Smash Palace

Smash Palace is part of new Christchurch's colourful, quirky bar scene.
Smash Palace is part of new Christchurch's colourful, quirky bar scene.

What's is like behind the scaffolding on the corner of Bealey Ave and Victoria St?

Smashing place

Coloured lights strung between walls of scaffolding and plastic sheeting form a cheerful, though somewhat draughty, setting for after-work drinks at Smash Palace.

Johnny Moore's new "bar in a bus" is a temporary arrangement; a reaction to the loss of his Poplar Lanes bar Goodbye Blue Monday, which closed last year after the February earthquake.

Unfortunately, our visit coincides with one of the coldest nights of the year and the tables with patio heaters are all occupied. Our spot is bracingly cold: a couple of seats looking out on to Bealey Ave.

There is no doubt, though, the place has its own kind of style. Stepping up to order drinks - or food, from the bus bar's deliberately unpretentious Greasy Spoon menu - brings back distant memories of The White Lady burger van in Auckland. There's a whiff of retro roadside diner, the kind of place Wal Footrot would take Dahlene 'Cheeky' Hobson for a date.

If Wal had a motorbike, he could even take it along on Thursday nights; that's when Magpie Motors, another caravan on site, opens as a kind of informal hub for Christchurch's motorbike enthusiasts.

The bar, open from 4pm, offers a good basic selection of beer - by glass ($8 to $12), and by bottle ($12) - as well as wine (average cost is $8 a glass). On tap are craft beers such as Dead Good Beer, produced by a Nelson "virtual brewery" (which contracts a brewery to make its beer), Dark Side and Emerson's premium beers. My husband settles on a glass of Bodgie Beer Organic Pilsner ($8).

To stave off the cold, I order hot buttered rum ($8). This goes a long way towards restoring a sense of warmth and wellbeing.

There can't be too many bars where you frequently hear: "Can I have a hottie, please?" The bar has a stash of hot-water bottles at the ready in case the cold gets too much. Gas-fuelled fires in 40-gallon drums attract small huddles of people, rugged up in winter coats.

Outside, a classic big American Chevrolet pulls up and I remember that Smash Palace is more directly drawing its vibe from the 1981 film of that name, which starred Bruno Lawrence and was centred on a car-wrecking yard.

As the evening wears on, we sample the menu's retro delights: my husband orders Bangers & Mash ($20) while I select a Bodgie Burger ($17), complete with pickle, cheese, lettuce, tomato and beetroot, and served with chips and mayo.

Our place-holder is entirely fitting: a piston head. We are told the food will take 15 to 20 minutes and so it transpires. A selection of mustard, HP sauce, tomato sauce and salt arrives in an Epic Lager box.
What can one say? The meals are nothing fancy, but that's fair enough, because what's on offer is all part of the experience.

We end our evening with a couple of glasses of hot mulled wine ($8 a glass). There's time for one last warm-up by the fire before heading home.

Where: Corner of Bealey Ave and Victoria St.
Prices: Reasonable.
Ambience: Quirky, like a film set, and cold.
Service: Order at the bus. No frills, but friendly and efficient.