The Death of the Tauranga Dive Bar


Before craft beer, micro breweries and aesthetically pleasing family restaurants masquerading as bars started infesting the Tauranga nightlife with  their highfalutin big city ideals the drinking landscape was a much different one. 


Tauranga had 3 options if you wished to do your drinking in a more public, social setting. 


A.)  If you were under 23, still drank RTDs and hoped to engage in some up down, up down, in out, in out motion with the opposite sex then nightclubs such as Harringtons, The Grumpy Mole, Coyotes and the original Bahama Hutt were your go to locales. These places would afford you a chance to dress like a hooker, dance spasmodically till your toes bled and eventually get bottled with an empty Tui 330ml. Despite calling themselves nightclubs, installing a dental floss dress code and gussying themselves up with novelty themes these were still dives of the highest order - of course because you were young, wasted and blinded with lust it seemed like you were partying at the Viper Room, however reality was far from it. 



B.) If you were over 23, hadn't realised that you had outgrown town but subconsciously noted that you looked like someones predatory Uncle while partying with teeny boppers at the clubs then you would head to a Cornerstone/Crown and Badger or Mount Mellick.  These were your classic Dad pubs. What set them apart from being natural dives was the dusty decor usually encompassing an Irish theme, a range of dry dark beers and a clientele of more white collar drinkers. In the 90's these were exotic, now they are dangling perilously on the edge of being outdated to the point of extinction. 



C.) Your local. The Tauranga classic. Back when 97% of the working Tauranga population were tradies earning $10 per hour, 5pm would mean signing off from your day job only to begin your night shift as a full time alcoholic. Heading to one of the corner pubs anywhere within a 300m radius of your house you would be greeted by a throng of scowling locals eyeing you up as you entered, the disheveled liquor soaked bar keep would then ask you what your were having - you would have three options. After making the hard decision of Waikato or Lion Red or Tui you would then cradle your bucket of beer and find a disused booze barrel 'table' to spend the night, making firm friends with every toothless, body odour emitting, smoke stenched, child support dodging, 8 day stubble covered, forklift driving, hammer handing, wharf working, paint and plastering tradie in sight. At some point a pool cue would come dangerously close to blinding you, the elderly lady with the pokies addiction would try blow you for 'just a little coin' and the little guy who always nuts off because he is a little guy would nut off. These were the biggest of dives but they were Tauranga.


The dive bar was and is a microcosm of Tauranga how it was. Despite art fags like myself presenting an image of this town as though it were Wellington light with fancy music festivals and pretentious art exhibitions, Auckland shit bags moving here en mass( Lattes in tow), everyone buying and running food caravans that sell neither Hotdogs nor Chips, boutique markets happening in your lounge each Saturday morning and millennials spending their hard earned student allowance on vinyl. - this isn't and wasn't the Tauranga I know and love.


Settled in 1826 by William A. Tradie, an English builder. Tradie quickly made friends with the local population by swapping them Makita power tools, high quality John Bull work boots and vinyl drop sheets in exchange for land. Tradie and his boys Steven, Richard, Mathew and John started their own business doing renovation projects on local Marae. The Tradie family were soon joined by other European settlers including Samuel Whafie, Keith McBrickie, George Sparkyson, Otto Von Chippie and  the O'Plasterer family. Between these families they managed to build all of Tauranga's drinking infrastructure using only tools created by the local blacksmith Jerry BlackandDeckerwitz. With work in plentiful amounts, tradies from around the country/world were attracted to the beautiful blue skies, golden sand beaches and retina burning Orange high vis work sites of Tauranga. 


While the men that moved here worked hard they were also rewarded for their efforts. Local plumber, Allan 'Pipes' Douglas in 1906 laid a complex network of copper piping that fed each home with a direct tap from the then rural Matua 'Beer spring'. However when the spring ran dry during  the great Beerpression of 1936-1942  limitations were placed upon how much one person could drink and a dollar amount was placed on beer for the first time. To ration this men would congregate in areas then known as Brewella Devilles before the industry was completely regulated and Tauranga Dive Bar was born. 


From the 1940'S onwards tradies Tauranga wide would look forward to finishing another back breaking day working on other tradies houses and tradie businesses to vist their one suspicioulsy non tradie but ok by them friend, the Bar Keep. Here was a place where men could be around other men and be men. How the conversation would flow with grunt after grimace after mumble after bellow. Then after getting sufficiently sozzled to make the prospect of going home to see their semi retarded  children and intolerably needy wives the men would leave as a drunken pack around 6:30pm following their noses until they found a fresh roast dinner waiting for them on the hard wood dining table they built in 12 minutes last weekend out of some disused pine that was 'just laying around the garage'. After leaving a pile of dirty clothes and a blackened sink for their wives to clean up the men would head to bed for an enforced sly one and a healthy slumber before starting the day over again tomorrow. 


But somewhere along the way this way of life has become endangered. Tradies aren't the food providing, leathery skin, sinewy muscled gods they once were. In their place computer programming, habitual energy drink sculling, female respecting, uber dweebs have taken their place as the Tauranga alphas. Rather than leaving their women at home to play house, these nerds are taking their partners with them and what they want from a night out isn't grunt/groans, pool/pokies, fights and Karaoke - it's a fun, safe, family feel with beer that doesn't taste like it was brewed in a bread bag, exotic foods, live musical entertainment and well mannered/well dressed bar tenders who call your sir or madam. Which is fair enough but it's killing the traditional Tauranga bar and in turn killing traditional Tauranga.


Over the course of the past 5 years the Tauranga drinking landscape has changed at an incredible rate. Where there were once dives now stand family friendly bar/restaurants with live entertainment, a range of drinking options and in depth menu that caters for all diets and hipster fads. And while to most this has been a welcome development to the now displaced regulars, bitter change hating assholes like myself and anyone in a pair of stubbies and gummies just looking for a Double Brown then this is booze Armageddon. 


Following the success of  Mount Maunganuis The Astrolab, bar gentrification has quickly spread. Mount Brewing Co, The Mount Social Club, The Rising Tide, The Hop House, Papamoa Tavern, Brew Craft Beer Pub - starting at the Mount the winning formula of Craft Beer, a safe drinking environment and the exclusion of former, unsavoury regulars is engulfing all dive bars in its wake. 


One cannot blame these bars for taking this route. To look at Brewers Bar as an example we can see a business that while reasonably successful still had a stigma attached to it that prevented a lot of people going there. It was seen as a dingy dive for low brow musicians, uncouth Port workers, capillary bursting alcoholics and those addicted to the bright lights of the pokies. By rebranding as the Rising Tide the owners have opened their business up to another side of the Mount public, one that was previously too snobby, afraid or ignorant to drink there in its previous incarnation as 'that pub in the industrial zone'. With its safe branding, open light setting, appealing drink/food menu it is now a popular destination amongst Mount/Tauranga locals. And while much credit is due to Brewers/the Rising Tide for their efforts I cannot help but think of that Simpsons episode where Moe rebrands his Tavern in to Moes Family Feedbag to similar success only to crumble under the pressure of trying to be something he/it isn't by catering for overly expectant, whiny douche bags and in turn missing the carefree low brow locals he has displaced. 


Blame cannot be heaped upon any bar owner for trying to give their business a wider appeal as no one is in that industry solely because they prefer the company of degenerate alcoholics. However the plight of the displaced local leaves me with mild concern. Generally if you spend more time at your neighbourhood bar  than your house it is for one of many reasons; you are lonely, you despise your family, you have no family and the other locals are your family, you have addiction problems, you are terribly unhappy and have chosen to kill yourself slowly,  you go there after work to de-stress. With the traditional dive bar being consumed these people become displaced. Your local, if rebranding isn't just changing the buildings facade they are changing the entire aesthetics of the place. You can improve the lighting, change the name, expand the menu but if your customer base still consists of the same revolving cast of track pant/high vis combo wearing, toothless, belligerent regulars then no newcomers will enter. So the locals must either adapt or be eradicated. Sure they will find another local but how long will it be before that pub will look at the Pap Tav or the Rising Tide to see that this new business model is far more profitable. 


Even the youth drinking culture is changing. With the advent of Tinder and other fornication Apps the ease of which to get laid has seemingly decreased the need for young adults to go to town. With the closing of Krazy Jacks and almost every other night club in the Tauranga CBD, Bahama Hutt remains as the only traditional discotheque around. And while I have no desire to ever go clubbing ever again it saddens me to think that the next generation of Tauranga youth won't have the chance to go to town hopping from dive club to dive club, getting beaten, laid, beaten again along the way. In fact they will have to intermingle within the bounds of Dad bars like the Cornerstone or Crown and Badger if they do wish to go out.   


So yes while you may see Flannegans Irish Pub, Martys Pool Lounge, Rosie O'Gradies, Settlers Pub, McSwiggins, The Maleme Street Pub, Cheers Tavern etc etc as so called dive bars but  remember before you moved here from Auckland with your fancy big city craft beer ideals your favourite Friday/Saturday night pub also used to be a dive and the locals who you have now displaced were the ones that built, wired, plumbed worked in those supposed dives. So before you turn your noses up any further at these bars/drinkers/youths pay your respects to the fading memory of the Tauranga of past... A Tauranga you ruined..... A Tauranga of cheap beers, tradies, no dress codes, no teeth, spasmodic violence and zero pretension.