Noni Did NZ: Grog and Grub

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You may have noticed that I went to Wellington a while ago, probably long enough ago that I should have stopped banging on about it by now. I’m almost done, I promise. But if you want to read about some of the magnificent things I did and have already written about, you can find them here.

This is the penultimate post in this series. I promise that it will be over soon and we can all go back to (ir)regular programming.

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This post was initially meant to be a part of my post about my favourite Wellington places, but when I was editing what was already a 2000-plus word post, I figured I should probably cut some of the things on my list. Unfortunately, there was nothing at all I wanted to cut.

After a while, I noticed that there were a number of places on my list that had something in common: they were places where one would eat or drink. Thus, this highly uneducated guide to Wellington’s feeding stations and watering holes was born.

I have to say, I really was impressed by the various eateries that the Kiwi Capital had to offer. I don’t think I had a single dud meal in the whole week I was there. Not only was the food absolutely delicious, the cafés themselves were something to behold as venues.

Here’s a little something about each of my favourites:

Mucho Mucho Cafe

On my first proper day in the city, I wandered and wandered looking for somewhere to have breakfast. Due to a highly questionable encounter with an “Eggs Benedic” in Newtown a few days before, I was keen to make sure that I was going to get the best possible start to my day and my trip.

I can’t really remember what made me turn into this cafe instead of any other, but I was immediately impressed. The room was vibrant, the music wasn’t too loud, and there were already a handful of locals in there breaking their fast. And by gosh, it was tiny, but that just added to its charm. Seriously, it was freakin’ adorable.

An interesting thing I noticed: table service isn’t that common in Wellington. Most of the places I ate, you had to order at the counter. It caught me off guard a couple of times, especially in this case, but it was no biggie.

I ordered French Toast with banana, bacon and maple syrup. I think it may have had a fancier name on the menu, but I’ve forgotten what it was. All you need to know is that it was DELICIOUS.

If you’re in Wellington’s CBD, turn down Taranaki Street and grab a bite here. Not only will you get a fantastic feed, it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the strange fascination that the city seems to have with Cuba… but more on that later.

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The General Practitioner

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When you first see The General Practitioner on the corner of  Willis and Boulcott Streets, it immediately commands your attention. Like so many parts of Wellington, it looks like it belongs in a fairy tale or a Disney movie. Straight away, I pulled out my iPod and took a photo, which led to the story on the left. The memory of that conversation still makes me chuckle.

The chairs out the front were how I worked out that it was some kind of eatery, but I think I would have walked in anyway, just out of curiosity. It was just so intriguing!

I ordered a fancy sounding fish and chips and a Tui, because their billboards are so incredibly wonderful/offensive/I saw them on the internet a bunch of times, that I simply had to try one to see whether the beer was worth all that advertising.

From the first bite, the meal was absolutely amazing: crisp, not too much salt, and the sauces alongside were brilliant as well. The fancy dish it was served in was a bit of a pain to negotiate, but everything else was so wonderful that it was easy to forgive. Thanks to some impeccable timing (I arrived just before the lunchtime rush), I even managed to get a seat near the window. Some would say that a view that consists mostly of an intersection is less than desirable, but I found it fascinating, with plenty of other interesting buildings to catch my eye, and lots of Wellingtonians buzzing around on the street below.

IMG_0356As for the Tui? Well, it was okay. Actually, it was entirely underwhelming. I finished it, but I can see why they advertise it so heavily – it’s not good enough that I would buy it off merit alone, especially since my trip led me to a much nicer example of what Kiwis can brew.

Either way, if you’re in Wellington, visiting The General Practitioner is definitely something I would prescribe. (Oh dear. That line was terrible. Sorry.)

Enigma Cafe

I ducked into Enigma Cafe on Courtenay Place at about 2pm on Thursday for a late lunch. I wasn’t expecting much, but when I walked in I found a brilliant space with dark walls and a feeling that this is where all the cool kids probably hang out. Thankfully, there was a good mixture of different kinds of folks, so I didn’t end up feeling too out of place.

I took a while to choose what I was going to order, but I finally decided on the gnocchi with mushroom and bacon.

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AND OH MY GOD. IT WAS AMAZING.

Right across the week I spent there, Wellington constantly treated my taste buds with beautiful flavours and delightful places in which to consume and savour them. Everything was wonderful and delicious and just magnificent. So basically, if you’re in Wellington, don’t skimp on meals – you’ll have no idea what kind of joys you’re missing.

Now we move on from beautiful food to brilliant bars… And trust me, Wellington has plenty, but I’ve managed to whittle it down to the three (well, four) most notable.

Boogie Wonderland/Alice

Source: Jinx In The Sky
Source: Jinx In The Sky

I touched briefly on the wonder that is Boogie Wonderland in my What We Did At The Premiere post, but I need to mention it again because it really is a place that should not exist, but I’m very, very glad that it does. Mirror balls galore, a flashing dance floor, and excuse me while I put my radio voice on: all the best hits of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and Noughties!

Oh my. So much kitsch in one room. It made me very confused and very, very happy. Be sure to jump into this nonsensical retro indulgence if you’re ever in Wellington. It needs to be experienced to be believed, trust me.

But if you head out to the toilets, you will find another door to another bar. This is Alice, where the walls and shelves are adorned all kinds of bits and pieces from Lewis Carroll’s classic books, the music is eclectic (I honestly heard “Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords come over the speakers and I couldn’t hold in my giggles), and the cocktails are delicious and sometimes served in teapots.

Jane and I settled in for some “White Rabbits”. They were freaking delicious.

Photo by @powderkeig
Photo by powderkeig

One Wonderland in Wellington would have been enough, but two right next door to each other? Well, that’s just spoiling me!

Havana

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On the Friday night, I was on the hunt for some live music. At the exhibition launch where I started my evening, I met Vanessa (well, for the second time – we’d also met after the premiere), who told me that she was actually playing a set at a bar called Havana, just off Cuba Street. (Hmm, funny that.) I told her I was planning on doing some general wandering, but I’d see if I could make it.

The wandering was pretty uneventful, save for meeting this guy. I strolled up and down Cuba Street, stopping into a few little bars that seemed like my kind of place, but they were all pretty full, and not particularly appealing to the solo traveller. (My criteria were that there had to be somewhere I could sit without awkwardly jumping in on another group; decent music, live or otherwise; a reasonable drinks menu and preferably a friendly enough crowd to find folks who would adopt me into their fold.) There were plenty I would like to visit again (namely Laundry and The Rogue and Vagabond – I intend to spend more time in both on my next visit), but none of them seemed right for me at that moment.

This little shrine was set up in the hallway that led into the main bar.
This little shrine was set up in the hallway that led into the main bar.

So I kept walking up to the far end of the street, trying to remember Vanessa’s directions to Havana. I wandered down one dodgy-looking side street, then another, until I finally stumbled across this little house nestled in among some more modern, less friendly looking buildings. I walked up the passage to the front door and was let in my a lovely gentleman and was met by one of the most beautiful bars I have ever seen, and my gosh, it was busy.

It was at this point that I really began to come to realise just how much of an influence Cuban culture seems to have had on Wellington venues, most notably along… ahem, Cuba Street. From cafes like the aforementioned Mucho Mucho Cafe, right through to Laundry and (obviously) Havana Bar, there is a lot of iconography that harks back to that island in the Caribbean. It really is a little bit odd when you think about it, and incredibly kitschy, but it is also kind of nice and brings a lot of colour to those bars and cafes that choose to buy into it.

When I arrived, Vanessa was up in a corner, serenading the crowd. (Holy dooley, the lady’s got pipes!) I waved, then grabbed a cocktail from the bar. It was delicious. Knowing there was nobody there for me to talk to, I squeezed through the crowd into the garden area out the back, found myself a seat and got to work on my scrapbook as I sipped my drink. A few people came over and chatted with me as I cut and pasted and scribbled, and it was just really nice. I’d love to head there with friends next time I’m in town; the vibe was lovely, with beautiful decor throughout. Havana Bar is definitely worth the detour.

Concrete

Jane and I hung out at Concrete on the Saturday night, and to be honest, it was quite underwhelming. But you know what? I simply have to share this with you.

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This is their bathroom. Notice anything missing? Like, I don’t know… Taps?

It took me far too long to work out what how to get it to work. Initially, I thought it might be the silver things, so I tried pushing on them. Nope. Maybe it was a sensor under the top shelf? No, still too logical.

Let’s take a look at it from another angle, a little bit closer.

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Nope. I’ve still got nothing.

Seriously, all I wanted to do was wash my hands. How on earth was I to go about it with no taps? Did I have to utter some kind of Lord of the Rings incantation? Sacrifice my first born? Telepathically compel the water to begin flowing? I was completely stumped.

Until I noticed the little round notches in the bench top. Here’s the same photo, except the “taps” are now circled in red.

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Seriously…

Apparently, this incredibly stupid piece of “design” managed to win a ton of architectural awards, which is proof that architects are either completely insane, or have a terrible sense of humour.

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Ridiculous bathrooms aside, Wellington is full of interesting, unique, intriguing and delicious places to eat and drink. It’s definitely worth the time, money and effort involved in getting out there and sampling as many of them as you can. Ranging from the sublime to the silly, there’s certainly something for every taste.

(Oh god. That was terrible. Sorry. Again.)

Next time: Putting It Down on Paper – why the scrapbook beats social media.

Noni Did NZ: A Night With The Vampires

Today’s derpy Noni photo is care of the What We Do In The Shadows Facebook page.

From Monday June 16 to Sunday June 22, I was in Wellington, New Zealand. And despite the strange (possibly a little bit intoxicated) look on my face in the photo above, I had enough of a ball that I have managed to write a few blogs about it, which can be found here. This is the biggest and most important of all of them. This post is about the reason why I rushed into my boss’ office and begged for leave, why I booked plane tickets as soon as it was granted, why my mother made multiple sighing noises at me as she gave me my passport, and one of the reasons why I’m still crapping on about it to anyone who is still listening. This post is about What We Did At The Premiere.

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It was Wednesday June 18, 2014. And it was one of the most amazing/bizarre/wonderful nights of my life.

A straight, start-to-finish, by-the-numbers blog entry was never going to be possible for this evening’s proceedings. Even my scrapbook pages from the night are tangled and flustered with excitement, even though I wrote them over 24 hours later. I committed myself to burning as much of it into my brain as possible, and I think I did a pretty good job, but if I ever tried to share it as a flowing chronological stream I think I would probably melt every neuron in my cerebrum with nostalgic joy.

In order to preserve the little brain function I have left, this blog will consist of chunks, each attached to a photo or gallery. Some of these photos are mine, but most were taken by others, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. The quality of some of the photos is… questionable. That said, I maintain that the spirit of the night shines through their grainy pixels.

Hopefully, when it’s all put together, it will give you an idea of the sheer delight I experienced on that wonderful Wellington Wednesday evening.

Getting Ready

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I bought the dress especially. I love the tulle in the bottom, because it negates the need to pack a separate petticoat. It saved a lot of room in my bag.

Jane helped me put my just-that-little-bit-too-short hair into a bun and lent me her brooch. I wore bright red shoes. Somehow we had completely colour co-ordinated. She looked absolutely incredible in that dress, with her hair done up high. The dress code on the invitation had been “Dead But Delicious”. We certainly had the last bit right.

There’s no wine in the goblet I’m holding. It was purely for effect. Jane’s daughter mentioned that because it had skulls all over it, I should definitely be holding it in our “before the premiere” photo. So I did.

Arrival

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We took a cab into town. We had a few drinks at The Bangalore Polo Club. From there, we headed over to The Embassy Cinema. I was buzzing with excitement. I tried to take my time to soak it all up. My eyes must have been like saucers. No, like satellite dishes.

Every sound, every smell: I tried to drink it all in at once. A black hearse was parked out the front. We waited in line as a brass band played their way through the crowd. I yelled, “Yeah! Sousaphone!” because I am an idiot. My smile was so wide, it felt like the corners of my mouth were trying to run right off my face.

Inside, we were met by replicas of scenes from the film. The detail was impeccable. I’m sure I audibly gasped a number of times. Even the goblet on the side table still had drops of blood in it. I wondered briefly whether it had tasted like blackcurrant or fermented grape or cool metal.

Into The Cinema

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Chris spotted us in the crowd upstairs and said we should go in now if we wanted to get a good seat. In our hurry, we lost Theresa. I didn’t spot her again until the film was over.

I did see a number of familiar faces in the crowd, but of course, none knew me from a bar of soap. It was strange, but in a delightful way. It wasn’t like seeing Australian people-of-note; hell, that happens almost every time I visit Newtown. This was strange, because here I was in another country (which was strange enough), seeing these people in their home town. I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. It was strange, but nice.

We took our seats and watched the band play again. They were still incredibly wonderful. Jane and I chatted and I bopped in my seat and hooted and whistled when they were done.

There was a Māori version of Welcome To Country; at least that was how it seemed to an outsider like me. I wished that more events in Australia had an Indigenous Welcome To Country as their opening words. I felt sad that this is such a rare occurrence in my homeland.

Then Taika and Jemaine took to the stage and began to tell the story of how they came to make the film. It was like this video, which was taken by somebody at the Q&A screening a few days later, but at the premiere, they were far more snappily dressed.

They said that we had missed the opportunity to go to the toilet, as the movie was about to start. I suddenly got the urge to go to the toilet. This is not a good feeling to have before and during a film that is going to make you laugh a lot.

The Film Commences

It was just… great. Having waited two years for this movie to come out, I was afraid I would have built my expectations too high. But I didn’t. It was everything I had hoped for and more.

I’ll tell you more about it another time… Say, a little closer to the Australian release on September 4th. Or maybe next week. Don’t fret. It will be soon. I’ll let you know.

I will tell you this, though: when we got out, the first thing we did was go to the toilet. I met Wellington’s Mayor Celia Wade-Brown in the line for the ladies. She had a lovely dress on, and a magnificent pair of fangs. As I write this, I wonder if Katy Gallagher has ever worn fangs.

Vampires Come Out To Play

Photo by Jane - @powderkeig
Photo by Jane – @powderkeig

After the film, the vampires and some of the werewolves came out to answer any questions their audience/dinner might have. I wish I could have thought of something a little more clever than, “Where are the lady werewolves?” But I was high on endorphins. Getting through an entire sentence was an achievement at that stage.

Once we had taken our aforementioned loo break from the previous chapter, we began to move back out into the upstairs foyer. We had a few drinks and mingled with friends Jane had spotted in the crowd, but I had one thing on my mind: I wanted photos with the vampires.

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I always feel like a mug when I ask people for photographs, but they were all incredibly kind. The only pre-cursor was a brief introduction from Jane, which was missed by most, followed by a request for a photo, the pose, the snap, a smile and then moving on.

The exception was Viago. Jane mentioned that I was Noni, and he immediately recognised me. “Noni Doll!” he exclaimed. “You made it!” It was odd, like I was meeting up with an old friend, as opposed to a fictional 300-year old vampire. I wanted to hug him and sit down and chat, but the room was full and loud and there were others who wanted their chance to interview a vampire.

Getting the photo with Nick (or was he just Cori?) was the most awkward of the set. I tapped him on the shoulder as he swept through the crowd towards the bar, and with a mixture of sudden boldness and sheer mortification, asked if I could have a photo. For some reason, Jane couldn’t get the camera to work, so we were stuck in that terrible position of, “I don’t know you, but I have definitely had my arm around you for far too long and now it’s a bit weird.” Bless.

Deacon and Petyr were incredibly naughty. The former was being an absolute bossy-pants, and I was immediately taken aback at his lack of manners. After the photo, I mentioned to Petyr that his sire’s behaviour was thoroughly ungentlemanly. Petyr simply responded: “I don’t give a crap.” What a pair of charmers.

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More displays were set around the upstairs area, with finalists from the poster design competition scattered along the walls. Vampiric art was scattered around another coffin. I would have taken a picture of myself in it, but I feared I was too wide for it and wouldn’t be able to get out, even if I managed to squeeze in.

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Jane, Theresa and I got our photo taken in the photo booth, which was made up to look like the hall of the vampire’s abode. We all looked absolutely gorgeous. (Say otherwise and I may have to send some undead messengers to… have a discussion with you.)

The End of the Evening

Anna gave me directions to the after party. Jane went home, and Theresa came with me.

I took no photographs, because this was time for fun and nothing else. This was something to live, not document. So I did just that.

But I will tell you this:

  • Boogie Wonderland is a place that I believe should not exist. Novelty bars that play the hits of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s are things that only exist in movies and British sit-coms, not in real life.
  • Niko Ne Zna played Balkan brass on a flashing dance floor under more mirror balls than could ever be necessary. This was more amazing than you can imagine.
  • I danced through a doorway traffic jam with Rhys Darby.
  • I spent a lot of time avoiding eye contact with Bret McKenzie, because he constantly looked like he was in the middle of a really serious conversation. Also, he wasn’t even in the movie, so he wasn’t even really worth my time, y’know?
  • I abruptly ended a chat with Taika Waititi by smashing a glass with an overzealous gesture.
  • Anna introduced me to Jemaine Clement in a barely decipherable dance floor conversation. The one thing I remember him saying was that I’d been on TV all over New Zealand, to which I responded that this was definitely a thing we were not talking about and will never speak of ever again.
  • I drank a lot of Delicious Neck beer. It was indeed delicious.
  • I went home at 3am, but the party was still kicking. Perhaps they were vampires after all…

That night, I dreamed about hanging out in dark bars with Vladislav, Viago and Deacon, drinking red wine until the early hours and talking about how Canberra is also a pretty good place for vampires to live. I dreamed that I had asked Jemaine and Taika to sign my scrapbook like I’d planned instead of just plain forgetting. I revisited the Boogie Wonderland dance floor over and over in my subconscious. It took all night for my brain to come anywhere near processing what had happened. In doing so, it prolonged just how wonderful the real thing had been.

A month later, and that night is still my ultimate happy place when things go awry. I often get out my scrapbook and thumb through the photos and remember stupid things that happened and laugh to myself at how gloriously ridiculous life can be, but only when you step out and grab every opportunity with both hands.

Speaking of opportunities, did I mention I’m going to Melbourne to see What We Do In The Shadows again next month?

Because I totally am.