Up until the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 was passed, liquor licences attached to bars required overnight accommodation to avoid a tavern tax.
There was public mood for a change from 6 o'clock closing during the 1960s in New Zealand. A referendum held in September 1967 resulted in 64 per cent in favour of extending drinking hours in bars.
By October 9, 1967, bars could open until 10pm at night.
Leopard Brewery, Hastings, wished to build a tavern without accommodation in Ahuriri as an outlet to sell their beer – it was a tavern built in anticipation of 6 o'clock closing ending.
They owned the Ahuriri Hotel, so to avoid having to apply for a new licence (extremely difficult) they would transfer their licence to a new tavern they were building called the Ahuriri Tavern.
The architect for the Ahuriri Tavern was Len Hoogerbrug (1929–2019) of Hoogerbrug and Scott, and the builder would be Jack Linnell.
S Romanes and Son would use a relatively new concept in New Zealand of pre-cast concrete. Moulds were created in which 280 tons (254,000kg) of concrete and 24 tons (21,700kg) of steel were used to create the concrete sections. Steam curing meant concrete poured just 16 hours previously had the same strength and maturity of concrete left to cure for seven days.
L E Elms and Sons then transported the floor and wall beams made from casts at Romanes' Omahu Rd premises to Ahuriri, which were then put together like a jigsaw.
This approach meant all the concrete components of the building were assembled in just three weeks.
The resulting building would be an unusual piece of architecture which many nicknamed the "Roundhouse".
Leopard Breweries chairman of directors W A Whitlock and Napier Mayor Peter Tait took part in the opening ceremony in August 1967 of the 10,000 square feet (929sq m) Ahuriri Tavern, which had cost $200,000 (2021: $3.7 million).
Leopard Breweries managing director John McFarlane described the Ahuriri Tavern as a "concrete declaration of the brewery's attitude to enlightened drinking".
Arthur Harris from the Ahuriri Hotel, whose licence was used to open the Ahuriri Tavern, would be the manager. He had previously managed the now demolished Albert Hotel in 1937, Clive Hotel in 1951, and Ahuriri Hotel in 1962.
While the outside of the Ahuriri Tavern got Napier buzzing, the inside was also worthy of attention.
There were three bars on the first floor: a public bar, Iron Pot bar and lounge bar.
A novel feature of the Ahuriri Tavern was steep spiral staircases leading from the lounge and Iron Pot bars to the "Crow's Nest". This bar was right at the top of the circular tavern and had a servery in the middle, surrounded by 12 couches. There were no windows in the bar, but by "looking over the back of the settees one can see the patrons in the bars below". The Crow's Nest became somewhat of an iconic place, and dance floor as the years went on.
Invited to the opening of the Ahuriri Tavern was Sunday Times columnist Barrie Watts – who was not impressed with Napier at all saying, "If I had to choose between Napier and the hideousness of Detroit in full riot, I would take Detroit. Napier is one of Man's more awful desolations." (He was referring to confrontations occurring during July 1967 in Detroit, USA, lasting five days, with 43 killed and 1189 injured).
Watts was mystified as to why this "avidly dull town was chosen for an important social experiment, a move for rational, liberalised drinking".
He was full of praise however for the Ahuriri Tavern with "the whole idea of the tavern is a breakaway from moribund Kiwi boozehouse mentality".
Whether the tavern would be a success, Watts declared, would depend upon Napier.
Upon questioning Leopard's marketing manager Geoff Palmer about why they would "bestow such prestige, such out-of-the-ordinary gloss, on such a bromide of a town", Watts was told the tavern was a "calculated gamble".
The gamble Palmer was referring to was the hope late closing would occur in the near future. Watts however thought the gamble was "to raise the standards of the drinkers. No place is better than Napier to test it."
As all of the tavern's three bars were adjoining, Watts stated, "Boy, that takes some nerve." This was because the bars were not separated on the first floor, and in sight of each other.
"Just how much nerve it takes can be testified by any woman who has ever run the gauntlet of a public bar or any working man who has ever braved the snobbery of the shiny shoe brigade in private bars."
"Leopard", according to Watts, "had not perpetuated the ghastly tradition of hotel apartheid, a habit in this country that presumes public bar drinkers are slobs … and that's the real nature of this experiment, to see if we can handle true social drinking."
He finished by saying: "If the Ahuriri Tavern is a success, Napier, I'll cheerfully choke on all I've said about you. You'll be the most enlightened town in this Dark Age country, a veritable beacon. Can you do it?"
As hoped, 10pm closing came in on October 9, 1967.
The Ahuriri Tavern was a success, and very well patronised.
Three-dollar counter lunches were popular and apparently pioneered at the Ahuriri Tavern.
A group that availed themselves of a liquid refreshment at lunchtime were the builders of the West Quay Dalgety wool store. And indeed many of those that worked in wool stores along West Quay, patronised the Ahuriri Tavern. Ironically today, these former wool store buildings have been transformed to form a strong presence in the Hawke's Bay hospitality sector.
Ten o'clock closing meant live music could be offered, and Prince Tui Teka performed and over time Hawke's Bay favourites such as Climax, Debbie Harwood, and Naked Gun.
By 1982, Leopard was 100 per cent owned by Lion Breweries, who sold the Ahuriri Tavern likely after the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act relaxed liquor sale regulations.
The former Ahuriri Tavern has undergone many changes since 1967, and today is owned by Napier businessman and benefactor Rodney Green, who has owned the property for 22 years. He bought the property off Graham Ross, who built on the former carpark of the Ahuriri Tavern, what is now the Blue Water.
Rodney has plans to convert what was recently a restaurant/conference area on the first floor into 17 accommodation units.
As an aside - I wonder if Barrie Watts ever apologised to Napier ?
• Michael Fowler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contract researcher and commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history. Follow him on facebook.com/michaelfowlerhistory