In Food + Drink

The Old-World Cocktail Lounge Hidden In A Christchurch Heritage Building

The heritage-listed 1913 Old Government Building sits within the charming Cathedral Square in central Christchurch. Entering its doors is like stepping back in time, revealing scenes from an era when gentlemen puffed Cuban cigars and drank whisky and the ladies sipped cocktails and gossiped.

Owner and founder of OGB Bar, Nick Inkster, is the driving force behind this surprising nod to the old-world. Nick says his establishment, which sits within the heritage building and to the side of an operating hotel, is all about celebrating old Christchurch and providing old-school hospitality.

“It starts the very minute guests step through the door. Bar staff wear newsboy flat caps and bowler hats, suspenders and matching striped collarless shirts in keeping with authentic 1900s Christchurch,” he says.

OGB Bar

Sit out in the dimly lit courtyard overlooking Cathedral Square and be entertained with live music. The bar stocks everything from an indulgent top-shelf whiskey and plenty of spirits to renowned New Zealand and international wine and local and imported craft beer on tap.

An extensive cocktail list boasts tipples made with the best quality ingredients and by some of the city’s most experienced bartenders. Food includes steak and burgers, sharing platters and “really good coffee”.

A secret door that Nick built behind a bookcase leads from OGB Bar through to Parlour, an intimate cocktail lounge with low-seated booths and a mahogany and marble bar where “the ladies can go to talk about the gentlemen,” Nick says.

Follow the nearby corridor to another of Nick’s stunning creations: the Frederick Woodwards Barber Shop. Designed to replicate its namesake’s original early 1900s shop in Cathedral Square, the joint offers traditional hot shaves, serves drinks from the OGB menu, and Cuban cigars to “top off that real old school experience”.

Nick has always had a knack for making people feel welcome. Growing up, his late father, Robin, imparted words that would stick with him forever and guide him throughout a burgeoning hospitality career.

“At the age of 21, I remember my father telling me he could see me building my own bar one day because I loved playing host,” Nick says.

The Christchurch resident purchased his first home with his twin brother and built a bar off the garage where he continued to host parties into his late twenties. Fast forward years later and Nick is still entertaining. Only now, it’s inside Christchurch’s best bar and cocktail lounge.

Christchurch born and bred, Nick remembers the many past lives the building has had: prior to 1996 as Government offices, then as an art gallery and before the devastating earthquake in 2011, as a lobby bar for the hotel. Since Nick established OGB Bar in 2016, it’s been a place for friends to meet and memories to be made.

The earthquake caused extensive damage to much of Christchurch; quite literally changing the face of the city. Cordons known as red zones were placed around areas with so much destruction it was labelled unsafe to enter.

OGB Bar

Once the zones were lifted in the CBD, Nick was eager to see how badly the OGB had been damaged. Having been re-strengthened in the 1990s, it was all purely cosmetic and Nick used his carpentry background to transform the vacant space downstairs.

“I started with a clean canvas, stripping it right back but with respect to its heritage status,” he says. Original features are the four big windows including architraves and sills, and the internal doors, some complete with period timber moulding. Nick salvaged native New Zealand rimu timber, from both his first home and his parent’s property that had been damaged in the earthquake to make the window bar that serves the outdoor courtyard.

“Christchurch lost so much heritage [in the earthquake] so my vision was to complement the traditional building and bring it back to life.” In fact, Nick spent hours researching the fittings, hardware and mouldings in buildings of the same era.

OGB Bar

“I probably went through every antique dealer in Christchurch to find the exact decor to style my bar,” he says. “The national brass cash till, the original phonographs and gramophones are all in working order; nothing is just a prop.”

Touching tributes to his father inside the bar include an old sign taken from the gate of the family home and served on tap is a beer affectionately named ‘Robin’s Ale.’

“My father bought me a photograph of Cathedral Square before he passed away and pictured at the bottom of the frame is the Old Government Building. It was like he was guiding me towards the place that would one day become my dream bar.”

While Nick admits he may be “dreaming big”, his plan to replicate similar experiences to OGB Bar in other beautiful old buildings across New Zealand and Australia doesn’t seem too farfetched in the slightest.

(Lead image: OGB Bar / supplied) 

Published 24 September, 2019