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Framing Auckland

Research for this piece originally started as a look at the most iconic windows, doorways and shopfronts from venues around Auckland. As I delved further, it quickly became apparent that these frames were much more two-way than I had originally considered. More than just a front for their own venues, what they offer is a look into a certain area or attribute of Auckland as a global city.


 

My Bar, Durham Street East



Weaving in and out of the swarms of couriers and shoppers scurrying along the narrow sidewalks of High Street, a cosy local might feel a world away. Swing down Durham Street East though, and you'll find the pace of the world slows a little as you come across My Bar. City workers and tourists alike take sanction inside the intimate, low-ceilinged space, whilst those seeking space for a larger group often spill out onto the benches across the laneway, tables often interacting with one-another in a very neighbourhood-bar-kinda-way.


Take a seat at the bar and it's easy to forget that you're in the shadow of the SkyTower and Pacifica building, aided by the fact that even imbibing alfresco, the buildings on either side of the laneway shield you from the skyline with their historic fronts.


My Bar is the perfect location at which to begin Framing Auckland, as it provides both a frame to pass through, and be transported out of the oft-overwhelming city, whilst also having a literal window into one of the areas of Auckland with the most foot traffic. Pull up at the window seat with a 4pm pint and watch the world go by as commuters and amblers pass obliviously, to and from one hurried activity to the next, whilst you enjoy an environment as relaxed and refined as any country pub.


Craft beer and custom cocktails are My Bar's bread and butter, with. an ever-evolving list of local brews and twists on classics.

 

Bird Cage, Freemans Bay


This grand Victorian pub is one of the most storied buildings in Auckland. Originally opened in 1865 as the Rob Roy Hotel - hello historically significant cocktail-named-bar - the current building, standing since 1885, quenched the thirst of sawmill workers and ship builders in what was then the very industrial Victoria Park. It may have changed hands several times throughout the 20th Century, but almost always kept serving traditional ales and pub meals to Freeman's Bay locals. Intriguingly, the building itself was actually upped and moved in 2010 whilst excavation took place for the viaduct highway which now looms nearby.


Classed as a heritage building today, The Birdcage's interior has been painstakingly restored to its former beauty, meaning you can step back in time and enjoy a well-deserved drink after a (presumably slightly less laborious) day's work.


 

Caretaker, Britomart



If you've not been to Caretaker, then this door will seem absolutely underwhelming, and if you weren't looking for it, you would probably walk right by. Therein lies its beauty. A true speakeasy.


Tucked into a wall on Roukai Lane, in one of the most bustling nightlife districts in town, Caretakers door is a time machine. Even on the stairway immediately following the initial door (Caretaker is underground), one finds the world outside fades away. Citrus oils and strong spirits fill your nostrils and, as you open the second door, which leads directly into the centre of the room, a drum of conversation and gentle 80's pop rock is broken by ice crashing inside a cocktail shaker and a bartenders cry of "Drinks up.".


The service at Caretaker is always exceptional, with much written about their system of asking probing questions to decipher what flavours or style of drinks you might like. Where Caretaker really stands a cut above though is in their attention to detail. Fresh-pressed citrus and hand cut ice provide a solid foundation for a quality cocktail, but the teams unwavering, highly tuned skills mean every drink that crosses the bar is, at a minimum, balanced and ice-cold. A round made in the right order so that no one drink sits dying on the bar. With bars opening across the city focusing on clarification, filling menus with eye-catching fat-washes or insta-worth garnishes, Caretaker stood firm.


Caretakers door is a time machine. That much is true, but it is also a portal to another location. It is a bar unlike any other found in Auckland. While the rest of us were drinking poorly made drinks with poorly made ingredients, Caretakers owners, Ali Walker and Heather Garland, were mastering their trade in world-renowned Melbourne bar The Everleigh, s leading light for New York-style speakeasies around the world. Thank fuck they brought that expertise to our city.


 

Pici, K Rd



Pici wouldn't look out of place in Manhattan's Little Italy, or actual Italy, for that matter. Intimate and cosy, designed with practicality, as well as style and comfort, in mind, this tiny pasta restaurant sits inside historic St. Kevin's Arcade.


Built in 1924 as a passageway for K Road shoppers to enjoy the peace and tranquility of Myers Park, St Kevins Arcade remains a path to an era of bohemia and art. Get there in the early evening to start sipping chilled red with some incredible fresh pasta. You'll get to see K Road in all of its glory, as it starts as a trendy shopping district, and emerges after dark as a grungy, diverse and welcoming party strip.


 

Gogo Music Cafe, Dominion Road



Dominion Road is obviously renowned across Auckland for its strong Chinese food offerings. It's the area just north of Balmoral Road, though, that truly feels a world away from the rest of the country. Cars and bike horns beep as revellers bounce from restaurant to restaurant. Signs atop doorways and windows carry characters from Asian alphabets in place of latin letters. 'Spicy' is often the only English word in sight.


Find the small doorway between two of said 'spicy' spots, take the stairs up, go through the curtain and swing a left. What you find may surprise you. If this article has been discussing how certain spaces can transport you to other countries, it's fair to say that Gogo's does that, but not in the expected way. The first floor, single room space boasts exposed beams and hard wood floors. Long, beer-hall-esque tables seat diners and bring to mind a school canteen. Listen as meat sizzles on the yakitori grill and steam engulfs the chefs behind their protective perspex. It is only once seated, with time to truly look around, that the real absurdity begin.


What is easily missed upon first entry is that Gogo's is adorned with cowboy and mid-western memorabilia, and a stage which will occasionally house amateur (or very amateur) performers. It's honestly as if the previous tenants were a themed BBQ joint, and the current occupants never got round to removing their decour.


In no way does this take away from the incredibly well-prepared, and wholly-authentic Chinese cuisine on offer. It does though, in the time it takes to climb one staircase, serve as a reminder that, while the space in which we eat is a huge part of any venue, sometimes it's best to remove the shackles a little. Gogo's, and the area around it, show Auckland as the international, open-minded, fun-loving city we are.


 

The Esplanade, Devonport



Enjoying a drink whilst sitting outside The Esplanade Hotel in laid-back Devonport gives a view of Auckland from slightly further afield. The skyline stretches across the Waitemata Harbour, showcasing the city as an unrivalled blend of concrete jungle and natural haven. Grassy volcanic cones break the blanket of greys and glass. Water seems to lap at the front door of skyscrapers. The Coromandel hides in the shadows on the far horizon. Looking at this vista of Auckland, with not a traffic cone in sight, truly cannot be beaten.

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