It was a place where some of Rotorua's best musicians and bands were made and friendships were formed.

So it's no surprise Belgian Bar owner Peter Jongenelen was, in his words, "smiling with tears in my eyes" as he spoke about his bar's closure.

It was nearly 10 years ago when Dutch-born Mr Jongenelen and his then-partner Anita Loderus arrived in Rotorua, bought a Korean restaurant on Arawa St and turned it into a bar.

Then, it was called Chambers, because of the courthouse across the road. Two years later it became the Belgian Bar, with a European ambience and Belgian beer, aimed at the over 40s.


Around this time Mr Jongenelen became one of the founders of the Bay of Plenty Blues Club and the Belgian Bar became the club's home, with music gear permanently set up on stage. "There's not anywhere like it in New Zealand. The fact it was plug and play, anyone could come in and play music," Mr Jongenelen said. "We created new bands in here. Camaraderie among musicians has been great. Individuals who normally didn't get out of the garage all of a sudden became entertainers."

The posters on the walls are evidence of the bar's long history of gigs, Midge Marsden and Bullfrog Rata among those joining the jam sessions. The bar has all but closed, a farewell gig by the Rotorua Sunrise Rockers tomorrow will be its last, at least with Mr Jongenelen as owner. He's been trying to sell it for a year but for now the doors will remain shut.

With old friends and musicians from through the years expected to pack out the bar one last time, it's likely to be an emotional afternoon.

"If my wallet wasn't empty I would have carried on," Mr Jongenelen admitted with tears in his eyes. "I haven't made a positive return in the last three years."

He puts that down to a number of factors including lower disposable incomes, drink driving and smoking rules, and Eat Streat.

"Eat Streat was part of my decline. Me not reacting positively against it. In hindsight we should have moved, been part of Eat Streat."

Ms Loderus, who continued helping out after the pair went from being a couple to just good friends, said 2006 to 2011 were probably the bar's best years. "It used to be shoulder- to-shoulder ..."

In 2011 Mr Jongenelen "died", he had a cardiac arrest in hospital and had no heartbeat for 23 minutes. He returned to the bar with a changed outlook on life.


"Priorities change. People and friendship are more important than money."

Noel Lamberton, technical director and a fellow founding member of Bay of Plenty Blues Club, said it was the "end of a musical era".

He said his favourite memories of the bar were seeing musicians walk in who'd never played on stage before that were now out playing around Rotorua. "It [Belgian Bar] helped Rotorua music a lot."

He said "PJ" and his bar would be sadly missed, although the Blues Club would continue at a new venue.

Mr Jongenelen doesn't know exactly what he'll do next, but one thing's for sure.

"As long as I'm in Rotorua I will be part of the music scene."