In Food + Drink

Auckland’s Newest Bar Offers Sky-High Views And Spectacular Gin

What’s the result of combining alluring cityscape views with a swanky yet intimate space echoing the mid-1900s era when Winston Churchill reigned? Oh, and close to 200 of the world’s best varieties of gin. Mixed together, these elements create one glorious concoction that’s shaking up New Zealand’s hospitality scene: The Churchill.

The country’s highest rooftop bar opened in Auckland in July and is a nod to the historic British politician and writer’s love of gin (and champagne). Managed by Scott O’Connor who has a background running cocktail bars and nightclubs in London, The Churchill aims to deliver a previously untapped experience to the city and to challenge common misconceptions of gin.

“We’re trying to pull people away from the London Dry with a slice of lemon type impression that’s all too common with gin,” O’Connor says. “These days, the spirit is more botanically infused with plenty of weird and wonderful flavours.”

the churchill

The notes O’Connor describes come in the form of the super-premium Skully Smooth Wasabi Gin sourced from The Netherlands and Amuerte Coca Leaf Gin from South America among many others. In fact, the bar currently stocks 170 different varieties of gin with at least 40 more set to be added by the end of the month.

The spirit is showcased on the 10-10-10 menu curated by O’Connor which features ten gins from around the world, ten varieties of mixers and ten different botanicals. The aim is to get people trying flavours and combinations they normally wouldn’t, O’Connor says.

“If someone comes in and says ‘I don’t really like gin,’ or ‘I don’t know what kind to have,’ I say ‘Oh, good – have you tried this one or that one?’ We encourage guests to start from the botanicals and go from there. Everyone knows what flavours they like so if they choose that first, we’ll do the rest.”

The Skully Smooth Wasabi pairs beautifully with Fever Tree Elderflower tonic and cucumber and mint botanicals; a fresh, cleansing beverage you can sip all night. For the more adventurous, there’s Malfy Arancia Blood Orange Gin mixed with East Imperial Grapefruit topped with star anise and rhubarb. Also on the menu is the New Zealand-produced gin distilled from sheep’s milk and honey from White Sheep Co.

But rest assured, for those with a classic palate and the mindset of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ there are consistent mixes on offer including lemon, juniper berry and Orris root. Yes, you’ll find accustomed labels like Bombay Sapphire, but tucked away at the back of the bar, O’Connor says.

“Why come to New Zealand’s highest rooftop bar only to have something you’re familiar with?” he challenges. “The menu is perfect for playing around a bit and trying something different.”

Take the lift in the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel lobby 20 floors skyward. Similar to a scene straight out of Manhattan, Sydney or Melbourne, the 130-seater bar now operates in a space that was originally planned for more hotel suits to wrap around the penthouse floor.

the churchill

At sundown, the floor-to-ceiling glass panels welcome in the warm amber glow of a setting sun. Designed by Paul Izzard of The Jefferson, Woodpecker Hill and The Blue Breeze Inn fame, there are plenty of dazzling spaces to sip out of the burgundy wine glasses sourced from Italy.

Settle at one of the tables, at the bar, on the balcony, or in the dimly lit booth complete with plush velvet seating to watch the city begin to sparkle under a sky transcending into inky darkness. Views sweep directly toward the Sky Tower, Auckland Harbour Bridge and down Queen Street to Britomart precinct.

the churchill

A curved staircase leads to a second booth which can be booked for an intimate private dining experience. Executive chef, Glen Rockhouse, has created dishes designed to be shared from the highest quality of locally sourced produce. Try the gin-cured pork scratchings, 55-day aged beef, succulent calamari, mouth-watering smoky hapuka fish croquettes and to top it all off: gin-infused crème brulee.

There’s a champagne trolley which includes Winston Churchill’s favourite Pol Roger for those wanting to stray away from gin. Beer is available on tap, so too is an impressive wine list. Soon to come is a bespoke cocktail menu celebrating Churchill’s famous quotes and moments in history.

What’s it like to elevate New Zealand’s hospitality scene to, quite literally, another level and in some way, mark a historic moment of his own? “Phenomenal,” O’Connor smiles. “We love what we’ve built so far and to offer an experience of going to a rooftop bar and seeing a city from this elevation. People arrive here with a huge smile and if I can create an experience where they leave wearing an even bigger smile then I’ve done my job well; it’s mission complete.”

(All images: The Churchill / supplied)

Published 29 August, 2019