Compared to other cities in the world, Auckland is a little late to the rooftop bar game. But the last few years have seen it make up for lost time – and there’s arguably no better city to have a drink a few floors up.
Surrounded by all that sparkling blue harbour, there are plenty of stunning water views – as anyone visiting Sunset, the latest addition to the city’s elevated bar scene, will see.
Find the bar and restaurant on the 10th – and highest – floor of Sudima’s Auckland City hotel. On the corner of Wellesley and Nelson streets in the CBD, it has spectacular views out over the water and Wynyard Quarter in one direction, and out to the Waitākere Ranges in the other.
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And yes, you can literally watch the sun set over the Waitematā Harbour from your stripey chair or sofa, as you sip a cocktail and share some small plates.
The cocktail menu includes clever flavour combinations such as Arquitecto tequila blanco, cherry blossom salt and East Imperial grapefruit soda – a play on the famous Paloma. There are also a couple of fun options on tap, including the Sunset Spritz (aperitivo blend, apricot, sparkling rosé) which would make for easy drinking on a hot Auckland day. The bar’s take on the Espresso Martini also has some fragrant twists, mixing Thomson Two Tone Whisky with a homemade chai blend and nitro cold-brew coffee – topped with a warm coconut-cream foam, nutmeg and turmeric powder.
Sunset was designed by Auckland and Sydney-based studio CTRL Space, which is well-known for fitting out popular Auckland eateries including Lilian, Inca, Siso, Hotel Ponsonby and Saint Alice. There are obvious nods to the ’70s – curved ceilings and banquettes – in the 132-seater space, and its pastel hues also give a whiff of the ’80s.
Clever use of timber, tiles and stone keeps things classy and contemporary – retro highlights done right. Before the sun goes down on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll find everyone vying for those outdoor views with a seat on the terrace. Large overhead heaters mean this is possible even in winter, but the other interior spaces shouldn’t be overlooked.
The larger seating area to the left of the bar (looking out over city streets rather than water) has a luxe retro-glam feel, with large brown leather sofas, curved velvet single-seaters and oversized rice-paper lampshades hanging from the ceiling.
Food is snacky, largely based on perennial bar favourites like fried chicken, sliders, koftas and waffle fries. But in everything, there’s evidence of executive chef Harmeet Singh Nanda’s Mumbai roots – the waffle fries come with a smattering of masala spice and tomato kasundi, the fried chicken with a curried mustard dipping sauce. Lamb skewers are garnished with coriander, and there are pappadums for dipping in whipped avocado, green chilli and pomegranate salsa.
There are only two meat-based sharing plates; the rest are vegan or vegetarian – not surprising given the popularity of the hotel’s meatless restaurant East, also helmed by Singh Nanda, on the ground floor.
There has been a lot of input from people who understand New Zealand’s hospitality scene well, with a drinks menu put together by Dana Johnston (founder of iconic former Auckland bars including 46 & York) and consultant Mikey Ball (a former bartender at London’s Milk & Honey), plus a wine list by importer and consultant Simon Kelly.
Maximus Perry and Samson Stewart from the talented team behind Christchurch restaurant 5th Street collaborated on Singh Nanda’s menu. DJ Cam Robertson has curated a music program based on a love of house and disco, and everything has been done under the leadership of creative consultant Andrew Glenn, founder of Waiheke’s eternally popular Oyster Inn.
“It’s no question that hospitality has faced unprecedented challenges the last two years,” Glenn told Broadsheet. “The knock-on effects of Covid continue with staffing shortages and the rest. I think Sunset’s opening is a time of renewal and change.”
With the dust settling, hospitality feels hopeful again, he says. “Spring is around the corner and people are wanting to go out and enjoy themselves again. Sunset is great because it’s a hybrid of all the things we love to go out for: part bar, part restaurant, part lounge, part penthouse – all fun.”
Top floor, Sudima Auckland City
63–67 Nelson Street, Auckland CBD
(09) 399 2367
Thur to Sat 4pm–late