Some secrets are best shared so we’re spilling our intel on Tāmaki Makaurau's hidden gems. Mainstream is just so mainstream, after all, and your special occasion deserves a truly fantastic spot.
Just between you and us, here are 24 of the best hidden gems in Auckland.
Let's kick off the list with a secret place that's sky-high that we’d be remiss to not include (read: *shout loudly about*). Sunset is a brand spanking new rooftop bar serving Indian-influenced snacks atop Sudima Hotel. From their ‘Pepper Leaf Fix’ cocktail with pink gin, boysenberry, kawakawa pepper and golden grapefruit juice, to their masala waffle fries with grated parmesan and tomato kasundi, Sunset’s offerings are all shades of delicious. Decked out with ‘70s-inspired pastel shades, textural tiles, stone and timber, with jaw-dropping views, you’ll want to discover this hidden gem, stat.
Located up a sleek black staircase framed by cute cats is Lucky 8, a seriously cool tapas bar from the legends behind Mr Hao. Pairing exposed brick and funky neon signs with red leather seats, everything on the Asian-inspired menu is under $8, including the cocktails. From slow-cooked beef cheeks to golden-crusted shrimp and hand-made dumplings, Lucky 8 is one of the tastiest hidden gems in Tāmaki Makaurau. Top tip: look for the big black lucky cat statue on the roof of a building on Ponsonby Road.
Hidden in plain sight at the back of Candela, a Spanish/Latin American-inspired eatery and wine bar, is Barcita. The tiny bar certainly packs a punch with its very own bar and tapas menus and views of The Sky Tower, to boot. Tapas include tasty fried piquillo peppers, cured meats, house pickled mussels and cheesecake, and then you've got $20 highballs and classic cocktails, gorgeous non-alcoholic beverages and a curated selection of wine and beer. Delightful.
Cross Street holds a secret in the shape of Bar Magda, a former nightclub turned underground bar. Showcasing a boujee Filipino-inspired menu, sensational cocktails and organic, biodynamic wines, she's a vibe. Get amongst their tasty selection of hot and cold plates with sour, salty, sweet and spicy flavours, throw back a tipple or three, and stay late to get cosy around the fire, revelling in flowing drinks and booming music.
On a night out along Karangahape Road, you may have chanced upon a room full of framed pictures and a mannequin and wondered why such an oddity exists. Prepare to have your mind blown—somewhere in that room is the doorway to Sly, one of the most hidden gems in Auckland. Expect a retro, sexy-grunge vibe with excellent service and damn good music. Beers are served shrouded in a paper bag, prohibition-style and cocktails come in evocative Italian crystal glass. Good vibes every time.
Look behind the curtain to find Bozo Bar, a gin and craft beer joint with a chilled out vibe. Get comfy in a plush booth and opt for a gin paddle to get your bearings before delving into the 45+ gins on offer, or explore their rotating array of craft beer. Stave off the hanger with the ‘Cheeses Christ!’ cheeseboard, a toastie or chips with Kiwi onion dip. And if you're looking for a spot for laid-back Sunday Sessions, this is it.
Pineapple on Parnell
Only those who know where to look will spy the brass pineapple doorknocker that marks the gateway to one of Auckland's best hidden gems, Pineapple on Parnell. 80s-inspired, this cocktail lounge is the definition of lowkey decadence from its dimly lit interiors and plush leather sofas to its velvet cushions and dark wooden furnishings. But it's the rum-soaked cocktail list that has us talking—always say yes to yuzu foam. Wednesdays and Thursdays you'll find their house pianist throwing down some melodies and on Saturdays you'll be treated to a live jazz duo.
The team at HI-SO claim drinks taste better at high altitudes and they should know—luxury rooftop bar HI-SO is hidden fifteen storeys up in the air, perched atop the SO/Auckland hotel. Get glammed up, strut through the other-worldly lobby and get beamed up to the party. Graze on platters, pop a couple of freshly shucked oysters or opt for a selection of hot dishes like kimchi fries, bao buns and karaage. Enjoy a sundowner—there's an extensive list to choose from—then hit the dancefloor, cutting shapes to live DJ sets well into the night.
Another hidden gem you absolutely must visit is sultry subterranean cocktail lounge, Caretaker. Described as a "New York style cocktail lounge, inspired by the golden era of bartending", you know you're in good hands. Pull up a stool at this trendy haunt and let the expert mixologists take care of you. Just tell them what tickles your fancy and they'll whip you up a custom tipple fit for the gods. And, with plenty of dark corners to hide away in and even table service, this is the perfect place to impress that special someone.
Holding the title of most exclusive hidden gem in Tāmaki Makaurau is Thursday Bar, a members’ only venue reminiscent of an underground club in New York. Sophisticated and lush, if you’re looking to attend a soirée this is the place, provided you can score an invitation and the secret code that goes with it. Membership is limited to 500 people at any one time with house rules requiring members to make a regular appearance. Phone use is also strictly prohibited so what goes on at Thursday, stays at Thursday.
Decked out in Edwardian furnishings, Deadshot is Caretaker's mysterious sister. Unlike most bars in Auckland, table service is queen here, with expert mixologists matching your mood to over 1,000 cocktail recipes and wonderous concoctions. Importantly, you can be sure you'll have an epic experience every time you visit as groups are capped at a maximum of six people to ensure an intimate, cosy atmosphere. Dark and enchanting, and with a name that's cowboy jargon for 'strong liquor' you can count on this hidden gem to deliver.
Whammy! Bar and The Wine Cellar
Follow a dark staircase into the belly of St Kevin's Arcade and you'll find Whammy! Bar with its sister The Wine Cellar just through the wall. Whammy! feels like you've fallen down the rabbit hole and into a world of grunge dive chic, with a fully stocked bar, an ever-changing lineup of eclectic live gigs and plenty of dark corners to kick back in. The Wine Cellar hosts a diverse lot of local artists from free jazz to garage rock in a more intimate, homely setting with reworked and recycled fittings and furniture.
Head downtown and you might happen upon The Jefferson. Hidden away in the basement of Fort Lane's Imperial Building, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a 1920s speakeasy with a bit of a futuristic twist. Cobalt blue couches with gold accents and an industrial flair make this bar very aesthetically pleasing but the thing that makes this place so amazing is its extensive selection of whisky (and whiskey). With over 500 different types to choose from you are spoiled for choice and, if you get hungry, their sticky ribs are some of the best in town.
Tucked away on the corner of Federal and Wolfe Street Mo's has become an institution over its twenty plus years in business and is loved for its intimate, cosy and peaceful vibes. Known as "the friendliest little bar in town" Mo's will have you enjoying classic cocktails and wondering how the hell you didn't discover it sooner.
Whether you’ve spent the afternoon sailing the Waitematā or you prefer your feet planted firmly on the ground, Captain’s Bar is worth a visit. Park Hyatt’s hidden gem, you’ll be living your pirate fantasy with their fine selection of rums, accompanied by delish, moana-inspired tapas. If cocktails are more your thing, you’ll be delighted to know they offer all the classics with a unique Captain’s Twist. Take their Yuzu Mojito, for example, it the perfect blend of Plantation 3 Stars rum, mint, lime, sugar cane syrup, Angostura bitters and yuzu lemonade.
A flight of vintage stairs off Karangahape Road, beside popular Italian restaurant, Cotto, leads to Anthology K Road. Adorned with plenty of art and photographs of rock legends this music, lounge and wine bar does live music well. Designed as a social space, it’s a great place to chill out, muse over music and enjoy a nightcap. Head down on Wednesday nights from 8-10pm for live jazz by Creative Jazz Club Aotearoa.
A restored nunnery may not be the first place that jumps to mind when thinking about where to eat in the city of sails but it absolutely should be. Italian-inspired restaurant, Ada, is hidden within The Convent, a boutique hotel that used to be a nunnery back in 1922. The original architecture makes for a beautiful setting only rivalled by the menu itself. Think melt-in-your-mouth beef short rib, flavoursome pasta plates, crispy pizza frittata and a dessert that’ll leave you gasping for more.
Far from the swankiness of city eateries, Big J’s is a takeaway shop famous for flipping seriously tasty, and often, gravity-defying burgers. Well worth the drive, and even though it’s usually busy, Big J’s is tucked down a road in Mt Wellington, so you’ll feel like you’ve made a discovery. With a cult following for a reason, Big J's is beloved for its Burger of The Week, toasties, hot dogs, "deep fries" and just about anything else you could want with a burger. Head here to feast on next-level burgers sporting handmade patties, fresh ingredients and sauces.
Pssst, here's a Yakitori, Sake and Kushiage Bar underneath Queen Street—this is not a drill. Climb down the stairs or up (if you know, you know) to find yourself amidst the hustle and bustle of Tanuki's Cave. With an abundance of grilled meat and vege skewers, donburi, salads, tasty breadcrumbed morsels and yakitori sets you'll want to try everything and, thanks to their spot on pricing, you can. Be sure to try the piping hot mashed kumara balls coated with crispy almond chips, whet your whistle with sake and, if you manage to save room for dessert, the cave's signature sweet is the Chocolate Gyoza—wontons stuffed with Moro bar, deep fried and served with a side of whipped cream. Hot damn.
Our Land Is Alive
A love letter to Aotearoa sits within Cordis hotel but Our Land is Alive is anything but kitsch. There are nods to this beautiful country at every turn but not in a predictable, silver fern-kinda-way. Each cocktail is a unique Kiwi twist on a classic with a cheeky name to match, and there’s a load of Kiwi craft beers and local wines to choose from. As for the kai beloved staples such as Hot Chups, Our Land is Alive Charcuterie Platter, Codfather from the South Fish & Chips sits alongside seasonal switch-ups every quarter. But whatever you order, know your tastebuds will soon be reaching for the heavens.
Hidden beneath Cafe Hanoi, Ghost Street is an underground dining experience jam-packed with authentic Chinese flavours. Housed in a 130-year-old space, with moody lighting, exposed brick, black cement tiles and recycled timber tables there’s more atmosphere here than you can shake a chopstick at. Better still, and perhaps eerily, Chinese ghost stories are painted all over the walls. Check off what dishes you’d like on the menu, clip said menu to the string hanging above your table and then sit back as multitudes of delicious dishes arrive. Don’t even get us started on the cocktails (spoiler alert: they're divine).
Eat pasta, drink wine, be merry—that’s what Kingsland’s little Italian gem, Venosa specialises in. Away from the hustle and bustle of Kingsland’s bars, Venosa is unlike any restaurant you’ve dined at in the area. It’s a small restaurant, overflowing onto the street, serving exceptional Italian family recipes and Italian wine with the warm Italian service to match. Expect authentic dishes such as arancini, prosciutto e melone, carbonara, and a ridiculously delicious rigatoni with Nonna’s slow cooked pork ragu.
Another hidden gem on Fort Lane is Cassia, a subterranean fine-dining eatery serving a boujee, modern spin on traditional Indian flavours. Whether you head here for a full, multi-course meal—Cassia's Journey Through India is practically transcendental—or a catch up over pani puri and cocktails, you won't be disappointed. Need a pick-me-up partway through your work day? Head over to Fort Lane to feast on their delectable business lunch menu.
Tucked away in Durham Street is Mezze Bar, a cosy but spacious candle-lit bar offering some of the tastiest Mediterranean-inspired tapas. You can’t go wrong with their polenta fries and a glass of pinot, and their mezze platters are the stuff of dreams. Mezze bar is also renowned for their sweet treats and have a droolworthy dessert cabinet to show for it. Their tiramisu and a glass of dessert wine make for a glorious pairing, and their gluten-free Egyptian orange cake is utter perfection.
Image credit: Sly by Wono Kim, Sudima Auckland, Barcita, Pineapple On Parnell, Caretaker, Deadshot, The Jefferson, Captain's Bar, Park Hyatt Auckland, Ada, Tanuki's Cave, Ghost Street by Wono Kim, Cassia by Babiche Martens.