Treasures lost as fire guts iconic bar
Curly McErlich fights back tears as he reflects on the better times . . . times when his bar, perched on a small hill overlooking Waitomo Caves village, was alive with the clanging of beer jugs and the hearty hum of revelry.
Yesterday, Curly's Bar was empty, hollowed out by a fire that ripped through the building on Wednesday evening.
Mr McErlich was taking stock when the fire alarm sounded about 5pm.
"I came out to find the kitchen engulfed in flames."
A volunteer firefighter of 30 years, he tried to put out the flames with a fire blanket, extinguishers and hose, but was overcome by the intensity of the blaze.
"The boys came and dragged me out and told me I was a silly old bugger for trying to do what I was doing, but it didn't matter. I couldn't do any more.
"I just had to get out, that was it, and just sit and watch it."
Mr McErlich and co-owner Christen "Crusty" Dimond have been running the bar for the past five years, and are committed to re-building the "world-renowned" watering hole.
"It's fully insured so we'll be up and running as soon as we can. It will be an ambition of mine to get it going again. We'll arise again, Curly's bar will go again. Most definitely."
With the regular influx of tourists into the village, the bar had developed an international reputation, Mr McErlich said, but the people of Waitomo will miss it most.
"To the community it's enormous. Curly's Bar was the centre of the community. We ran the country from here, we really did."
Patrons stopped to pay their respects yesterday.
"Where am I going to drink now?" one asked.
"It's a real tragedy," another said.
A funeral of sorts - dubbed "Curly's wake" - was held last night in the car park out front.
Regular customers, residents and visitors were asked to bring "a chair and a beer" and memories to share. "The times that we've had - great times," Mr McErlich said. "It's just so sad."
A signed All Black jersey donated by Dan Carter, a signed Welsh rugby world cup jersey and ball and other rugby memorabilia were destroyed by the fire.
"It just beat us," Mr McErlich said of the fire.
"It's all gone now. That's the hard thing for me, anyway."
Members of the community have vowed to set up a makeshift bar to cater for thirsty locals and visitors until Curly's is rebuilt.