Valentine’s Day Special – Behind Bars at Golding’s Free Dive

By BeertownNZ Tue, 14 Feb 2017 Wellington

“It’s a little ground-zero of happiness!”

Beer Is Love. The famous mural inside Golding’s Free Dive is a 2-D testament to the union between beer and passion. 

Proprietor/signwriter Sean Golding opened his bar four years back this April. Surrounded by smart apartment buildings, the lane to Golding’s is now a foodie hub, but it certainly wasn’t in 2013.

Sean was looking for a site to open a craft beer bar, after working at Hashigo Zake. “Dom Kelly wanted to open a bar of quite high calibre and I was out of work at the time. I was asked to build the bar, and after that I spent a year there and bought into the business myself.”

“This site had been a nightclub, and I don’t think that worked too well in the area because it had a lot of loud music, and the pitch forks came out from the residents and they chased them out of town,” says Sean. So, karma being a bitch, it became a drug rehabilitation clinic.

“Looking through the window, I thought what is this goldmine? The area was pretty rough, there was this homeless guy sleeping on the deck, gangs were recruiting out of the drug clinic. And I thought, maybe I can change this neighbourhood and use alcohol in a positive way.

“The neighbourhood hated me at the start. A woman from the body corporate next door came and told me she hated me and she hated what I was doing, and now she comes in here. It fits - I didn’t want to build a bar from another neighbourhood and put it into this neighbourhood. People make that mistake all the time. It has to fit the culture and ideals that you neighbourhood has.”

Sean raised the capital by finding partners, and working as a set painter in the film industry. "Film work will kill you – it's gruelling hours." Let's open a pub then! He built Golding’s using salvaged materials, in an interior design style known as Shambolism. The interior is getting more cluttered as the years pass and Sean sources more stuffed mustelids and Star Wars guff.

“I like ideas that grow organically. This bar – it’s not what I envisioned, but I don’t know what I envisioned. I knew it would get there, and it’s still not there, it’s not full yet. I built the beer menu board which has become a bit of an icon, in my workshop in the basement. The magnetic letters come from the $2 Shop so the staff are occasionally sent out to buy more. We always run out of bloody As. Like when Tuatara APA is on you need all the As.”

When Golding’s opened it joined Pizza Pomodoro as the only (legal) businesses in the lane. Now there’s another bar, a café, a bakery, a chocolatier, and a restaurant set up by Sean and the owner of the café.

Pizza Pomodoro is one of Golding’s biggest attractions, and punters order and eat their pizzas without leaving the bar. “[Pizza Pomodoro’s] Massimo has been here for 15 years at least. All I can say about him is he’s just a terrific human. I always wanted to ask him if I could sell pizza at the bar, but I didn’t have to because he knocked on the door on day one and offered it. It is an extremely beautiful thing. When I came in here it was like 1+1=3. Then the chocolate factory rolled in and that’s done wonders for the laneway as well.”

And the mural – just why is beer love, Sean?

“I just think it’s a great social binder. I think it’s being taken a bit seriously at the moment in New Zealand. I’m not saying it’s not a serious business but I think we forget that we’re very fortunate in this part of the world. A beer with some friends or strangers is pretty nice moment when it goes right. This bar’s been proof that beer’s a great way to bring a neighbourhood together, a little ground zero of happiness.

“I never envisaged this bar being as busy and successful as it is, but I’ve met some wonderful people, some brewers who have become amazing friends, and my staff are fucking brilliant. Don’t take beer too seriously people! Stop mocking each other and enjoy it!”

By BeertownNZ Tue, 14 Feb 2017 Wellington