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Stages: Ghost stories from Chick's Hotel

Friday 16th May 2014

Separating the truth from the myth about Chick's Hotel is difficult. The pub in Port Chalmers near Dunedin has more than its fair share of legends.

Chick's Hotel is a 128-year-old heritage building.

Photo: Supplied

Robert Scott, who plays in The Clean and The Bats, says before Chick's was a known as a music venue, it was a pub for sailors. “It was a place for people that were working in the ships that were in port to come and have a drink. There’d be a few Germans, Filipinos and some Dutch, so it was actually a pretty interesting mix of people, but it was very very rough.”

The hotel, originally called the Jerusalem Hotel, was built in 1876 by former Port Chalmers mayor Henry Dench, according to the Otago Daily Times. However, Dench hit financial problems and two years later and was forced to sell the business

Local carrier George Chick bought the hotel in 1879 and from then on it has been known as Chick's. 

Chick, who came from England, had a tragic history after arriving in Port Chalmers. Of the nine children he had with wife Ellen, only three survived to adulthood and four died in infancy in the hotel. He died in 1894 in the sinking of the Wairarapa off Great Barrier Island, along with 133 others.

Fast forward more than a century, and Hector Hazard turned Chick's into a music venue in 2008, after it had been closed for two years.

“It had been empty for two years and I was just looking for a roof over my head. It was in such a state and nobody else was interested in it,” he told the ODT in 2010.

“I realised what a good opportunity it was and decided to give it a go and it's all just happened organically, really. The community got right behind it.”

Adding to the eeriness of Chick's are tales of a basement dungeon and a tunnel out to the sea. Chick's current co-owner Michael Mcleod calls it a “smuggling tunnel”. It's been bricked up but legend has it that pub patrons would be taken down and “shanghaied”. “If you sort of had a few too many at Chick's Hotel you might wake up the next day sort of halfway out to sea on board a fishing vessel enjoying your new career as a fisherman.”

These days punters are ferried away at the end of the night in a much more hospitable fashion. When Mcleod took over the bar with Tom Bell and Jake Langley in 2012, they started running a bus service to and from every show. “It’s been really good to do; it’s cost us a lot of money, and it got to the point where we weren’t sure if we’d be able to keep doing it…”

In November last year, the venue raised enough money via a Pledge Me campaign and birthday show to buy their own bus rather than keep hiring one. Mcleod says that the venue turned a corner then, with attendances picking up after a year of keeping the bus consistent.

Chick's is now attacting acts from around the country who decide to venture south. Claire Duncan, from Auckland band Dear Time's Waste, says the history and myths attract her to the venue. “It’s all crazy and it’s just like the kind of place I love.”

Listen to Anthonie Tonnon's radio documentary on Chick's Hotel here:

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