From unconventional bars in buses to dimly lit speakeasies and local craft breweries, Christchurch nightlife is anything but dull. Whether you’re looking for a romantic date night spot or a place to dance the night away, these are the Christchurch bars you don’t want to miss.
O.G.B. & Parlour
Oh, O.G.B., where would we be without you? This classy establishment is housed inside one of Christchurch’s few heritage buildings, Old Government House (hence the name). The speakeasy-style bar overlooks Cathedral Square with a charming outdoor courtyard, good old fashioned table service, and live music. Inside, you’ll find an intimate, well-stocked bar with more than forty cocktails, an extensive local wine list and several bars on tap. If you’re a Negroni fan, the one here is the best in town. In addition to excellent drinks, O.G.B. also serves breakfast from 8:30 until midday and bar snacks until 1:00 am. Try the harissa grilled chicken or one of their burgers, which are served with hand-cut fries.
Towards the back of O.G.B., tucked away behind a secret bookcase, you’ll find Parlour, a brand new cocktail lounge with pink velvet seating. Much quieter than its lively older brother, Parlour is an opulent cocktail bar and the best room in the house, especially if you want to get away from the action for a private conversation. If you end up having a few too many and need a place to stay, O.G.B. is home to the Heritage Hotel and Suites, perfect for a central city staycation.
Climb up the hidden staircase to second-storey Boo Radley’s and you’ll discover an outdoor seating area just outside the main entrance. You’ll be immediately greeted with a well-stocked bar right in front of you and a huge pool table to your right. The main seating area, which is typically home to live music, is dimly lit with candles. Old American newspapers cover the walls, giving the space an old school Southern American vibe. This vibe is reflected in Boo Radley’s inventive drink and food menus as well. Home to the largest bourbon whisky collection in New Zealand, the cocktail menu is equally impressive. Trust us and order the Paper Plane, made with Maker’s Mark bourbon, Aperol, Averna and lemon juice or The Godfather’s Whiskey Sour, also with Maker’s Mark bourbon, Disaronno, lemon, sugar and egg white. Their grown-up milkshakes are also delicious, especially the Caramel Maker and Gingerbread Man. If you’re not a bourbon drinker, the blackberry and sage negroni also goes down a treat. To eat, there’s plenty of Southern comfort food on the menu. Fried chicken, pan-fried halloumi and even blackened carrot and chive waffles are all spectacular.
No best of Christchurch list is complete with Smash Palace, the city’s most loved bar that came into being in 2011. An emblem of the Christchurch rebuild, Smash Palace has found permanent digs on High Street in the central city. The original bus-converted-into-a-bar is still very much present but it now sits alongside a beautiful brick building and a beer garden. The interior is a cosy place to spend a few hours, but the outdoor seating is where Smash really shines. During the winter months, order a mulled wine or cider and grab a seat near the heaters. They take their burgers pretty seriously here, with all ingredients made from scratch onsite. Also on the menu is fried chicken, dumplings and some of the best chips with aioli in the city. Smash Palace is a truly special place where everyone feels welcome and there’s nothing but the best vibes.
Bangalore Polo Club
The Bangalore Polo Club has triumphantly returned to Christchurch. Follow the alleyway just off Oxford Terrace to the small yet regal bar. Filled with leather banquettes, beautiful tiled floors (characteristically covered with peanut shells) and a roaring fire, it’s the ultimate spot for an evening tipple. The creative cocktail menu is two pages long and divided up into four sections: Frozen Quenches, The Founding Fathers’ Libations, Clubhouse Coolers and Golden Oldies, which makes deciding on a drink incredibly difficult. We suggest a frosé or The Joker, a modern take on a traditional Pimms, topped with a cucumber and mint popsicle for good measure. The Gin Fizz is also a showstopper. The small and sharing plates menu is much shorter but features delightful options like crispy squid, line-caught ceviche and Caprese salad. Pro tip: if you’re looking for a place to dance the night away, this cosy bar is the place.
The hospitality couple behind Christchurch's Eaton Drink Co. is now making their mark on the Cambridge Terrace. In what was formerly Whet Bar’s old site, Sawyer is a cosy lounge with an enticing collection of fermented and distilled refreshments and creative cocktails. Located in the Deloitte building, the contemporary space is dark and moody with both indoor and outdoor seating. Open from Tuesday to Saturday, it’s an excellent choice for after work drinks due to its proximity to plenty of the city’s office towers. Throughout the winter months, they’re hosting Tiki Tuesdays and serving up some of their most delicious tropical cocktails alongside bar snacks (deep fried gherkins and pork bao, anyone?)
In the heart of the city, you’ll find the iconic, Fat Eddie's, New Zealand's favourite jazz club. The second-storey bar is one of many bars on Oxford Terrace, overlooking the banks of the Avon River. Head upstairs, where you’ll be greeted by a yellow neon sign and framed photos of famed musicians and a big stage that’s home to different musicians every night of the week. With plenty of room for grooving, the spacious establishment is the ultimate spot to dance the night away or for some people-watching on the balcony. It’s also a popular joint for functions from work dos to birthday parties.
Gin lovers, rejoice! Christchurch is finally home to a garden oasis, Gin Gin, serving up botanical delights in large chalices. The tiny, one-room hideaway is our day drinking spot of choice, with its pink walls, velvet ottomans and an assortment of pots and hanging baskets filled with plants and edibles (many are used in the creative gin concoctions). And on the menu? A huge range of gin that’s been sourced from distilleries both near and far—from Christchurch to England and Japan. Said gins are used in fifteen different gin and tonics as well as negroni on tap, local wine and beer. There’s also a small menu of tapas and platters. You’ll find Mediterranean pizza, cured salmon, goat cheese and flatbreads. If you’re a gin lover, there’s no better place to be than this intimate, outdoor (and dog-friendly) venue.
Red Light District
Cleverly disguised behind a laundromat, the Red Light District bar is a hole-in-the-wall speakeasy tucked away just off Victoria Street. Entry to this secret cocktail lounge is through a working drycleaners, which makes adds to the allure. Follow the red lanterns into the dimly-lit bar with Oriental decor and intimate seating. The well-stocked bar specialises in premium cocktails and each drink has been carefully created by expert mixologists. Their espresso martini is the perfect pick-me-up or opt for the Rhubarb Triangle, which is both refreshing and potent. Another go-to is the Vera Wang, which mixes gin, sparkling wine, lychee and lemongrass. There’s also a limited snack menu available to nibble on alongside your drinks. The perfect destination for date night or catching up with a friend, Red Light District is a true hidden gem and unlike any other bar in Christchurch.
Civil & Naval
On Lyttelton's main drag, you’ll find Civil & Naval, a little tapas bar squeezed into what was formerly a historic tailor. Look out for the original facade and the few seats outside a large window, which peers onto London Street. Grab a seat outside under the green canopy in the bricked courtyard or cosy up for drinks by the log fire. The open kitchen serves up unique interpretations of classic tapas and larger sharing plates with European influences. Each dish pairs wonderfully with a strong, carefully curated spirit and wine list focusing on both small-scale local and international growers and distillers. The casual yet elegantly designed space reflects the hip sensibilities of the surrounding area while continuing to pay tribute to Lyttelton’s past.
The Dirty Land
Step inside The Dirty Land, where you’ll be greeted with moody lighting, heavy red curtains, exposed brick and textural fixtures sitting underneath a pressed tin ceiling. Order one of their killer cocktails, both the Melancholy, which is the perfect comforting drink for the cold weather ahead and the Papacito, which features chilli infused tequila, cold-drip coffee, vanilla sugar and a hint of chocolate are excellent. Paired with a nuanced wine list and a selection of imported beers, it’s easy to see why this place is hugely popular amongst Christchurch locals. Oh, and there’s the amazing Mexican food delivered straight from Mexicanos next door, you won’t ever want to leave! Whether you’re snuggling into the cosy corner for a few drinks or wanting to celebrate until the wee hours of the morning, The Dirty Land won’t disappoint.
Papanui Road / Carlton Courts
You may think you’ve been transported to Spain upon entering Vesuvio’s sun-drenched courtyard, which gives way to a relaxed lounge in the evening. A true hidden gem, just off Papanui Road, Vesuvio is home to an extensive wine selection, delicious tapas, cocktail list and live music throughout the week. Try the Antioxidant Daisy with vodka, blackberry, lemon, thyme, ginger and bitters or Gypsy Eyes, which is gin, Aperol, grapefruit, Chartreuse, and lime. Cocktails pair perfectly with the menu, which is divided up into bar boards, big boards and chargrilled tapas. Our favourites include chargrilled mushrooms with figs, walnuts, buffalo feta and the Spanish cuts with serrano, morcilla, chorizo cular and roast ciabatta.
Whether it’s for a corporate function, a birthday party or a small gathering, Vesuvio is the perfect place for a get-together. They have a massive music library, which means you even get a say in what’s being played.
Image Credit: Nancu Zhou, Bangalore Polo Club, The Dirty Land, Jessica S. Irvin, Gin Gin