Take me to the January Sun in Cuba…. Maw-hawll-aul….

Vellichor: the Second Hand Book Store vibe, this one from Pegasus Books.

There is a thing I call the Cuban Meander: start anywhere in Wellington’s Cuba St quarter and wander around, dropping into any shops or cafes which take your fancy.

Or stare at the Bucket Fountain and wonder if it is taking kitsch a bit too far.

The Cuban Meander was something I started doing, in true exploratory and unfocussed form, in 1982: The Southern Cross, just off the top of Cuba in Abel Smith St, was the unofficial Wellington Polytech pub and it used to be the place to meet in the evenings for the journalism course I was on.

Technically I shouldn’t have been there at all: the drinking age was still 20 and I was, at the start of the year, a very green and young looking 17.

The pub owner was blessed with some admirable and commercially astute powers of tactical myopia when it came to pouring beers for people whose faces were apparently held together by acne. The age issue only came up when his hand was forced or when he simply wanted to get rid of someone.

Mind you, one member of the journalism course did rather force the issue when he applied for a part time job behind the bar there: you had to be 20 to work in a pub as well and he assured the owner he was of age despite looking about 15.
All went well for a week or so until they were discussing rugby: the lad was discussing his own abilities on the pitch and the owner asked him what level he played at.

“Oh, the under-19s…” began the soon-to-be ex-barman.

Anyway, it used to be my practice to have a beer or two on Thursday or Friday nights and then weave down Cuba St, popping in to the second hand book and rekkid stores as I went.

Few are still there: Slow Boat was, from memory, about two doors up from where it is now but it was much more gloomy and crammed, and certainly far less well organised. Pretty sure it had had different owners then.

The Ferrit Book store was – again, from memory – about where Olive Cafe now is.

I don’t know if Pegasus Books was in Cuba St then or not. I have an idea it may have been way down the bottom, over the road from James Smiths.

Anyway, they have survived.

Cuba Street is the place for things that survive, often against the odds and certainly against whatever the current trend is doing.

I’m hardly an ‘alternative’ type of character but I love these places: they are needed because any society needs its diversity, not as a slogan or a badge of moral superiority as that term tends to be used these days, but as a simple unaffected reality.

And as for my favourite type of shop – the secondhand book shop – they are havens and laid back, non-authoritarian schools. Second hand book shops will, I believe, be the last repositories of civilisation.

Anyway. Here’s Dragon. Cuba St

Coffee House Babble

Pre-dawn on Thursday: The Coffee Shop With No Name,
beside the Reserve Bank Building,
The Terrace, Wellington.

One late summer morning in Ohope, after a fairly heavy night back in the mid-1980s, the hosts of the party emerged, suggesting a coffee.

There was a  general consensus all round that this was probably a Good Thing.

The hosts then produced something I’d never seen before.

Firstly, there were coffee beans. 

These were ground, and a kettle was boiled.

The water was then poured into a glass jug before a plunger was inserted in the top.

After a few minutes, and with an air of solemn ritual, the plunger was gradually depressed, care being taken to make sure the water was dark enough.

The coffee was then served in glass cups.


It probably can’t be exaggerated just how exotic coffee – real stuff, that is – seemed back in the Bad ‘Ol Days.

Instant coffee was the norm. Greggs for preference  was usually the one in the newsrooms where I worked , for some reason.

The friends who produced this strange, foreign thing had been overseas – in fact one was a native of Jersey – so I put this dubious innovation down to the offshore influence.

It was, though, very nice. I treated it as a bit of a one-off which, while pleasant enough, would probably never catch on.

A year or two later, in Auckland, I had my first espresso. I’d heard of these things, and had gathered they were good for waking one up. I had something of a hangover and was heading for an appointment, so stopped in at this small place in Queen St’s Canterbury Arcade.

“Single or double?” was the query. Err. How big was the cup, I asked. They were, it was explained to me, the same size: a small thing which looked about the size of a film canister was shown.

That seemed a bit of a rip off, but I needed  that coffee. So I ordered a double, thinking this was probably going to be a waste of time.

Several hours later I was still bouncing off the walls. That stuff really had an effect.

I’m still a tea drinker, mostly, but tea is comfort drink. It plays a different role.

Coffee has function as well at atmosphere. First, it has that fantastic aroma. Secondly, it has musical associations.

Whenever I hear a Miles Davis muted trumpet solo, I crave a coffee.

The other times of course is Reserve Bank monetary policy statement lock ups – a topical matter this week,with governor Graeme Wheeler deciding to “pull the trigger” to use the term some economists have used, on interest rate cuts.

The coffee shop next to the Reserve Bank produces the best coffee in Wellington. Bar none. It is strong as well as having a well rounded flavour. Often you get strength but not such a balance: such coffees have their place but they’re a bit like heavily peppered and chilli-ed curries.

This is like a vindaloo with ample flavours, or perhaps the magnificent Railway Cochin Curry in Rick Stein’s India.

I still call this place the Coffee Shop With No Name because they’ve been there for several years but there is no sign on the frontage. It seems apt. They don’t need a name.

They do, though, trade under the name of Old George, and sell their beans in the store or online here. 

From 6:30am, especially on monetary policy lock up days, folks are queueing early in that shop.

Junkies, yeah. Junkies with taste, and whole lot of crunchy economic stuff to get through.

If they played Miles Davis over the PA in those 7am RBNZ lock ups, it would be just about perfect.