Order has been restored in the Viaduct after one of two $1,000 stone lions guarding Auckland's Soul Bar was returned last night by a contrite young man who'd publicised his theft online.
The distinctive 80kg artefact outside the Viaduct restaurant was stolen just before 2am on March 25.
Soul Bar commercial manager Olivia Carter said she had been directed to the thief online after he posted several images and videos to Instagram of himself riding and licking the statue at his home.
"We obviously named him on our social media because we tried contacting him and he hadn't got back to us. Then lots of people got back to us and said 'I know him, he's my friend'," Carter said.
"So he had pressure put on him by people that he knew. He rang us yesterday, and said 'Hi, I've got your lion, I'd like to return it.'
"He said 'I don't know how I'm going to get it back to you. It's quite heavy. Can I drive the car up? Is that allowed?'
Carter said the young man was offered the trolley he also took from nearby bar Saint Alice to transport the statue along the Viaduct promenade.
"He came at 7 o'clock, it wasn't dark. There were plenty of people here. He was, I guess, just owning up to the fact that he was bringing it back," Carter said.
"I wasn't here personally but my colleague was and she said he was very sorry. He said 'I was just drunk, it was one of those things. I felt bad about it on the weekend so I decided to bring it back."
Carter said the response from their patrons after the Herald published the initial theft has been striking.
"Yesterday people were coming in for lunch and they were like 'oh, we've seen a lion is missing' so they were getting photos with the other lion.
"I think lots of people have an affiliation with Soul and they like it for different reasons. Then we were in the news for something. People's heartstrings or loyalties were being pulled."
Due to the thief's remorse, Carter said the restaurant will not be pursuing the theft further with police after initially reporting it.
Part of the back of the lion was chipped off in the theft but the man responsible said he was happy to pay for any repairs.
"That's all we wanted, really [the lion back]. I mean, the police still haven't called us," Carter said.
"He showed obvious remorse when he was back. And I thought the fact that he returned it in daylight.was pretty good of him."
But Carter says they won't be easily subjected again to a late-night uplift of their outdoor decor.
"We've got someone coming to secure them. The camera has been adjusted so it sees both of them perfectly now. Just in case."
Soul Bar has consistently featured in Auckland's top 50 restaurants over the past decade and has been an institution within the City of Sails' social scene , attracting such guests as Beyoncé and Jay Z.
The lions have been an enduring attraction for patrons since the restaurant opened in 2006.
"It's super surprising how many people come and get their photo taken with a lion under the Soul sign," said Carter. "It's one of those things that have been fascinating even to me, to be honest. People really love those lions."