Cosy on down in New Zealand’s adventure capital
Queenstown’s varied bar scene comes alive in winter months
THEnotion of writing about Queenstown after dark is no cheap shot. While NewZealand towns generally don’t have a reputation as nightlife hubs, the South Island’s adventure capital is a vibrant exception. Comethe annual snow season and its bars, clubs and eateries are jumping. Because there’s no accommodation on the slopes, skiers descend on this most convivial of base camps at the end of each day to warmup and hunker down.
Myvisit is just before the start of this year’s season and at the historic Eichardt’s Private Hotel, on Marine Parade by the shores of Lake Wakatipu, staff are preparing the side terrace. Chairs are draped with woollen throws, the heaters are ready to roar and the bartenders are putting final touches to a midwinter drinks list featuring concoctions that almost sound nutritious — say, a figure of eight (fig-infused Bacardi and eight-year-old rum stirred with orange bitters, Grand Marniersoaked raisins and orange zest) and apple pie martini (apple smashed with cinnamon and shaken with vodka, pommeverte liqueur, apple juice and housemade apple pie bitters).
The hotel’s fire-warmed Front Bar is arguably the best place in town to snuggle down and its winter tapas menuhas just been introduced, which includes the likes of seared paprika-marinated beef skewers; salt and pepperfried squid with green herb and garlic aioli; and bacon and duck liver pate with cornichons and crostini. These snack items, available from 4pmto 10pm, are representative of the Queenstown winter bar scene, where it’s not so much a pub crawl as a progressive party each night.
Nearby, at chef Chris Bindon’s excellent restaurant, Botswana Butchery, the cushy velvet dining chairs are perfect for resting skisore bones and upstairs are private rooms where, (incredibly) for no extra charge, diners can dine a deux or as a party in lodgestyle nooks with fireplaces; this second-floor domain also houses an elegant bar with chocolatecoloured sofas. Botswana Butchery, which is housed in a heritage cottage with a Tardislike extension, has a streetfront side terrace with a brick fireplace that is buzzy in winter — lake views, orders until 11pm, open seven nights.
Andif you are off the slopes and back in Queenstown around the middle of the day, Botswana Butchery’s $NZ15 ($11.50) express lunch menuis amazing value.
Ayoung crowd descends on the Minus 5 Bar at the lakeside Steamer Wharf where everything, even the glasses, is made from ice (jackets and gloves provided). It’s frankly aimed at tourists but the vodka-based cocktails are guaranteed to stave off chills and it’s fun to smash your ‘‘glass’’ as you leave.
The Bunker is in CowLane in the centre of this compact town and the signage is so discreet it feels like visiting a speakeasy. Either dine here or just drop by and pull up a leather armchair for a tipple by the warming log fire. There’s an upstairs cocktail bar and a star-gazing terrace with fireplace and casual seating; a glass of neighbourhood pinot noir is a splendid choice and there are 11 martinis on the cocktail list, with flavours as funky as orange and vanilla or lychee and cucumber.
For a true winter warmer, there’s even a Toblerone dessert cocktail made from Baileys, Frangelico, Creme de Cacao, cream, honey and choc swirls. Andif you want to make a night of it, the bar menuat The Bunker includes that old alpine special, cheese fondue. You could easily stay put until the wee hours; some bar snacks are served until a cheeky 4am.
Also on the Queenstown bar tab should be Bardeaux (serious whisky list and wines by the glass) and the sumptuous Barmuda with its courtyard fireplace; both are in the Searle Lane precinct.
Venture 20 minutes by road northeast of Queenstown to Arrowtown, the former gold-rush village that still trades on its 1860s mining heritage, and things may seem deadly quiet when the tourist coaches have gone for the day. But turn off Buckingham Street into the slender alley by Saffron Restaurant, and on the left is The Blue Door, a bohemian little bar also run by Saffron’s Australian owners.
It’s a small converted schiststone cellar beneath one of Arrowtown’s oldest buildings; there are low ceilings, a hearty fire, armchairs and plenty of wines of the parish available by the glass, as well as generously poured spirits. Pinot noir is, of course, the drop of choice in Central Otago, the southernmost grape-growing region in the world. This variety makes up about 85 per cent of plantings and is the perfect cold-weather wine.
You couldn’t do better than order an Amisfield pinot noir at The Blue Door, or to drop by this winery overlooking Lake Hayes between Queenstown and Arrowtown. Lunches at Amisfield, taken in a highceilinged room with two-way fireplace, are very popular but dinners are served early due to licensing constraints in this semirural setting (bookings taken for 5.30pm or 6pm), so there’s no drinking on into the night.
Which is as well for earlybird skiers, but I would recommend ducking down the road to Dorothy Brown’s art-house cinema in Arrowtown (just along the alleyway and upstairs from The Blue Door) and settling into a lounge chair with a tipple from its little bar. Alicensed cinema with pink silk-clad walls showing slightly edgy movies? Never let it be said NZis dull.
The Front Bar at Eichardt’s Private Hotel in Queenstown