Address: The Sprig & Fern Tavern, 2 Drake St, Freemans Bay, open 7 days 11am-late
Phone: (09) 213 9989,
The Fern effect will bring in punters
It's not often you can walk into a bar you have been to many times before and say "wow", but this was one of those moments for me.
The historic bar, previously the Drake and, for those with long memories, also once home to Kitty O'Brien's, has been around since Victoria Park was part of the harbour and has seen a fair bit of history along the way.
Today, it is the first foothold for Nelson brewers and bar chain Sprig & Fern in this city and if it's anything to go by it has a long and illustrious future. It's almost defined by what it isn't - it isn't a sports bar, it isn't a pokie parlour and it isn't a restaurant; but it is a proper pub. The decor is excellent, with clean lines, ample seating and at the centre of it all, the bar. The bar is a thing of beauty, although not necessarily because it is a particularly lovely bar, but because there is a wall full of beer taps behind it.
The Sprig's beers are excellent and I have been looking forward to them coming to Auckland ever since I spent a wonderful evening in Nelson supping my way through the entire range of craft beers, which numbers more than 20. From simple beers such as Fern Draught, to rich, complex blockbusters such as the Doppelbock, or my personal favourite, the Scotch Ale, there is something for everyone on tap here. Other highlights include the Porter, a luscious, rich and rewarding beer, and the apple cider, which combines lovely apple sweetness with a tangy sharp finish.
The wine list is small but well thought out with a natural bias towards Nelson wines, which is a nice way to showcase the bar's southern roots. The spirit selection is serviceable at this stage, but it covers all the bases.
This particular Sprig has a kitchen as well and is knocking out good grub at, frankly, ridiculous prices. Homemade pie and chips for $11 anyone?
In fact, the pricing is very attractive all over. The stronger beers are hitting $12 a pint, but a bottle of craft beer can set you back a minimum of $15 around town and the Sprig serves fresh ale in a pint glass.
The service is friendly and well-informed as well and I think the Sprig is going to offer some pretty stiff competition to a lot of bars in the city over the coming months.
I've scored it provisionally as it's a new bar, but I'll be back to check that the opening standards have been maintained. And to check the beer, as I may have missed one or two on this visit.