stories were true - that the real Dave Dobbyn stopped mid-concert to point out his doppelganger - the yarns that followed gave us the strength to order another round.
We weren't expecting red-carpet treatment, but some basic courtesy wouldn't have gone amiss. The bar was not busy when we arrived and, despite the feeling we were being judged as "townies", we are all locals. Two of us had been there before, had enjoyed the other areas of the hotel, and had positive things to say about the owner. What a shame it only takes one sour grape to spoil the wine.
Where: 780 Old Tai Tapu Rd.
Prices: As they used to be. Glasses of wine from $6, bottles from $25.50.
Ambience: From quiet local watering hole to raucous pub.
Service: Surprisingly rude.