By ALAN PERROTT
Ageing Aucklanders indulging themselves in extended youthfulness and newly freed baby boomers are driving the city's latest bar trend: venues aimed at the over-30s.
Inner-city venues such as Boogie Wonderland, The Drake, Bar SeventySix and Match Lounge are tailored to provide a night out for those who don't want to mix with young and aggressive drinkers.
Jamie MacKinnon, owner of Parnell's Iguacu, plans to open up three retro-inspired venues nearby.
He has almost completed purchasing Metropole, once a bastion of excess during the heady boom days before the 1987 stockmarket crash.
"And we're not going to stop at Metropole," he said. "It's the car yard theory. If you get a lot of car yards together, more people will come because they will have plenty of options in one place.
"My objective to make Parnell a destination where our people can bar-hop, but not get driven mad by oonst oonst music."
The demand is being driven by liberated baby boomers he said, those who are either newly separated or who have got rid of the kids and found they have extra income.
Statistics suggest this ageing market will grow over the next 50 years.
Census results show New Zealand's median age rose from 31 years in 1991 to 35 years in 2001 and will be older than 45 years in 2049. Decreasing birth rates suggest those entering this demographic will have higher disposable incomes than previous generations.
A survey released this month by the Alcohol Advisory Council showed the over-30s are now the country's major drinkers. The typical binge drinker is now most likely to be an urban Pakeha of 30 years or older with a household income of over $70,000.
Teaching these older soaks better social habits is good for business, said Warren Stewart, who owns Mt Eden's Horse and Trap and The Drake, which has recently opened behind Victoria Market.
He has introduced tight controls to his bars to weed out the groups of binge-drinking males. He estimated the changes cost him about 15 per cent of his previous patrons, but now attract a more mixed, older clientele who become more regular patrons.
Ian Dunthorne is manager of the newly opened Boogie Wonderland, an underground disco-flavoured venue alongside the Britomart transport terminal.
He is targeting those between 25 and 55 looking for a late-night drink but not interested in a house-music-driven bar.
"Basically we're getting older and we are trying to put together a club we would like to go to," said Mr Dunthorne.
Boogie Wonderland features a glass dance floor, rumoured to have cost six figures, which incorporates computer-generated graphics that can replicate early video games such as Tetris.
Match Lounge owner Tony Stewart has designed his venue, service and drink selection around the patrons he wants. While he serves a similar age group to Boogie Wonderland, Match Lounge is oriented towards early evening, pre-club drinkers.
The bar, at the corner of Pitt and Hopetoun Sts, features conversation areas, table service and an extensive cocktail menu.
"It's about creating an environment and attitude that will attract like-minded people," he said. "Auckland isn't a very big market, but what we offer definitely reflects the customer we want."
Paul Stowers, editor of FoodService magazine, said the over-30s are becoming sought-after because they are loyal, stay longer and have more money to spend.
"There isn't the tendency to hope from bar to bar with an older crowd. Once a group of friends find a bar that they like they will come back again and again, which is what bar owners are after.
"Younger customers are just seen as too erratic in their drinking habits."
He says the appeal to an older audience can be seen in the design of the bar itself.
"For a long time the fashion for bars around Auckland was fairly minimal, with very bright, clean interiors - for example Soul Bar or Coast at the Viaduct Harbour," said Mr Stowers.
"But bars aiming for an older audience go for a more opulent look, something that looks warmer and more inviting, almost similar to a home environment. It's all about making people feel more comfortable so they will stay longer.
"For a start, it's a lot quieter at these type of venues - in general you will find that soul classics from people like Al Green or Marvin Gaye are more likely to be played than the latest pumping house tunes."
By ALAN PERROTT