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While the Craft Beer Capital has a great range of bars and breweries operating in the inner city and Te Aro, the residential suburbs largely remain a craft beer desert.
One Fat Bird opened in Karori in August 2015. Karori is New Zealand’s biggest suburb, with 14,000 residents in a valley 3km away from Wellington’s CBD.
One Fat Bird general manager Kieran O’Malley says the pub had a tough job overcoming the venue’s history.
“For ten years it was called Café 162 and it looked like a social club from the 1960s, horrible as. But I was given a blank canvas to do anything I wanted with the place. I think they had DB Export on and I could see why the place wasn’t doing so well. With Wellington being the thriving craft beer community, why wouldn’t you be pouring the Wellington stuff?”
Kieran got talking to the locals and found they were drinking good beer after work in the CBD, and brewing good beer at home. But they were unable to buy it in Karori as there was no free house.
“Craft beer is massively important to making a local pub work in Wellington. We looked at contracts and quickly decided not to. A lot of bar owners are kicking themselves in this day and age, because they don’t have the freedom to serve a variety of different beer. I wanted a Guinness tap in, but Lion wanted all the taps, so that was that finished.
“Because we are a free house we open ourselves up to so many opportunities. It is a risk but we are in charge of our own destiny. We’re locking in tap takeovers now for next year. We’re going to go and brew a beer and then launch it here.”
The site might have been under-appreciated, but it has great visibility. Karori has one main road, called, you guessed it, Karori Road, with 15,000 vehicle movements a day.
“I was conscious this is a very busy road and we’re right on a busy corner. I wanted a punchy name for two reasons – I wanted to slightly offend some people, and I wanted them to talk about us as well. I wanted Bird to be in the name because Kiwis talk about birds all the time. The birds here are brilliant.”
Kieran grew up in Dunfermline, near Edinburgh. “I poured my first pint when I was like seven years old. We lived above a pub/restaurant and my father always worked in pubs and restaurants.”
Kieran knew he wanted a place that worked for the local community. “I really wanted to instil that British mentality where you’ll walk down the pub and one of your mates will already be there. We’ve nailed that now – we get our regulars walking in to see who’s around, and that’s a real British thing. If you look around at the décor, there’s lots of pictures on the wall, lots of detail to look at, like a British pub.”
Wellington’s craft beer fan base has a big overlap with its football fans and the mountain biking community, and both have latched on to One Fat Bird.
Makara mountain bike park is on Karori’s western fringe. “We’re the biggest sponsor of Makara. All of those guys are really into their craft beer and we’re bike friendly, so they stop here on the way home and off they go. I let them bring their bikes in to the bar area.
“Football fans, we’ve a lot coming in with West Ham fans, the Kiwi Hammers. We had a big end-of-season party for them. It was on Mothers’ Day, so we had 60 or 70 Hammers fans singing ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ while Mum was in here dining with the family! We were laughing our heads off.”
Operating out in the burbs doesn’t mean One Fat Bird’s craft beer range is diluted. It has 16 rotating taps, and a craft beer club meeting on Wednesday nights for beer chat and a monthly tap takeover. “All the Dad’s come along. We’ve got 350 members now and it takes over the pub.”
“Because we’re in the burbs people will come in and stay for the night rather than moving on to the next bar. That means we’re turning over heaps of beer. We always have at least one Yeastie Boys tap on and we are the biggest seller of PKB in New Zealand. Brewers know we have free taps so they’re very keen to tell us what’s coming out.
“There’s not many countries in the world where you know the person who brews your beer, and that captures the imagination of the Wellington craft beer market. New breweries are popping up everywhere, but the new guys know they have to put in the time and visit the bars. They’ll go on to do well and it’s all really personable.”