Planning a quiet cocktail, or a big night out? Wellington’s drinking holes have you covered

La Boca Loca

Mexican has hit Wellington faster than a dose of the Tijuana clap. La Boca Loca, a brightly decorated bar and restaurant just out of town, is leading the surge with impressive soft-shell tacos filled with pulled pork and pineapple salsa, tortilla chips and guacamole, and a salad of black beans and soft white cheese. Take one of the brightly painted sturdy wooden stools at the bar and order up a fistful of tequila and Pacifico beers. La Boca Loca is festooned with plastic Mexican flags and, as you’d expect, makes a cracker Margarita. 19 Park Rd, Miramar, Wellington.

Hawthorn Lounge

Don’t even think about getting your iPhone, iPad or Blackberry out when drinking here. If bar manager Peter Lowry catches you, you get a telling off – waggling finger and all. Be distracted by the booze instead. This small 1930s-style bar, hidden in an upstairs room beside a gym, boasts brilliant cocktails, excellent chat from Mr Lowry himself, and a room full of patrons who ascend the dark stairs on a very regular basis for the likes of barrel-aged vermouth, cold-drip coffee Negronis and a damn good time. Take a seat at the heavy wooden bar or sink into one of the old Chesterfields in the corner behind a thick red curtain. Lowry isn’t interested in prohibition style cocktails or new classics. He’s gone all Dickensian with his drinks. Happily, that doesn’t involve gruel or the workhouse: just old and extremely boozy recipes. We want some more. 82 Tory St, Te Aro, Wellington.

Mighty Mighty

If Hawthorn Lounge is one essential Wellington bar experience then Mighty Mighty is another. The enormous, bright blue room houses a huge bar slinging longnecks and shots of whisky. There’s a dazzling stage up the end – when Time Out dropped in a live, loud and local punk band was playing. It’s an interesting mix of people drinking here, too. Men in suits who have just knocked off work, sullen-looking emo kids in skinny black everything, hipster doofuses and regular folks all mingle in a melting pot of fun times and free-flowing likka. You could probably get a cocktail here, but we’re not sure why you would. This is the sort of bar you might start the night propping up, but end the night dancing on. Upstairs, 104 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington.

Ancestral

You could treat this sleek, dark Courtenay Place venue as either a restaurant or a bar. It’s both, really. The huge courtyard doubles as a smoketorium and cocktail bar while inside, you can preserve your lungs and treat yourself to a jasmine tea and a coconut, ginger and egg-white custard with candied pineapple. We like the thin egg noodles with Chinese pork sausage and spears of deep-fried eggplant in a sweet, astringent chilli sauce. It’s kind of an echo of that Sichuan dish of fish-fragrant and chilli-soaked eggplant, only here it doesn’t have quite the same searing burn. Cool off with a salad of cucumber, palm hearts and cloud ear fungus. As we said before, the courtyard – though very pretty – is filled with smokers, so if you’re a little sensitive you might want to dine (and wine) indoors. 31-33 Courtenay Pl, Wellington.

Duke Carvells

There’s nothing more civilised than a croque madame and a shot of whiskey at 11am on a Saturday after a big night. At Duke’s, they are experts of turning a bad hangover into a delicious brunch. Turn that frown upside down with a golden toasted treat of béchamel sauce and mustard-cured leg ham topped with a perfect fried egg. Duke Carvell’s has pretty much perfected the café-that-is-also-a-bar, with the sort of joie de vivre you’d find in downtown New Orleans. Want a gin fizz and a sandwich? No big deal. A Bloody Mary and a breakfast burrito to nurse your sore-and-muddled head? Mai oui! It’s a handsome room with dark banquettes where you might settle in for an afternoon of serious liver violation, or just a civilised cocktail like the Independence Pie – spiced rum, spiced sugar syrup and steamed apple juice. 6 Swan Ln, Te Aro, Wellington.

Head back to our Insider's Guide to Wellington.

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