We’ve just had a chance to drop into the new Nelson Hotel, formerly the Royal Hotel, on the corner of Bridge St. and Collingwood St. in Nelson.
We were drawn by reports that it was selling local craft beer, including Monkey Wizard, Golden Bear and Stoke. We’d never been into the Royal Hotel, but we were still left wondering how any sort of Bridge Street bar setting would present craft beer.
We got the final push to go when Jim Matranga of Golden Bear emailed telling us that his one tap was Fat Toad. We found an excuse the next day to drop in while doing jobs around town. On approach, we could see that they had brightened the place up with lighter paint and exposed windows. Noting the espresso machine in the restaurant, we made our way toward the bar, where we were enthusiastically greeted before we crossed the threshold.
Our bartender promptly served our two pints of Golden Bear in chilled handles. She asked for just $10, and noting our surprise, explained that we had just squeaked into their 4-7 pm weekday happy hour, saving us $2 per pint. While we were paying we asked about the Monkey Wizard on tap. She quickly gave us a sample and said it was “something dark.” She couldn’t tell us more, as there was nothing else labeling the tap. “Usually they put something here…” she gestured apologetically.
We also noted 4 taps of Stoke, plus a case filled with craft bottles behind the bar. Further down the bar was another stanchion with more Stoke, Tui, Montieth’s, and Drover’s Draft from Totara Brewing. The bar was nearly empty, but a short while later a whole painting crew lined up for jugs of the Drover’s Draft.
Glancing at the menu briefly, we were surprised to see a slight gourmet twist on several options. The food sounded tasty, and the prices weren’t outrageous for the prime location, though a bit higher than typical hotel bars. They do, however, have a $10 daily special.
We found the décor quirky, to say the least. It had the big bar and low open beams of a hotel, plus the tidy but decidedly recycled furnishings. The seating was a good mix of comfy couches, stuffed chairs and low tables with a variety of higher leaning bars and rough rustic bar tables with stools. The single screen with music videos was neither unexpected nor disruptive. Nor were the flashing gaming room total or the CD-Wurlitzer jukebox.
Probably the most bemusing feature was the art selection. The rather large number of rather large Dan Campion pieces just refused to settle in between the odd farm implement or hotel nicknack or rugby promotion. It was the only way, actually, in which the place didn’t feel like a close replica of the Traveler’s Rest in Appleby, strongly promoted by McCashins. Given the strong hand of McCashins showing in the range of bottled and tap Stoke products, the art isn’t exactly surprising, just a bit out of place. (Dan Campion is a modern artist who has his studio in the McCashins Brewery.)
We later read that it was opened in partnership with McCashins, and so this seems to be the template of their “partly-tied” houses. They probably aren’t in fact tied, but carry a similar range of craft brews to McCashins own bar and aim for the same level of comfy cool. It’s decidedly lower than Wellington shabby-chic, which fits Nelson and is perfectly comfortable for us. We also like Dan Campion, so maybe it is the right mix.
Getting a big, fat, 6.3% Fat Toad, with all that rich toffee and pungent NZ hops for $5 is enough to get us out of the house, but at that price it could be time to try another Drover’s and then find out more about the mystery Monkey Wizard…