Pub patrons and staff battled to save Waitomo's well-known Curly's Bar as it was engulfed in fire yesterday afternoon.
The blaze started in the kitchen about 5pm, though last night it was still not clear what sparked the fire.
A firefighter at the scene said it looked as though it started in a vat but as the manager attempted to put it out with an extinguisher and fire blanket, flames shot up a tube and engulfed the building.
Bar co-owner Christen Dimond was digging post-holes at home when he noticed two missed calls on his phone.
"I thought someone really wants to get hold of me . . . then I looked up and thought: f... there's a fire and it's not at the hotel."
He arrived to find a "raging inferno".
The bar was relatively empty at the time but those there did what they could to douse the blaze with the equipment at hand.
"Curly has been a firefighter for 30 years, so he knew what to do and the other locals in there all tried their hardest," Mr Dimond said.
But the fire was too powerful to contain, engulfing the 40-odd-year-old pub.
"It's all timber ceilings and that. So it's just like a bonfire."
However, everyone got out of the pub safely, although the cat is still missing.
Mr Dimond said the fire service arrived quickly but it was too late by then and the pub was destroyed.
"You go through winter and it's bloody hard - summer is when you make your money. I don't even know where to start with something like this."
- Waikato Times