It could be the Mötley Crüe bellowing through a jukebox, the red-drenched lighting, tables topped with bowls of Spam nuggets or unabashedly gaudy cocktails like pina coladas, but dive bar Humdinger is a fun thwack to the senses.
It’s from a trio of the capital’s hospitality heavyweights, all of whom run existing venues (some together, some separately): Sean Golding (Golding’s Free Dive, Shepherd Restaurant, Concord, The Intrepid Hotel), Shepherd Elliot (Shepherd Restaurant, Concord) and Hannah Wells (Puffin).
It was a collective love of heavy metal and great bars that made them take over the venue. It's on the corner of Ghuznee Street and Victoria Street, with some of Wellington’s best independent stores, cafes and bars only metres away.
Seating 60 inside and 16 outside, the space is smothered in dark red – red lighting, red floors and red seats among dark wooden wall panelling and booths. Adding to the Americana and heavy metal vibe, there are lightning bolt cut-outs along the bar and skulls plastered on most surfaces.
Co-founder Wells's other venue, wine bar Puffin, aims to take away the gatekeeping nature of wine by making it fun and accessible, and the team wanted to do the same with cocktails at Humdinger.
There are more than 15 cocktails on the menu, which all have their own personality but stay true to their roots. The Margarita Thatcher has tequila, triple sec and lime juice, just like the classic – but the addition of blue curacao makes it bright blue. It’s bordering on tacky, but also looks great in the glass. There’s a Rob Zombie with dark and white rum, lime and pineapple juice and grenadine – and classics such as a Sidecar, a Caipirinha and Negroni.
Food-wise, there’s a restaurant within the venue called Turnspit which does kebabs filled with lamb, chicken or onion falafel fritters; Leed Street Bakery flatbreads with toppings such as feta, hot honey, pine nut and mint, and cheeky sides including the aforementioned Spam nuggets with spicy pineapple salsa.
Given the team’s culinary expertise from their other restaurants, it’s about being irreverent but still exceptional, without hiding behind a gimmick. And, if you’re in the mood, you can order a bottle of Cristal to go with your kebab.
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