Boozy nights, bicycle pioneers and a safari gone horribly wrong: The Kiwi Tavern, Britomart's latest heritage building to be refurbished to target 5 Green Star status, has a small footprint but a big history.

The Kiwi Tavern Building has a long and colourful history: It is the former home of two innovative New Zealand companies that launched over a century ago and are still operating today, as well as a series of legendary bars and eateries that changed the face of downtown drinking and dining. The building was commissioned in 1910 by William and Sarah Worrall, owners of a ceramic business. They called on John Currie, one of the founders of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and already known for the Nathan, Hayman and Kronfeld Buildings at Britomart, the Ponsonby Fire Station and the Queen Victoria Building, popularly known as ‘Whitcoulls Corner’ on Auckland’s Queen and Victoria Streets. Currie’s design for the building was graceful but unusual, a three-storey classical Italianate brick masonry warehouse with a distinctive series of unequal round and flat arched window bays on the eastern frontage. The largest bay accommodated a cart dock, while the smallest led to a slim staircase that developed a fearsome reputation among later users of the building. Ten years after moving into the upper floor, the Worralls pivoted their business to become the first importer of bicycles into New Zealand. Today the company is still in business elsewhere, operated by descendants of the founders. On the lower floors of the building, another innovative business was growing. W.R. Twigg and Company constructed marine engines in the building from 1920, later expanding into stationary engines that became common in shearing and milking sheds. After the unexpected death of the founder, William Twigg, who was attacked by a wounded lion while on safari in Rhodesia in 1925, the company passed into other hands and now continues as an engineering product supplier in Hawke’s Bay. In the 1970s, the building entered a new era. Restaurateur Emerald Gilmour brought modern bistro dining to the downtown area with the opening of the restaurant Clichy. It was a roaring success. At the time, Auckland had no more than a handful of restaurants, most of them in hotels or offering fine dining, but few of them possessed Clichy’s sense of fun. Socialites, suburbanites and city professionals alike flocked there for French provincial food and bottles of Mateus Rosé bubbles, while a who’s-who of Auckland’s food and arts communities worked on the floor or in the kitchen – including chef Ray McVinnie, writer Judith Baragwanath, gallerist Anna Bibby and hospitality pioneer Rick Lewisham. Later in the 1970s, Maxwell’s restaurant opened in the building, and in the early 1990s, 12 years after Clichy closed, Emerald Gilmour opened a new restaurant, Tatler, in the same space, with a bar, Spectator, upstairs. These were succeeded by the Kiwi Tavern, a cheerfully rowdy pub, live music venue and pool hall that drew crowds of students and backpackers. The building’s continuous occupation meant it remained in relatively good condition compared to other buildings in the area, although that didn’t stop it from being the first scheduled for demolition when Auckland Council was considering an asset sell-off in the late 1990s. It gained a reprieve when the council decided to revitalise downtown instead, and it was included in the Britomart redevelopment plan as part of the Customs St Historic Area. In a case of history repeating, in 2012, Emerald’s daughter Mimi Gilmour and her business partner Nick McCaw opened the first of the chain of Mexico restaurants on the same site as Clichy and Tatler.

NEXT / See how the Living Building Challenge is informing Arup's latest projects, in an interview with Arup's sustainable building team Richard Stokes and Laura Cowie.