Address: 715 Mt Albert Rd, Royal Oak
Ph: (09) 625 7550
Open: Sunday-Wednesday 11am-late, Thursday-Friday 11am to 2am, Saturday 9am to 2am.
The first time I entered what is now the Zookeeper's Son it was an Irish bar called Finnegan's or Flaherty's or something. And it wasn't a great visit. I walked into a gloomy cavern of a place and almost immediately left again, having to wipe my feet on the way out.
What a difference a change in ownership makes. The Zookeeper's Son (named after a brave lad who helped recapture a lion that escaped from a nearby zoo) is bright, cheerful, inviting and not a little classy.
The bar area features a magnificent revamp, with high shelves behind the bar and comfortable seating. Upstairs are quiet areas and private dining rooms and the street frontage offers pavement dining/drinking reminiscent of Paris (apart from the fact that it is by the notorious Royal Oak roundabout).
The food is what makes this bar a bit special. A huge range of offerings in a great range of prices means there really is something for everyone. From nibbles and pizzas to full-on steak dinners, all tastes are catered for.
But I don't go to pubs to eat, I go to drink. This is something of a pleasure here, as the selection available covers all the bases, and then some. Tap beers include Erdinger, Murphy's and Tiger alongside the more familiar offerings. The wine list is well thought out, with surprising inclusions such as Mills Reef, Matawhero and Te Mata.
The atmosphere is good, too, with sparkling clean toilets, plenty of space and a laid-back vibe that allows the comfortable mixing of the sports crowd and the after-work drinkers.
If I had to be picky, I'd question the preponderance of purple in the colour scheme - and the staff can be up and down. One bartender I dealt with was pleasant, but another clearly didn't want to be there, or at least couldn't be bothered doing more than take my order, sniff loudly and slap my beer on the counter with a grunt. Small things, but overall a very good drinking experience.