Address: 37 Drake St, Freemans Bay
Ph: (09) 929 2790
Open: Monday to Thursday, 4pm to late, Friday to Sunday, noon to late.
It's hard not to be a little awed when you walk into Libertine - if only because the first thing you notice is that there is a tree growing in the middle of the bar area.
Walking in from Drake St, there is a real sense of making an entrance as you sweep down the stairs into the bar, to be confronted by a tree. And not a small tree, either; it's a big, leafy thing sprouting incomprehensibly through the floorboards.
It's the latest offering from Pack & Co, the company which owns bars that include Matterhorn, Foxglove, Snapdragon and Smith, so it was never going to be a modest undertaking. The fit-out is superb, making the most of the building, which is a part of Victoria Market.
Exposed brick, wrought-iron, dimly lit booths and plenty of dark wood give it a fantastic feel, echoing the New Orleans vibe it was inspired by. I suppose that explains the name - there is certainly an "anything goes" feeling in New Orleans.
My first visit, at the opening, was a nice enough experience, but coming back when the place was shorn of the sort of witless Z-listers who pass for celebrities in this city of ours was even better. The service managed to be both smart and laid-back, which is quite an achievement, and the beer wasn't bad either. It's a Lion bar, but you can sip at the James Squire Pale Ale on tap or Little Creatures brews.
The wine list has a good range of styles and prices and it's certainly not a paint-by-numbers version that so often troubles bars.
The food is at the heart of Libertine, with a bewildering array of small dishes and full dishes available. Overall, I was impressed and I can see that Libertine will be a hotspot in the coming months. I just wonder what will happen when the tree starts shedding its leaves.