A Riccarton speakeasy

02:58, Mar 30 2012
"Student-flat chic" wasn't impressing our reviewer.

Sara Bunny wishes the red carpet treatment extended beyond this bar's front door.


Riccarton speakeasy

Tucked away off the main drag of Riccarton Rd, the Volstead Trading Company rolls out the red carpet for its guests - literally. The entrance might beckon punters with its plush scarlet welcome mat, but, in the true spirit of the Depression era from which it takes its inspiration, this joint ain't nothing fancy.   
With its mish mash of shabby retro furniture, dark paintings, theatrical red drapes and fringed lampshades, the bar is decked out to resemble a dingy prohibition-era speakeasy.
The bar's website tells the tale of po-faced Andrew Volstead, a driving force behind prohibition legislation in the United States. Commonly called the Volstead Act, the law banned the production and sale of "intoxicating liquors", and heralded the birth of secret underground booze barns throughout the US in the 1920s.
Thumbing our noses at Volstead and his cronies, we pulled up matching green armchairs and studied the drinks lists. This establishment stocks a good range of craft beers, including tasty drops from Emerson's, Three Boys, Epic and Stoke, and has the Moa range on tap.
The cocktail list is a roll call of classic old-school mixes, such as the martini, Manhattan, Long Island ice tea and negroni, and moonshine is also on offer. Prices range from about $10 to $15 a glass.
While there is plenty to keep the beer and cocktail fans happy, wine drinkers are not spoilt for choice. There are about five white and five red options, with all main varietals covered, for about $10 a glass.
With drinks in hand, (an Emerson's Pilsner for me and a Brookfields syrah for my amigo), we asked about snacks, and the serious young guy behind the bar gestured towards the blackboard beside him. The menu boasts burgers, pies, sausages, sushi and nachos. We were told the nachos were meat-free but, with so few options, vegetarians should probably just eat before leaving home.
My amigo chose the burger and before long a couple of lads were cooking it in front of us on the barbecue in the car park. The insipid-looking result contained limp coleslaw, cheese and a beef patty, which my amigo said was cold in the middle. He grumbled under his breath, but made short work of it, anyway.
With its smart Chrysler Building motif and King Kong wall mural, this bar has some well thought-out aspects. However, the "student flat chic" furniture looks tired and haphazard, rather than carefully considered vintage cool, and collectively, the concept doesn't quite hit the mark.

Although the garage-style building has echoes of a makeshift speakeasy, Volstead's open-plan design means cigarette smoke permeates the entire inside area, as does the smell from the barbecue. As the aromas intensified and some of the young punters nearby started to get to the high-pitched squeal stage of their evening, we decided to head for the exit.
In all honesty, Volstead wasn't my cup of tea, but there were plenty of other punters who seemed to be enjoying themselves. The place is all about good beer and casual catch-ups, but those well past their student days might just prefer a wee bit more of the red-carpet treatment.
Where: 55 Riccarton Rd.
Prices: On the expensive side.
Ambience: Hipster kids' garage party.
Service: Pleasant enough, if a little indifferent.
Amenities: Very basic.