“Craft beers are the norm now,” muses Shigeo ‘Shiggy’ Takagi, “every bar has them. So if you want to bring in customers you need your bar to be a venue.” I’m interrupting Shiggy’s late lunch in Hashigo Zake, a few days before he leaves the bar to take up a new role as manager at a revamped San Francisco Bath House, now shortened to just San Fran.
It’s interesting timing. The day after my interview with Shiggy (also a brewer with Funk Estate), Mighty Mighty announced that it would be closing, followed by the inevitable cries that Wellington’s music scene is dying. I don’t go to gigs as often as I’d like but I do go to lots of beer bars, and if there’s a clear trend at the moment, it’s live music.
Hashigo Zake has a regular Saturday night music session, while Golding’s Free Dive hosts the occasional band. But the frontrunners are certainly Rogue and Vagabond, who have music on almost every night (check rogueandvagabond.co.nz/beats for their gig guide). On the other side you have Bodega, which is a live venue that also serves craft beer.
Speculation about the San Francisco Bath House has been rife since it lost its larger capacity, but Shiggy has big plans for the space, including renovating so the capacity can be increased and international acts can once again grace upper Cuba. But first the bar has to become a new venue entirely.
San Fran has one of the best locations for a venue in Wellington, and the balcony gives it something very few (good) bars in Wellington have: afternoon sunshine. Shiggy’s main plan is to lighten the bar up and install more seats by the big windows at the street end. He’s also discovered old skylights that can be covered with trapdoors when a gig’s on. The new San Fran is going to be bright and light and more comfortable.
Then, of course, there’s the beer.
If you’re standing at a gig, the last thing you want is a complex hoppy ale with intense resiny, citrus notes. Thankfully, breweries like Panhead, Tuatara and Emerson’s all sell very drinkable pilsners, perfect for holding while dancing your ass off, or for cooling down when you make your way out of the crowd.
Shiggy also plans to expand the selection of spirits, starting with his favourite whiskies before moving to rums. While the gigs are important to San Fran (including a proposed regular comedy night) and always will be, Shiggy’s plan is to make San Fran a bar that you’ll want to drink at any night of the week.
And why wouldn’t you? The closure of Mighty Mighty is sad, but the (re)opening of bars like San Fran give hope to Wellington’s live music scene. There are still bars that want to be venues rather than just places that serve drinks.
But beers are my thing, not music (see Martyn Pepperell’s column on page xx for all that), so I’m not going to speculate on the future of Wellington’s live scene. What I do know is that San Fran is going to be another gem in the crown of Wellington’s nightlife, and something in the vein of Rogue and Vagabond – laid back, with that all-important afternoon sun and great drinks.[info]
March beer recommendations
The festive brew style for the Greater Wellington Brewday was Saison. Saison is a strange style that’s become fairly fashionable as drinkers explore the world beyond IPAs. Originally meant to be a low-alcohol pale ale for farm workers in summer, the style is now broad, with everything from strong, cloudy wheat beers to amber-coloured brews.
After any festive brew competition, breweries usually have some kegs left over that will find their way to local bars, so watch craftbeercapital.com to see where the new experiments end up.[/info]