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The Club and Bar Scene

It’s simple: When it gets dark, the party starts, and again, the compact nature of the city is a blessing for those looking for a good time. There are late-night bars and dance venues aplenty, and if you want to bypass the quiet start and head straight for the action, then Courtenay Place it is. Not everyone will enjoy the large number of drunken youths in this area on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, but there are enough bars in this part of town for all ages to find a comfortable niche, and anyone over 25 who has outgrown the vomiting-in-the-street trick need only look around for a place that suits his or her mood. Be warned though—the Wellington bar scene is ever-changing and venues listed here may have changed names and owners by the time you arrive. The best bars are also typically in tiny, tucked-away places, so ask the locals about the latest hot spots.

The closing time for bars and clubs varies wildly in New Zealand. It depends on whether you’re in the provinces or a major city, whether it’s summer or winter, and what type of liquor license the establishment holds. In a major city like Wellington, it is safe to assume that most stay open in summer until between midnight and 2am. Many have 24-hour licenses.

Matterhorn, 106 Cuba St. (tel. 04/384-3359), serves great cocktails, and once the restaurant crowd is satisfied, it turns into a funky bar deserving of its accumulated awards. Mighty Mighty, Level 1, 104 Cuba St. (tel. 04/385-2890), has gone retro with menus on old record covers and cocktails that will get your evening off to a good start. Concrete Bar, Level 1, Cable Car Lane, Lambton Quay (tel. 04/473-7427), is a sophisticated joint with a great wine-and-beer list that’s also a good spot to commence a night on the town. Motel, Forrester’s Lane (tel. 04/382-8585), creates an exotic mood with a retro twist that includes sculptures and oriental lamps. It’s very suave and runs adjacent to the ever-popular Chow restaurant. Red Square, 28 Blair St. (tel. 04/802-4244), has one of those sumptuous, moody interiors that instantly puts you in a party mood, helped greatly by a head-spinning vodka list. It attracts a mixed crowd—as does its downstairs counterpart, Ponderosa, 20 Blair St. (tel. 04/384-1064), which, as the name suggests, has let loose with a cowboy-themed lounge bar. If you can overlook corny names like Stubborn Mule and Randy Ranger, you’ll have a great time with their delicious cocktail list. The Apartment, 25 Allen St. (tel. 04/385-9771; www.theapartment.co.nz), is a chic spot modeled after a New York loft apartment. It comes complete with bookshelves, dining room, leather sofas, a terrace, and a bedroom—all done in the best of taste. If you’re in a romantic mood, Hawthorn Lounge, 82 Tory St. (tel. 04/890-3724; www.hawthornlounge.co.nz), is an intimate bar with a 1920s private gentlemen’s club vibe.

Molly Malones, Taranaki Street and Courtenay Place (tel. 04/384-2896), is the biggest and busiest Irish bar in town, with live music every weekend. Also in this area is the hugely popular Coyote, 63 Courtenay Place (tel. 04/385-6665), which attracts a mixed and generally rowdy crowd.

There are also interesting bar and dance choices in the Cuba and Willis streets area, which tend to be a bit less concerned with fashion and making an appearance.

The "in" places for the older crowd (that’s 30-plus) are always changing, but you’ll be safe if you start with trendy Zibibbo, 25-29 Taranaki St. (tel. 04/385-6550), which inhabits the old central police building. You can get great Spanish-Italian tapas here along with sophisticated nightlife. One of the coolest places to be seen at is the very posh Arbitrageur, 125 Featherston St. (tel. 04/499-5530), where you’ll find sophisticated club style, over 600 of the best wines, and an interior that will win over any wine purist’s heart. It’s open Monday through Thursday from 11:30am till late and on Saturdays from 5pm.

Beer Literacy --If you’re a beer lover, Wellington will please you to no end. I’d start with Tasting Room, 2 Courtenay Place (tel. 04/384-1159; www.thetastingroom.co.nz), which is New Zealand’s 10th location of Monteith’s Craft Beer Bar. They know all about creative beer and food matching. Bodega, 101 Ghuznee St. (tel. 04/384-8212; www.bodega.co.nz), is Wellington’s original ale house serving the city’s only hand-drawn ales. It has 17 different tap beers and a massive selection of imports. They also host top New Zealand bands. Mac’s Brewery, corner of Taranaki and Cable streets (tel. 04/802-1956), has great harbor views where you can sit back and see why these beers are international award winners. Take one of their beer-and food-matching evenings or a brewery tour. The Courtenay Arms, 26-32 Allen St. (tel. 04/385-6908), is a real English ale house with premium imported British ales on tap. And no beer selection would be complete without the Malthouse, 48 Courtenay Place (tel. 04/802-5484; www.themalthouse.co.nz), which has New Zealand’s largest range of beers—over 150 local and international brews.

The Gay Scene

The visitor center has folders full of information related to the gay scene, including gay-friendly accommodations and nightspots other than those listed here. S&M’s (Scotty & Mal’s), 176 Cuba St. (tel. 04/802-5335; www.scottyandmals.co.nz), is an intimate two-level gay cocktail lounge with a B&D (basement and dance) bar downstairs; and Club Ivy, 3rd floor, 13 Dixon St. (www.clubivy.wordpress.com), is a leading lesbian, gay, and bi club with a party atmosphere. There’s a gay sauna at Checkmate, 15 Tory St. (tel. 04/385-6556; www.checkmatesauna.co.nz). For more info, call Gay Wellington (tel. 04/473-7878; www.gaywellington.org.nz). The line is open nightly from 7:30 to 10pm for information and support. Gay Line Wellington (www.gayline.gen.nz) is also a useful first stop. Lesbian Line (tel. 04/499-5567) operates Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday 7:30 to 10pm, offering information on accommodations, sporting events, and counseling services.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.