It’s a long time since I was last ejected from a bar.
On reflection, I can’t recall it happening before, but surely I misspent sufficient youth that it must have happened, at least once.
Thursday evening, I definitely got turfed out of Havana Bar. I’d like to be able to tell you it was because my friend, Thor, picked a fight with the barman. But in reality I was out with Thor’s mum and mums of other children in my daughter’s class. And the cause of our expulsion was that the roof had blown off Havana’s dining room, the restaurant guests were being reseated in the bar and we were out of luck.
Left: Havana in better weather; Right: in the dining room with the offending section of roof (see skylight)
We understood, sympathised even, and, after sitting against the wall of the former worker’s cottage and feeling the force of each gust lift the whole structure up a couple of inches, or so it felt, were perhaps even relieved.
The weather hadn’t seemed that bad when we left home. Dark? Yes, Friday was the winter solstice in these parts. Windy? Yes, but it’s Wellington. There’s a reason we have so many wind sculptures. Wet? Also true, but none of us is made of sugar, and besides, it had taken a good number of emails to get this evening off the ground. We weren’t about to give up because of a bit of damp.
I had not factored in how sheltered our house is.
We drove into the city around the bays. The rain, like the Zephyrometer, was horizontal, one of my companions gaily explained how her husband had to stop and move a trampoline off the road to get home. At traffic lights, the wind played with the car, like a kid blowing at a dead moth on a windowsill.
The Zephryometer: a bright orange wind vane.
Back out on the street, the wind was doing that thing where it kind of sucks the air right out of your mouth. Fresh refuge was a mercifully short walk away. The Southern Cross looked warm and inviting. And it was.
Older Wellingtonians will recall the days when the Cross was a booze barn par excellence. It was popular with students for the reasons that it was cheap and “relaxed” about age restrictions. It was the kind of bar where the carpet was squishy and you kept a close eye on the barman to make sure he didn’t short serve your drink. It’s seen some variations since then, none terribly prepossessing.
Never my favourite spot, I haven’t been in there in over 10 years, so the place that greeted me on Thursday came as nothing but a pleasant surprise. It was clean, warm, spacious yet still cosy. The fire was going, and in the lounge area guests curled up with mulled wine and hot water bottles. Despite the weather and the size of the bar, it was quite full. The staff immediately found our group a corner in the dining area where we could all sit together.
An inveterate grazer, I was glad to see a range of small plates on the menu. But after last week’s steak debacle, I still had a craving to fill.
The small plates delivered to our table were attractively presented. The larger meals were nothing fancy to look at. But my steak was indeed rare (they asked twice to check) and the cafe de Paris butter well flavoured and obliged by melting steadily over the course of the meal. No lump of meat sitting in a pool of melted butter as is sadly sometimes served. The salad was generous, fresh and, in blinding contrast to last week’s vinegar bathed travesty, subtly dressed.
The service was relaxed, friendly yet very attentive all without being overbearing, or overfamiliar.
If the place came as a surprise, there was more to come when I checked out the website later on. For me, this is a new high in family friendly. On weekends between 10am and 2pm you can go for brunch and have your kids entertained by craft tables, toys and face painting. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they set aside a space for parents and children to relax in the morning, with someone to keep an eye on the kids, and, if you’re still there later in the day, you can even score a free chair massage. For crafty types there’s a knitting circle on Monday nights.
Why didn’t someone tell me about this earlier? How could I not have known?
By the time we finished our meals and talked some more, the airport was closed, ferry sailings cancelled, trees were blowing over and we heard that 25,000 homes were without power. Seemed like time to go home.
It was the worst storm my city has seen in my lifetime. Roads along Wellington’s southern coast were damaged by 15 meter swells. 200kmh winds were recorded on Mount Kaukau. The Kaitaki, a 1600 passenger ferry, broke its moorings with 50 staff on board and was eventually brought to anchor in the harbour.
Damage to Coastal Road
But you can’t keep a good thing down. By the next day the folks at Havana, like the rest of the city, were unphased, up and running again. It would be a shame for something as trivial as a roof to get in the way of such a good place to while away an evening. I’m just going to have to find another reason to get there soon.