Five years after the closed signs and For Lease signs went up, the former central Napier bar and grill known as The Cri is set to be transformed into what new tenant Steve Kelly says will be a sparkling addition to the central city hospitality landscape.

"We are very excited to go in there," Kelly said.

He and his wife, Sarah, are based in Palmerston North where they operate two highly acclaimed bars and eateries in the region, The Brewers Apprentice and The Strong Room.

Kelly said he had had his eye on the former Cri site for some time and after it was bought by a local development group he began making moves to check it out.


And that has led to him, his wife and family preparing to make another move — to Napier where his wife is from.

They anticipate arriving about the time they plan to open the doors of the new hospitality spot which he hopes will be at the end of the year or early next year.

Before then the interior of the site will be completely torn out and renovated, and he had been working with the development crew and designers and builders.

"Once they've done that work we'll fit it out — the bar is being built already," Kelly said.

And he added it would be no ordinary bar. "This is going to be a modern city bar and eatery, and there will be live music, and in terms of what it will offer in drinks and food it will compete with any place anywhere in New Zealand, and the world."

He has been in the hospitality game since he was 17 (he is now 43) and is a chef by trade so is keen to create a stunning dining experience as well as a comfortable place to enjoy.

"We want to create a modern and vibrant city bar with great emphasis on food and a good music."

He said word had got out fairly quickly about the sale and his approach to take on the tenancy. A couple of local bands had already said they would be happy to play there.

The couple had long been enthusiastic about Napier's expanding hospitality scene, and said Market St would lend itself to associated outdoor events they would stage as part of the new venue's approach. It would echo the outdoor styles often seen across Europe.

"There is a really neat hub in that area of cafes and eateries — a real vibrancy," he said.
"This is going to be a high quality fit-out to create a modern bar and eatery."

As far as the name of the new establishment it was unlikely to be The Cri. Kelly said the name was being "kept under wraps" at this stage.

Colliers agent Reuben George said he was delighted the site had at last been taken on by new owners and a determined and passionate tenant.

"It is so good to see someone who is so positive and so enthusiastic about getting it up and running."

He said it would add real spark to the vibe of the inner city, and reflected what he described as "real momentum", not only in Napier but also across the Bay region.

There had been plenty of feedbsack since the "sold" and "leased" signs had gone up as the site had such a long and strong history on the hospitality scene.

"Always a fine place to hang out, and that is going to happen again."

The former Cri Bar and Grill closed its doors in January 2013 with the locks changed and fittings eventually removed. It was reported at the time that the changing of the locks indicated an end to the lease.

While the Criterion Art Deco Backpackers had kept its doors open the bar area, which had been a feature of the Criterion Hotel built in 1932, had not.