18 May 2024

Yadana Saw on her favourite Wellington venues

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 18 May 2024
Matterhorn circa 2013

Matterhorn circa 2013 Photo: Matterhorn Twitter

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The greater Wellington Regional Council chambers are a space for “council meetings, workshops,” and, “if you’re one of those people who wants to make a public submission, and say your piece on what’s happening, this is where you come and talk”.

That’s according to Yadana Saw, former RNZ presenter, and current city councillor, who was in a meeting one day when she noticed something familiar.

“I was sitting in the back corner, and there’s a little courtyard outside, and I thought, ‘I think this is where Matterhorn used to be’. It turns out the council chamber and the courtyard behind it is where the Matterhorn bar and courtyard used to be.”

Greater Wellington councillor Yadana Saw

Greater Wellington councillor Yadana Saw Photo: SHANON STEVENS

Matterhorn operated as a coffee lounge since its establishment in 1963. “In the late ‘90s Leon Surynt and Tim Ward, [with Allistar Cox], took it over. This is the infamous place where Fat Freddy’s had their first few gigs, and recorded their Live at Matterhorn EP.”

In the early 2000s Matterhorn evolved again, into a restaurant, bar, and venue, before being forced to close in 2017, so a nearby heritage building could be earthquake strengthened.

Three years prior, the upstairs venue Mighty Mighty had closed its doors. The space now houses the council’s finance department. 

Inside Wellington's Mighty Mighty

Wellington's Mighty Mighty Photo: Courtesy Mighty Mighty Facebook

Standing in the large open-plan office, surrounded by staff quietly working at their computers, Saw points out the area where bands used to play, musing “everyone who use to come to Mighty Mighty, would they ever imagine that the finance team of their regional council is now where we used to party at the top of the stairs.”

Looking up, she gestures at the familiar “carrara ceilings, and ornate poles. It’s a touch of retaining your whakapapa or heritage, right?” 

Further along Cuba St, near the Ghuznee St junction, Saw reminisces about a few other sadly-departed spots, like Good Luck, (“an inner-city basement that was found, and converted into a venue”), and Bar Bodega (“lots of international and local bands used to play there”).

There’s also newer establishments like Rogue and Vagabond, which hosts gigs throughout the week, and the long-standing San Fran, home to live music under various names since the ‘80s. 

Flowdan performs at San Fran in Wellington.

British MC and producer Flowdan performs at San Fran in Wellington on 1 December, 2023. Photo: Taylor Vincent / RNZ

“If we go back to the time when Wellington was a bit of a rock city,” says Saw, “you had Fur Patrol, a little bit later Phoenix Foundation, Shihad, Weta, Letterbox Lambs, and those sorts of bands, this is where they’d play.

“Around the corner is Valhalla, which is a great, vibing venue as well, and has been many different venues over time.”

Troy Kingi and Mara TK at Wellington's Meow

Troy Kingi and Mara TK at Wellington's Meow Photo: Stan Alley

Prompted on the recent challenges faced by the live music scene, Saw says, “there is recognition of [live music's] contribution to our society, maybe more so than ten years ago, it’s just whether there is going to be the resources and the decisions made to allow it to thrive.

“There will always be people who make music, there will always be people who want to see live music, but decision-makers do have a really big impact on where that happens, and how it happens, and how big the obstacles are.

“In Wellington we’re seeing an emergence of different precincts, and different places that are popping up. Moon Bar is one that springs to mind, in Newtown. A place where you can see Aotearoa touring acts who may not fill out San Fran. 

“There’s also Parrot Dog out in Lyall Bay. You’re starting to see these places that are starting to push out into other parts of cities, that are multi-purpose.

“Another really interesting place is up in Brooklyn: the Vogelmorn Bowling Club, which has been taken over by the local community. It’s a place where community groups can hold meetings, but it's a venue as well.

“Even though all the stuff isn't happening in the inner city, there are pockets in people’s neighbourhoods, and I love this idea that we can coexist with sound. We can coexist with people enjoying themselves.”