If you want to go back in time, visit Kiwi Music Bar and Cafe, says Hussein Moses.
“You have the worst taste in everything.”
This is my friend Dave, talking to me on Friday night. Usually a war of words like this is reserved for the NBA (I’m an occasional James Harden apologist), but this time we're debating a crucial after-work decision: where to go for dinner.
My suggestion is Kiwi Music Bar and Cafe.
The name speaks for itself: It’s a New Zealand music-themed bar, a gimmick likely to be more of a turnoff than a selling point these days. Scaffolding dominates the ugly stretch of Auckland’s Queen Street it calls home (you'll find it opposite the Metro Centre entrance), and there are pretty much endless options for other places you could eat in the area; a flash new Nando’s just opened up down the road, and there’s a food court plus numerous fast food spots less than a minute away.
I had to do it, though. I had spent far too much time thinking and writing about NZ Music Month, and it was all finally coming to an end. I needed closure.
I also needed answers. It's been open for as long as I can remember but it had been five years since I had even stepped foot inside. Was it still the same? How had it not closed down yet?
But Dave was worried. It didn’t help that I'd mentioned the bar was once judged one of the dirtiest places to eat in Auckland city. It had got an 'E' grade some years back, the worst grade possible. I pretended like it wasn’t a big deal.
Anyway, I don’t know how, but I talked Dave into it.
And whaddaya know, things were already looking up:
There’s a brutally steep staircase that leads up to the place. Inside it was totally empty apart from a woman who was standing behind the bar reading a Game of Thrones novel. We had got in just ahead of a private function which would see the place fully packed out for the night.
Within maybe 10 minutes, that’s exactly what happened. We sat at our table in the corner while someone from the arriving group yelled “I’M GONNA GET DRUNK WITH YOU” to everyone that entered the bar after him.
It was awesome. We wanted in.
Being there was weirdly comforting: Nothing had changed, like much of the music industry when you think about it. A dozen or so NZ Music Month posters line an entire wall, with the latest dating back to 2013. There’s another from 2010 stuck to the ceiling. On the way to the bathroom, you’ll find old gig posters layered over each other and framed records signed by Howard Morrison and John Rowles. It’s like Lorde was never born.
Before its rebrand, Kiwi Music Bar and Cafe was known as Pizza Pizza. And despite its small size, it was host to a bunch of shows, including a famed performance from The White Stripes in 2000.
Pizza is still their thing these days, but the menu - like the place itself - is indebted to another era. You can order a Goldenhorse (“a carnivore’s delight”), a Nesian Style (“a sweet blend of shaved ham and diced pineapple”), or even a Salmonella Dub (“an unfortunately named pizza”; their words, not mine).
The list goes on:
Sadly, they got serious with the cocktail names in the intervening years. No longer can you get a Foamy Ed, Mint Chick, Hello Sailor or Pacifier.
At the front of the bar are some craft beer options: Kiwi Music Lager and Kiwi Music Draught. A friend who had a stint working at the bar once told me that if you ordered one, the staff had to pretend the keg needed changing; once out back they would pour a can of some cheap beer into a glass and send you on your way.
Dave and I ordered, and I paid. It felt like I owed him. We were entirely out of place, but the rowdiness of the crowd was also kind of rubbing off on us. It had been the right decision to visit, although Dave said the Goldenhorse pizza was only a 6.1 out of 10: “And that’s being generous. But I’ve had 10 beers and there’s nothing I wouldn’t have eaten.”
The place is cheap as, though, so all good. It’s perfect for a work thing or whatever. You just have to get back down the staircase without breaking your neck when it’s time to go home.
In our opinion, it’s worth the risk.
We’ll be back for Dave’s birthday.