Whether you’re looking to check out the local gig scene, meet new people, get super loose or just want to grab a drink without having the quality of your clothes questioned, slip into any of the following the Auckland dive bars and experience a taste of the infamous ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ’N’ Roll’ atmosphere...seasoned with a pinch of sophistication.
Whammy/The Wine Cellar
In true dive fashion, Whammy is an underground cavern accessed through an inconspicuous door on the side of K 'Road’s infamous St Kevins Arcade. In fact, if it wasn’t for the black chalkboard displaying the evening’s entertainment and the bouncer propped up outside, most people wouldn’t even know of the bar’s existence. As you descend those stairs you’re hit with an aroma of cold beer and hot sweat, giving you a hint of what you’re in for, which is cheap, cold drinks and lots of moshing in front of the stage. The lighting is dark and intimate, softly shining through red-tinted bulbs. Whammy caters to a very hipster, ‘grunge-chic’ clientele so you’ll see a lot of leather jackets and Doc Martens tapping out the beat. Whammy’s sister bar The Wine Cellar, located down the arcade stairs and connected via a corridor is the tamer sibling, considered Auckland’s most intimate live venue. Needless to say, wine enthusiasts will feel right at home with plenty of quality grape juice to choose from.
Bringing a slice of New York to Auckland, Grand Central is the height of dive sophistication. Polished floors paired with patterned wallpaper, ornate carpets and mismatched vintage couches of all eras create a super cosy drinking atmosphere. Unpretentious and dedicated to live music, Grand Central has been supporting up and coming musicians for the last 16 years, with live music every single night of the week. For all those who can’t fathom a night out without a sneaky cigarette, you’ll be stoked to know there are numerous smoking spots designated specifically for your nicotine cravings: choose from a brick alleyway covered in stencil-style graffiti or luxurious red vinyl couches out front. With the latest liquor licence in the area you can be sure this is the place to get super loose after all the other bars have shut their doors.
The Golden Dawn
From the outside, The Golden Dawn has the appearance of an old, abandoned building. The windows are plastered with newspaper and the hidden entrance down the side can prove tricky to find. In short, it isn’t a bar you simply stumble upon. You gotta be looking for it in order to find it. Once inside, you’re in for a treat. The inside area is rather small and very intimate. Darkly lit with a high ceiling, exposed brick walls on one side and painted red and white walls on the other, there's a small stage located in the backend of the room, usually graced by funky local talent – mostly jazz, blues and rock oriented. Make your way through to the enormous courtyard out the back, adorned with dozens of lanterns. The yard features its own full bar and a variety of seating options, catering to groups of all sizes—from long communal tables to smaller bar-tops. The drinks menu features an extensive range of beer, and the entire wine list is ‘au naturale’, free from sprays and chemicals.
Possibly the smallest pub in town, Mo's has a cosy atmosphere like no other. Self-proclaimed “friendliest bar in town”, it always features heavily in the Lewisham hospitality awards. Propped up on a corner, this is a gem hidden in plain sight. Unapologetically old-school, Mo’s features a rather plain grey exterior and a worn interior of scratched wooden floors, green and red walls (in need of a fresh lick of paint) and a black-tiled bar, transporting you back a good couple of decades. Open late, this is a perfect after-work spot. The bartenders are known to mix outstanding cocktails, pour a decent glass of beer or wine, and supply the fanciest of punters with cigars.
The King’s Arms
A long-standing icon in our beloved city of Auckland, The King’s Arms is legendary. Every honorary Jaffa has a King’s Arms story or two (and if you don’t, you better get one). Possibly the best live venue for up and coming musicians, The King’s Arms has been known to feature international acts as well as local—a must-play for any Kiwi band’s journey to stardom. Just minutes away from town, the King’s Arms boasts a decent sized carpark and decent sized floor space, complete with a deck and a massive courtyard out the back. Here, the drinks really are cheap, and the bathroom stalls really do have graffiti all over them. The décor features pinball machines and a pool table, but more importantly, the quality of the sound is top notch. Known to consistently accommodate the rowdiest of crowds, this is the place to go for a moshing, head banging night of live music.
Red Bar is the spot for all the quirky souls of Auckland. With a small floor space, this one is super intimate and artsy, getting regular makeovers by local artists repainting its walls every few months. Currently you’ll find the walls covered in black and white characters reminiscent of Die Antwoord-type doodles. You could stare at them for hours, just working out all the little details. Honouring its name, the lights throw red-coloured hues on the surroundings, creating a seedy dive bar vibe. The crowd at the Red is as diverse as they get, from hooded hipsters to suited professionals. The music here is mostly hip-hop oriented, with a revolving roster of DJs.
Ding Dong Lounge
Hosting some of the best rock acts Auckland has to offer, Ding Dong Lounge is one of the few bars dedicated to everything Rock ‘N’ Roll. Expanding from the Ding Dong company in America, the Auckland sibling sports a dark interior of exposed brick walls, black velvet curtains and black leather booths, with lighting of neon fixtures reminiscent of a Las Vegas bar. The crowd is as dark as the furniture, with a high concentration of beards, long hair, piercings, tattoos, and above all, band shirts. There's an endless amount of beers on offer, both tap and bottled, among other liquor goodness, and the snack menu features yummy American staples like curly fries, onion rings and chicken wings.
Located above ground as opposed to under, Cassette 9 is still as unobtrusive a dive as they get. Once you’ve made it past the bouncer and climbed the stairs, you enter a space reminiscent of the modern take on an old-school opium den. Lavish leather booths, 19th-century lampshades, thick velvet curtains, taxidermy ornaments and mood lighting... you haven’t done Auckland nightlife until you’ve done Cassette 9. Hosting a range of live performances, from rock bands to DJs and sexy as hell burlesque shows, Cassette brings together people of all backgrounds. Young and old, gay and straight, rich and poor, local and tourist—the conversation is sure to be engaging. The bar is famous for their extra quirky trademark cocktails, made for sharing and served in teapots. Talk about discreet...And if you need to cool down from all the excitement, there’s a decent sized balcony to share a fag or two.
Image credit: Lydia Arnold