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photo 2Craft 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 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.


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 to see where the new exper­i­ments end up.[/info]

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