The winding tunnels below the intersection of Willis Street and Lambton Quay have been home to underground food courts and shopping since the Aon Centre opened (the big, black monolith known by many Wellingtonians as “Darth Vader’s pencil box”). Willis Lane is the most ambitious incarnation, comprising 14 restaurants and bars along the passageways of the 4000-square-metre labyrinth.

It’s owned by Precinct Properties, which has several commercial developments in Wellington and Auckland (including Commercial Bay) and was designed by Izzard Design.

Dark steel beams run along the ceiling and there’s plenty of recycled brick – particularly in the many archways. These contrast with a Winckelmans tiled floor, and white and green glazed wall tiles.

The effect’s a bit like something you’d find in the London Underground or New York’s Grand Central Station – or the Old Bank Arcade across the road, which Willis Lane connects to.

The food offering is varied and includes quick bites such as Rick’s Cheese Steaks (gooey cheese and meat-loaded Philly cheese steaks from Rick Unuia of fried chicken spot Soul Shack) and Crack Chicken, the first Wellington venture by Namu Group (Aigo, Gochu, The Candyshop).

There’s also Wilson Barbecue, the first CBD location for the Johnsonville institution, and Churly’s – a bar from Auckland’s craft beer Behemoth Brewing Company that serves wine, cocktails and more as well as pints. On the sweeter side, there’s a Duck Island near the stairs that descend into Willis Lane. There are also lifts and ramps throughout, and gender-neutral and accessible toilets.

The most upscale offering is Italian eatery Corso Pastaria, created by the team behind the Astoria and Atlas.

But Willis Lane is more than just a food hall. Next to Holey Moley, the bright red striped decor of Archie Brothers Cirque Electriq recalls a circus tent. It’s a place for all ages, with carnival and arcade games. There’s an eight-lane bowling alley too, and a craft cocktail bar that does milkshakes.

Willis Lane is the first place in Wellington where you can save the city from a rampaging King Kong (Holey Moley), then celebrate your victory with a glass of pinot gris (Corso) or doughnut cheeseburger (Crack Chicken). It also embodies what many know about the capital: spaces are often much bigger on the inside.

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Updated: October 8th, 2023

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