Historic pub set to reopen

By Mathew Dearnaley

Birdcage hotel gets new lease of life after temporary shift for work on motorway tunnel.

Frith Griggs is looking forward to opening the doors of the historic Birdcage on Monday. Photo / Greg Bowker
Frith Griggs is looking forward to opening the doors of the historic Birdcage on Monday. Photo / Greg Bowker

One of Auckland's earliest buildings, the Birdcage hotel, is bursting back to life after a feat of engineering which saw it shunted partway up Franklin Rd and then back again.

The ground floor of the 127-year-old brick structure, which stood on the original Freemans Bay shoreline before adjoining land was claimed from the sea, will reopen on Monday as a bar and restaurant looking on to a new public plaza above the Victoria Park motorway tunnel.

That follows extensive refurbishment by restaurateurs Frith Griggs and Phil Houston under a long-term lease from the Transport Agency, which strengthened the 740-tonne building against earthquakes and moved it 44 metres up Franklin Rd before digging the cut-and-cover tunnel two years ago.

Contractors took several days to slide the building up the road on runway beams and then back to its original site for about $2.5 million between August 2010, and the following April - far less than an earlier budget of $8 million to $10 million for what the agency initially envisaged as just a one-way shift.

Although the upper floor has been turned into offices, the original basement with its beer and cellars was sacrificed to make way for large beams supporting the building's weight over the motorway tunnel's southern entrance.

But all eyes are now on the ground floor on the corner of Franklin Rd and Union St, where the restaurateurs have been kept busy with questions from curious passersby while training staff for Monday's opening.

"Auckland people are just fascinated - it's amazing the number of people who stop to ask what's going on," Ms Griggs said yesterday while giving the Herald a look at their refurbishment efforts, including highlighting mantelpiece and vestibule timbers imported by early owners of the building from a pub in England.

The pair decided to go into business together after the closure last year of the well-known Iguacu restaurant in Parnell, where they were senior managers.

Ms Griggs said their new establishment, serving lunch and dinner seven days a week, would have a more relaxed and informal atmosphere including al fresco dining for up to 80 people in the adjoining plaza.

Mr Houston said the building in its original guise of the Rob Roy Hotel was once part of "the hub of downtown Auckland" and he expected the locality to grow in popularity in conjunction with the redeveloped Victoria Park Market just across the road in Union St.

Transport Agency efforts to restore the Birdcage to its original name of the Rob Roy Hotel have been foiled by an engineering conundrum.

Mr Houston says the agency made it a leasehold condition that it be called the Rob Roy again, until realising the words "The Birdcage" could not be removed from arches at the top of the building without endangering its brickwork.

"There were long pins into the brickwork for the lettering and they said if they pulled it off, the brickwork would fall out, even though the whole building has been reinforced."

- NZ Herald

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