One of inner Christchurch's "traditional" hotels will keep serving pints long into the future if its owners have their way. MATT PHILP reports.
Hours after the February quake, the patrons of the New City Hotel were back at the bar, having a nerve-calming pint. That says something about the strength of the art deco building at the Moorehouse Ave end of Colombo St, which suffered basement flooding and surface cracking but none of the structural damage of some more modern inner-city buildings. It also says something about the hotel's "community", which part-owner Anthony Gilsenan reckons is as much a part of the hotel's heritage as the bricks and mortar.
"This is the last of the traditional hotels that used to thrive around this area, when we had the coolstores and the railways and the woolstores that created a core base of working men," he remarks. "We're the last of that breed left within the four avenues."
In fact, since the early 2000s nine traditional hotels in Christchurch that similarly offered permanent and casual accommodation as well as bar facilities have closed their doors, he says.
"These are the hotels where we played inner-city pool and darts contests and which were in competition with us."
So the New City Hotel, a category-2 registered building, is a survivor, not just of earthquakes, but of a socio-economic trend.
Gilsenan credits a strong design, including reinforced columns and concrete floors, for the performance of the building on February 22. Built in 1930 as a new home for the City Hotel, which began life in the 1860s on High St - the New City Hotel's liquor licence dates back to 1864 - it incorporates most of the features that would dominate the rebuilding of Napier after its earthquake the following year. "We've held up one of the best around, while all the modern buildings around us were shut down for a long time. The people who went through the earthquake in this building feel secure here."
It hasn't all been good news, however. That surface cracking in several of the rooms is more than an irritant, and needs to be put right. There was the basement flooding, and the pipework has been damaged again and again by the ongoing aftershocks.
Gilsenan and his co-owners are totally committed to repairing the hotel, but it's not been an easy undertaking. Their insurers went bust, which hamstrung things from the start. And after being cordoned off for seven weeks - only the permanent residents were allowed to stay, given access passes to get through the cordon - the hotel didn't really gear up until people began venturing back into town towards the end of last year.