A beer embrace

Originally published February 27, 2013 in Capital Times. 
At the edge of Glover Park, a sunny green just off Cuba Street, where gamblers once played the pokies in a dim, black-painted TAB, a transformation is underway. 

Soon people will be sipping ParrotDog, Garage Project, and Funk Estate brews, snacking on homemade pizza, looking at art on the walls and listening to a local band while their dogs caper at their feet. Rogue & Vagabond opens this week, but does Wellington really need another craft beer bar?

Gwilym Waldren and Becks Gray, partners in life and business, think so.

“The more craft beer bars there are the more people start drinking it,” asserts Waldren, who’s tended bars in China, Ireland, and most recently Australia, before returning to Wellington to be with Gray and open their first joint endeavour.

“Craft beer is the future for brewing. DB, Lion, the big brewers are dinosaurs.”

As for what sets them apart, it could be their focus on community, beginning with a plan to display local artists, on a monthly rotation, without taking a commission from any sales.

“This is about things we like,” says Waldren, and lists: live music, local art, craft beer, pizza, dogs – their bulldog Bruce inspired the logo and networks with the regular pups that get walked in the park that fronts the bar.

“It’s Cuba Street, so we want to make it a Cuba Street kind of place,” says Gray.

So far, they’ve been embraced – literally – by the neighbourhood. “When we took out the pokies I was hugged by one of the RadioActive DJs next door,” says Waldren. “The support has been unbelievable. People are looking in the door, checking out what we’re doing every day.”

Neighbouring café August 13 will brew their coffee, the lawyer around the corner does their paperwork and the signwriter across the street is handling the visuals. Gray’s parents own the hotel behind them and the French Art Shop will be a great place to scout for artists.

The decision to serve only craft beer comes with financial challenges – for the owners and the customers.

“We have no contracts with any breweries. We’re doing it all ourselves. So we didn’t get that massive cash injection that bars get when they sign with a big brewery,” says Waldren. “The whole point is that pubs can do it on their own.”

They’re well aware that means lower prices for customers. “Price is always going to be a factor. We’ll have a range of prices and a few cheaper beers,” says Waldren. “We’re taxed by the percentage of alcohol, so higher alcohol content beers will always cost more. I prefer to have one less beer and have a good beer.”

As for the name of the bar, that’s another story. “It’s what the judge called my great-grandmother when he sentenced her to 12 months in a Dunedin prison,” says Waldren. To hear the rest of the story, swing by for a pint.



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