The Culprit boys are at it again, this time opening an elegant little bar directly across the road from their Wyndham Street flagship. In keeping with the brand, and in a nod to the space itself, they've decided to call this new establishment Little Culprit—but don't let the name fool you, for what this spot lacks in size, it more than makes up for in atmosphere, drink and food.
Indeed, it's hard to believe this little nook was once home to a block of public toilets (yes, you read that correctly!). Step inside, and you're immediately transported into an extravagant space evocative of the glamorous bars and clubs of the 1920s.
What at first appears to be one small room, with a grand marble and wood bar spanning the left-hand wall, is really two—but more on that later. There's an irony in that this cosy entry level actually feels rather grand, probably due to its unusually-high ceiling and generously-sized front window. The latter is swathed in a heavy, deep-green velvet curtain that's a staggering six metres high, and which with the click of a button, can be drawn to make the space appear even more intimate and/or private as night-time closes in.
Adding to the luxurious feel are accents of brown leather, shiny gold and marble—not to mention the impressive selection of bottles behind the bar which, with their many beautiful designs and colourful contents, are an art installation in themselves.
The Glen Grant Club board—sitting alongside the bar—is also a point of interest, and gives an insight into the cheeky personas running this new venture. As Jordan MacDonald (who along with Kyle Street is the brains behind Culprit) explains, he once gifted a rather valuable bottle of 1953 Glen Grant Whisky to a relative, who, not wanting to drink it themselves, suggested it would make a great addition to the menu at Little Culprit. Now anyone who purchases a shot of this beverage ends up with their name on the board, and rightfully so–one of these bad boys will set you back $320.
Adding a little modern flair to the otherwise timeless decor are eye-catching pieces by artists Dale Frank and Max Patté (famous for the iconic Solace In The Wind sculpture on Wellington's waterfront). The latter was donated by the building's owner and showcases intricate filigree details against a backdrop that actually lights up and changes colour.
As you descend further into the bar, its most precious secret—the lower level—is revealed. This intoxicating back room is studded with plush, brown leather booths, mood lighting and smaller versions of the curtain at the front, along with more of MacDonald's own (humorous) touches—a set of what look to be ceramic rhino nuns, and a framed drawing of a rhino from his home. And whilst it may seem rather tiny, this hidden den is deceivingly large, with the capability of holding up to 50 people.
So, what about the drinks then? They are, after all, the reason for which this space was created. There's a wonderful range of wines, gins and whiskies available, but the real stars of the show have to be the cocktails. These are broken into three, tongue-in-cheek categories—Little Classics, Little Culprits and Little Lights—and as the names suggest, embody beverages both old and new.
There's one standout here however, and that's the T'Art. This vibrant, raspberry-hued tipple with contrasting, ivory cream floating on the top like a sweet little cloud, combines tequila, cherries and sloe gin in a drink that is absolutely, unequivocally delicious. In fact, we're going to go out on a limb here to say that this is one of the best cocktails currently on offer in the city.
As for the food, Culprit fans won't be disappointed. In keeping with the bar's super-elegant theme, the dishes are largely based on those done over the road, just slightly re-imagined to better fit with the venue. This generous selection covers everything from fresh platters of juicy shellfish and sashimi and an impressive grazing board with all the trimmings; to the crispy, crunchy and carb-filled goodness of waffles, pancakes and waffle-pressed sandwiches.
The latter are a must-try, with classy albeit unexpected flavour combinations such as duck liver parfait with cherry relish and dried blackberry, and southern-fried shiitake mushrooms with truffle oil.
Cheers, Little Culprit, to a job well done—your big brother would be proud.
Image credit: Wono Kim