SOL Flavours

This month we decided that it was time to rediscover SOL Square and the myriad venues within its precinct. Has SOL lost its soul and merely after the big bucks? Or underneath it all is the area still alive and kicking with the vibrancy and quirkiness that the developers originally intended?

SOL Square was initially set up to redevelop the old warehouse district – an aged, down-at-heel part of the city. Developer Dave Henderson sought to revitalise these forgotten architectural gems of Christchurch’s history. In doing so, he has recreated a look epitomised by so many other cities around the world. Think the cobbled streets of Soho in London, the alleyways behind Montmartre in Paris or Greenwich Village in New York and you’ve got SOL Square, albeit with a very Kiwi twist.
It’s testament to Dave Henderson’s vision (and his art department) that SOL Square appealed to and was so quickly embraced by those slightly left of centre, or perhaps those who’d done a bit of travelling. It seemed to offer something different to The Strip, and therefore attracted an older, arty and more sophisticated kind of crowd. The offer from each bar was varied and had an originality that hadn’t been seen in Christchurch. So why has the perception of SOL seemed to have changed over the last year?
An assumption at the moment is that SOL Square is just a mass of bars, frequented by the former inhabitants of The Strip. The drunken teeny-boppers out in force and causing havoc on the weekend seem to have replaced the once-discerning punter. Granted, in certain bars after midnight this can sometimes be seen, but then a lot of places around Christchurch are afflicted with the same problem.
However, we’re pleased to say that SOL Square is truly a village within a city, somewhere you can spend all day, literally starting with brekkie and finishing up with a boogie on the dance floor (much) later that evening, all without thankfully encountering the RTD, under-18 crowd. A seemingly little known fact is that SOL has a wealth of places that offer great dining experiences, and is not all about drinking till you drop.
Get back out there and rediscover SOL Square for yourselves. Don’t just take our word for it!

The Bars & Restaurants
Here’s a quick glance at all the restaurants, bars and cafés to be found within SOL Square, and a few anecdotes that reveal the quintessential nature of each venue.

His Lordships

History: First given a liquor licence in 1880 Atmosphere: English pub Quirky: Old radios on the wall that came from a Smith City Auction. The original pub was actually where the entrance to SOL Square is, but burnt down in 2000 Favourite food:Sunday roast Thing to look out for: Live music seven nights a week, beer school running every Wednesday night from 6-8pm till October.

Mexican Café
History: Opened in Christchurch in 2005; Mexican Café is a 25-year-old institution in Auckland Atmosphere: Vibrant, Latin-influenced, noisy and good fun Favourite food: California/Mexican inspired – must try the taco salad Favourite drink:Margaritas by the jug. Huge range of Mexican beers Things to watch for: 157 different tequilas, including the world’s most expensive. Watch out for the chilli tequila!

History: Opened February 2007, when five guys got hold of a hole in the wall that had some outside space and decided to open a cool bar. Had a small budget but the vision of a Cuban theme to go in the bar Atmosphere: Cuban-themed with a mix of old furniture and sofas to create a comfy yet funky bar to hang out in. Great music with DJs on weekends Quirky: Only seats 30 people! Drink to try: Mojito cocktail or one of the 35 rums available Thing to look out for: Hot water bottles – get the staff to fill one up for you to keep you warm when sitting outside. Board games like Connect 4, Monopoly, Yahtzee, etc, to keep you amused.

La Petite Croix
Atmosphere: Inspiration taken from a cellar of an ancient French Château, yet designed to be like the local place to go. Not pretentious, simply ‘French’! Favourite food: The garlic-infused prawn hot pot Best drink: A huge range of Champagne to choose from Things to watch for: Upholstered exterior, original silver and pewter teapots, the bar made from an old intricate ceiling panel.

History: An old sewing factory; some of the old machines are up on the mezzanine floor and the tables downstairs are sewing tables Naming origins: The cross used to sit on top of the Odeon Theatre from the days when it was a church; Dave used to see this from his office window every day and decided to use it Quirky: When a floorboard came loose on the dance floor they found thousands of pins underneath it – see if you can sneak a peek Favourite food: Any one of the pizzasFavourite drink: The India Pale Ale is a must Things to watch for: Check out the micro-brewery tanks with the cheeky cherubs.

Atmosphere: An intimate space, designed to be as if the local farmer has converted his barn! Naming origins: Vinum is Latin for wine (pronounced vee-num) Favourite food: An unlimited supply of peanuts – you even throw the shells on the floor! Things to watch for: That you don’t get caught up in the lock-in. Check out what’s holding the menus – the old skeleton of some goat!

The Fish & Chip Shop
History: Part of two buildings that were built for the Lichfield Shirt Company in 1932 and 1954 Atmosphere: Kiwiana – remember that 60-ish sofa and those chrome legged, formica-topped tables? Sourced from all over New Zealand, what was once considered naff and kitsch seems to have come into a fashion of its own Naming origins: Before all the other fast food joints opened up, fish & chips were the takeaway of New Zealand so it made sense to name it after that Things to look for:The paua shell count has to be seen to be believed.

Cleaners Only
History: In the old Lichfield Shirt Company Building Naming origins: The fictional story tells that at the turn of the century alcohol was hard to come by, but luckily cleaners of the time knew someone who knew someone who made a still. Hard liquor was brewed, drunk and eventually distributed on site. Every night just enough bricks were removed to allow the cleaners to sneak through when their shift ended and then to indulge themselves until the early hours Atmosphere: Like a cleaner’s cupboard: mops and buckets, gasoline cans and more junk, sourced from garage sales, Supershed, demolition yards and secondhand stalls! Favourite food: Microwave pies Favourite drink: Can of Double Brown Things to look for:The dirty overalls hanging from the ceiling rack!

Fat Eddie’s
History: It’s based on the legendary (but purely fictional) Edward J Schwartz, known as Fat Eddie, a music impresario and promoter of old. Famous for his irreverence, cocktails, American-style food and, most importantly, his ability to spot great jazz talent. He is still very much present in all the quirkiness that Fat Eddie’s venue provides Atmosphere: A monument to jazz music history, with walls covered in memorabilia and a life’s collection of photos with the stars! The mezzanine floor is designed to evoke an ‘old man’s attic’ Favourite food: Buffalo wings or pretzels; ice cream sundaes Things to look for:Make sure no one takes a photograph of you while you’re perched on one of the bar stools – head up there to find out why! Also, boys, check out your toilets and you’ll be amused to find some lips waiting for you…

Toast Café Bar
History: Opened over two years ago; one of the first hospitality places to open in SOL Square Naming origins: All about ‘toasting’ good mates with a cold beer, great wine and food to share Favourite food: The platter menu Favourite drink: The signature cocktail Banana Toast (banana, gingerbread syrup, Baileys, Kahlua, apple sours and banana liqueur and flamed cinnamon).

Base Bar & Nightclub
History: Originally on Colombo St. Moved and was one of the first hospitality places in SOL Square to open. One of NZ’s longest running and most well known nightclubs. Has hosted DJs from all over the world Atmosphere: Purpose-built nightclub with a great sound system. Plays commercial, house, electro, trance Favourite drink: Cosmopolitan cocktailThings to look for: The Bacardi Lounge, a members-only bar inside Base. The 100-year-old floorboards and brickwork which were restored and used in the club.

Naming origins: Actually after Dave’s sister’s beloved family cat Atmosphere: Designed to be a grotto, with a butterfly here and an orchid there; a place one might find fairies and elves playing in a clearing in the woods Favourite food: Yakitori, tempura crab, seaweed salad, tofu marinated in teppanyaki sauce Favourite drink: One of the many infused sakes Things to look for: The stunning branch balustrade and door handles and real branch canopy!

Culture Club
Naming origins: Remember Boy George? Atmosphere: Just think tacky – and the 80’s! Cool space for people to relive the days when they wore some baggy, flared jeans and bright-coloured shirts Favourite drink: Pina Colada Things to look for: Glow balls and the Pacman and Space Invaders games.

Minx Bar & Restaurant
History: The building was built for the Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company in 1919 Naming origins: Named after the first family car – the Hillman Minx Atmosphere: An orgy of colour and pattern. Loud in the bar, more subtle in the restaurant. Experimental materials with a nod to mid-century design, with original sample mahogany chairs and sofas and lampsFavourite food: The most amazing oysters with a citrus twist, made by award-winning chefs Favourite drink: Hemingway cocktail in the bar or Central Otago Pinot Noir in the restaurant Things to look for: Be mesmerised trying to figure out a pattern behind that light wall in the bar. Keep an eye out for the lava lamp which sits on the wine wall area in the restaurant. Very hypnotising…

Mu Steakhouse
History: Built as a receiving depot for imported British merchandise in 1893 Favourite food: The aged steaks Things to watch for: This seems to be a popular bar with some sports personalities.

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