10 of the best cocktail lists in Wellington

Motel bar, Wellington

With more cocktail bars than you can shake a, well, cocktail shaker at, it is really, really difficult to pick the top ten cocktail spots in Wellington. Alas, here is FQ’s list of the most gratifying cocktail corners:

1. Hawthorn Lounge, Tory Street
Celebrating its 10th birthday this year, Hawthorn Lounge is a lamp-lit upstairs lounge. Armchairs, and sometimes a cello, will help you sink into its top shelf atmosphere. The impeccably dressed bartenders – in a 1920s gentleman sense – can tailor a cocktail to your tastes. They do a dastardly good daiquiri and definitely know their gin fizz genealogy.

2. The Apartment, Allen Street
Styled as a luxury New York loft, The Apartment is your sexy home away from home, complete with lounge, bedroom, kitchen, dining room and terrace. It entertains a classic selection of original cocktails including the Big Apple, White Russian, Cosmopolitan and Hemingway Daiquiri.

3. The Library, Courtenay Place
The Library is a smooth, dark cocktail bar lined with books. Matthew Yardley, who also runs Chow cocktails next door, created the comfortable bar to rebel against the ‘too cool’ bars of Wellington. It’s a place where you can take your grandmother, a date or a mate. Appealing to a wide variety the cocktail list is a little obscure and a lot delicious. The Lower Hutt Lemon Meringue cocktail was invented after Matthew’s friend put some alcohol in her lemon meringue pie and it was a disgusting disaster. Relishing the challenge Matthew made the flavours work in a cocktail glass. The Peach Mule? Designed to impress an older woman with a thing for fresh peaches. How I Met Your Father, Fresh Prince and New Gypsy Love Potion, there’s a story behind them all.

4. Chow, Tory Street
When Matthew Yardley got hold of Chow’s beverage programme five years ago he added more organic and vegan-friendly wines and upped the cocktail offering. Two years ago, he made all cocktails less than 150 calories. The house favourite vanilla vodka cocktail, Rosebud, was invented at Chow and is now served all over the world. All cocktails are fresh and frivolous, making the most of fruit flavours and premium spirits.

5. Matterhorn, Cuba Street
Originally a Swiss coffee house, Matterhorn has morphed into a restaurant, café, cocktail bar and live music venue. Down a long corridor the dimly lit bar mixes up a vibrant selection of thirst quenchers. One of its newest creations, the Butter-Washed Jalab, is made with butter-washed Monkey Shoulder whisky, Thai coconut syrup, chocolate bitters and mint. Add a spice-scented candle and you have a whole sensory experience. Falling Water is a particular favourite: 42Below feijoa vodka, Ch’i and cucumber tumble over ice for one cool sip.

6. C.G.R Merchant & Co, Courtenay Place
A little cocktail bar hidden upstairs from the hustle of Courtenay Place, C.G.R Merchant & Co is comfortable, refreshing and nostalgic. Inspired by the spice trade era of the Silk Road, C.G.R is an atmospheric loft with coffee bags stashed in the rafters and ivy hanging from the ceiling. Mason jars of infusion gin and rum fill the bar of weird and wonderful cocktails. It’s no surprise that C.G.R stands for cocktails, gin and rum. The most popular drinks include Salted Caramel Rum and Gin-gerbread Gin. The seasonal cocktails are inspired by fruits, vegetables and timely flavours.

7. Ancestral, Courtenay Place
Tradition and the 21st century combine at Ancestral. Its cocktail culture, and cuisine, simulates a journey across Eastern Asia. The tropical yet fiery House of Flying Tigers cocktail combines whisky, gunpowder rum, pink grapefruit, lychee and Campari. It is named after the Flying Tigers, a group of pilots in 1930s Shanghai. Have you ever tried vanilla sake? The Ancestral classic cocktail Suzie Wong combines said sake with black Doris plum and wine.

8. Concrete Bar, Cable Car Lane
A sophisticated yet warm atmosphere welcomes you at Concrete Bar. A secluded CBD location, it is the perfect after work haunt with a sunny balcony and resident DJ included. The noble ‘Baron’ cocktail is made from dry and sweet vermouth and burnt orange for a strong, balanced gulp. The Smokacino is served with a smoking cinnamon quill, cigar syrup and Appletons.

9. Motel Bar, Forresters Lane
Motel Bar was a speakeasy in the early 2000s. Great times ensued with some legendary nights and many famous guests. It has since turned the tables and been restyled into Wellington’s first tiki bar, complete with quirky tiki cups you will not want to leave at the bar. Found down a street art lane, Motel Bar has a cocktail list that features many tropical cocktails and interesting riffs on classics. Pimpin Pina Colada anyone? We recommend The Girl with the Mermaid Tattoo: a cognac, elderflower and peach concoction.

10. Hummingbird, Courtenay Place
Hummingbird’s world-class – and classy – cocktails are delicious yet unpretentious. Chanel #5 mixes Absolute citron with RinQuinQuin, sour rhubarb and apple flavours and a touch of chocolate. Its teapot cocktails are served with magical steam spilling out of the spout. The Hendricks High Tea with gin, lavender vermouth and more is a ladylike treat.

Words: Jessica-Belle Greer
Photos: Supplied