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(The) Strip Tease

There’s no doubting that the Christchurch earthquakes dealt the city’s nightlife a serious blow, with one of the biggest casualties the iconic hot spot affectionately known as ‘The Strip’, which was cruelly wiped from the city’s social scene. While many generations mourned the loss of the much-frequented row of establishments along Oxford Terrace, the clean slate that the prime (and now landscaped) riverside central city spot (complete with afternoon and early evening sun) offers has allowed for a literally bar-raising rebirth of a new hospitality precinct for the city.

Re-establishing another city icon from the (equally lamented) Sol Square, Oxford Management Services’ Darryll Park and Max Bremner have already re-gifted swinging jazz palace Fat Eddie’s to the new Strip, also adding swanky Deco-styled bar Kong and stylish restaurant Original Sin to round out a bodacious trifecta. Next door, local developer Antony Gough’s $140 million development The Terrace will be a collection of 17 premium restaurants and watering holes (along with office space). It’s tipped to deliver some next-level haunts and international cred besides, with a slick network of laneways, air-bridges, courtyards and roof terraces which will eventually connect with the neighbouring BNZ Centre.

Unsurprisingly, The Terrace has attracted the attention of some of the city’s (and country’s) leading hospo luminaries. Joining the line-up of killer establishments (many of which are still shrouded in secrecy) will be Stealth Hospitality’s Tony Astle, who’s opening “Christchurch’s craziest Mexican joint” Chiwahwah Mexican Cantina Bar, Dux Central and Dux Dine’s Richard Sinke with his interpretation of a stylish, contemporary tavern the Terrace Tavern, the rebirth of another city fave, Bangalore Polo Club, along with a hot new hush-hush venue from Louis Vieceli and the team at Vieceli Hospitality Ltd, and Auckland’s Cook Brothers’ Bars (locally of Bessie and Engineers fame), who are tipped to be bringing both gourmet burger and beer chain Velvet Burger and a local version of their stylish glasshouse-inspired The Glass Goose to the project.

With the first wave of venues expected to open in the following months, we caught up with some of those involved in the development for the inside word on their offerings and what the new-look Strip will mean for Christchurch and the city’s hospo scene.

Richard Sinke: Terrace Tavern

Richard Sinke

What was your attraction to The Terrace?
Having been a long time Christchurch hospitality guy, I had seen the evolution of ‘The Strip’. I was always quite impressed by what was happening there, and then it came to full fruition when they terraced it all and the full length of it became hospitality – it was a very dynamic area. I knew most of the operators down there so knew how well it went.

What will its opening mean for Christchurch?
I think it will be a huge feel-good factor in terms of the rebuild. It’s a whole city block, and it will stretch even longer when Richard Peebles gets his going. So the whole Terrace development will, I think, be huge for Christchurch. In Antony’s block alone there’s 17 places going in; you’ve got Fat Eddie's and then the next block over is going to be hospitality as well. Then you go over to the south side and you’ve got the farmers' market, so when you put the whole thing together, with all that beautiful new terracing and tiling, it’s going to be a very dynamic part of Christchurch. The way it links through to the retail precinct, down to the Convention Centre, across to the Arts Centre and [Botanic] gardens, I think it will become a very focal part of the axis of Christchurch.

How do you see that riverfront area in a few years?
It’s only going to get better really as the restaurants evolve. Christchurch, I feel, has lagged behind the international restaurant scene, and Auckland and Wellington, and this is our chance to catch up with food, service, décor and the right location.

How will this change the hospitality scene?
It will put pressure on everyone to lift their game. We all want to continue lifting our game! My whole philosophy is Kizen – it’s a Japanese concept of ‘continual improvement’ – you are always looking to improve. Perfection is a goal you can never achieve, but you are always looking to get there by taking small steps, not big steps. Ultimately that’s what it’s about – making the guest experience better.

The development has had a few hiccups along the way; what impact has that had on your business?
I’m only a latecomer, so it’s been fine for me; I’ve had a chance to have a good run at Dux Central without the increased competition.

Tell us about your venture at The Terrace.
It’s called Terrace Tavern and it’s a pretty spectacular fit-out we’re doing, sort of contemporary tavern with big open kitchen, very long bar – when you walk into it you get a feeling of space. There will be different zones for formal dining, and hanging out with a bunch of lads having beers – Dux Beers on tap as well. You’ll be able to dine at the kitchen and actually sit there with the chefs working with a big grill and a contemporary menu, offering a full spectrum of cuisine.

We’re really excited about it and think we have an amazing design; Lisa Sinke Designs is doing it – my wife – so it’s in very good hands! I’m very confident we’re going to have a cool, exciting new venue for Christchurch with the food and drinks to match. Good materials, good fabric, good fit out, good flooring/tiling, leather bankettes and lots of wood. Because it’s a new concrete build we’re looking for ways to soften that and make it feel like a comfortable and nice environment, with a lot of attention to acoustics. Given the space it will more than likely be DJ music.

Where will it be located?
Right in the middle of The Terrace, so pretty much if you’re going upstairs to the upstairs bars you’ll walk past us, which I think is a good location. It’s on the corner of Oxford Terrace and Oxford Lane, it’s got a curved frontage, and it’s a fabulous site.

Because it’s got a curve in the front and it goes right down the laneway we get different aspects to it – we’ve got that chunk of frontage then we roll around the edge and down the lane, so it’s going to be quite a beautiful area at night. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon in the summertime, the sun comes over and it’s fully in sun. We’re having the entrance on the lane so as not to take up the frontage.

When are you looking to open?
We’re aiming for the end of February, that’s our goal. Hopefully as many of us as possible will be opening around the same time to create that impetus of people and marketing opportunities.

Tell us about its ‘wow’ factors.
Yeah, a number of – so you’ll have to come and see!

What’s the secret to creating a den of cool?
I think it comes with having a certain amount of practicality, seeing what’s going on and understanding restaurant trends, bar trends, a love of good design and a desire to create great venues.

What does the future hold for the Christchurch hospitality scene?
I’m sure it’s going to hold a lot of excitement and tricky times ahead, and until the city really establishes itself properly it’s going to be hard for operators. It’s a pretty cool city – we just need to get things back on track.

Louis Vieceli: Bangalore Polo Club

Louis

What was your attraction to The Terrace?
We have had previous successful facilities on The Terrace site and have always regarded the area as prime hospitality space for our type of operations.

What will its opening mean to Christchurch?
I feel a fully functioning hospitality scene on The Terrace will help with public confidence that at last our city is returning to its former glory.
How do you see the riverfront area in a few years? It’s an important component to the city’s redevelopment; as close as we will get to having a city waterfront. People and business will be drawn to it, providing it is well-maintained.

How will this change the hospitality scene?
The opening of The Terrace precinct will hopefully help in getting the Christchurch public coming back into the city centre.

The development has had a few hiccups along the way; what impact has this had on your business?
Obviously we have incurred significant cost in staying loyal to the project; however we view Antony Gough as a good landlord and do feel that whilst at times we have been frustrated by the delays and increase in costs, Christchurch is lucky to have investors like him that have ridden the humps and are developing world-class facilities.

Tell us about your ventures at The Terrace.
We will be returning our Bangalore Polo Club concept, which resonated well with Cantabrians and tourists alike. We have also taken additional space and will be introducing Christchurch to a new venue that will provide a point of difference, utilising some innovative cooking equipment and techniques in a busy, modern bar environment.

Where will they be located?
We will occupy a large portion of the ground floor of what we know as ‘Building B’, which is adjacent to the Westpac building and overlooks the Avon, with a large terrace frontage along with extensive laneway seating.

When are you looking to open?
End of March/early April.

Tell us about their wow factors.
We think that is up to the public to decide! But I can certainly tell you we have worked hard on our designs in the hope that our venues will be well received and don’t disappoint.

What is the secret to creating a den of cool?
Not sure I know the answer to that, but we always strive to set and maintain really high hospitality standards, delivered by people who are passionate about what they do in an environment that is unique and well thought out.

What does the future hold for the Christchurch hospitality scene?
There is no doubt there are challenges ahead, and the future is dependent on central and local government working together and making the right choices on the anchor projects, especially the multi-event stadium. One of the key anchor projects which at last is underway is the Convention Centre. It is important to note that prior to the earthquake, Christchurch had 25% of the national convention business – punching well above its weight – and this was a key driver to the hospitality and employment sectors, so I do hope the same energy goes into completing and driving our new Convention Centre.

The other two key issues that have the potential to impact heavily on the hospitality sector are the council’s ability to implement a sensible alcohol policy and central government’s attitude to immigration,
as the industry is still very reliant on overseas workers.

Darryll Park, Fat Eddie's 

Fat Eddies

What was your attraction to The Terrace/riverfront area?
The memory of the pre-quake Strip, and being able to recreate and improve on all the positives that it stood for.

How did the original Fat Eddie’s inspire the new venue?
We wanted to ensure the quirkiness and charm of the old Fat Eddie’s translated to our new larger and purpose-built venue. So we transformed the back section of the new Fat Eddie’s into a vintage lounge, while keeping the exterior modern and spacious with an extensive balcony – truly ‘fit-for-purpose’ in best presenting a retro-fitted 1950s jazz and blues club.

Fat Eddie’s was a pre-quake icon; how has V. 2 been received?
It is bigger and ‘fatter’ than ever! And given that it is purpose-built with amazing vistas from the extensive balcony to the elevated interior, with views for all, we have exceeded all that was the original club.

What will The Terrace’s opening mean for Christchurch?
As a cluster of varied hospitality experiences never before experienced in the CBD, with our 3 venues of cocktail bar, restaurant bar and live music nightclub we deliver a ‘one stop shop’ – we cater for every taste and age. With this diversity along The Terrace, this section of the iconic Avon River is the place to be. This is something we are seeing now with our opening several months ahead of the remaining venues.

How do you see that riverfront area in a few years?
Possibly evolving if the council allows the extension of venue footprints towards the river and removes vehicle access completely. Extensive lighting from the river to the venues could help create a carnival-type experience.

How will this change the hospitality scene?
Greater competition will lift hospitality standards and ensure Christchurch is creating a world-standard experience.

The development has had a few hiccups along the way; what impact has that had on your business?
We didn’t experience any hiccups and were built in a relatively short time on our corner site, with fans of the original Fat Eddie’s endorsing that V. 2 has exceeded their expectations. At this initial stage of The Terrace, people are coming for what Fat Eddie’s represented, and are pleasantly surprised by what its sister venues, Original Sin and Kong, deliver on the ground floor. So the lateness of The Terrace being fully operational has not been a deterrent.

What’s the secret to creating a den of cool?
Building a ‘den’ that delivers high-quality sound, easy-to-access food and beverages, and a relaxing environment that is unique, is the secret to being cool. Coupling the unique style of our daily jazz, swing and soulmusicians – who are the best of the best – with a stunning location and old world décor unique to Fat Eddie's delivers on our ‘cool’ reputation.

What does the future hold for the Christchurch hospitality scene?
Hospitality is the foundation that a prosperous modern city is built on. As council and stakeholders strive to foster sustainable hospitality growth, we must be mindful of what international visitors expect as an experience and of the hours of trading as we attempt to improve our economy in the rebuild of the city we are all committed to. To do so correctly will deliver a prosperous Christchurch.

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