Hamilton's hospitality industry is seeing light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel after the Government loosened some restrictions and there are even local restaurateurs confident enough to open new eateries.
Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Vanessa Williams says with the restrictions for outdoor gatherings lifted, the CBD has seen a shift in terms of foot traffic as more people find the confidence to go out.
Six new hospitality businesses are in the pipeline for the city, including newly opened cocktail bar and eatery The Mercury Room on Hood St and soon to be opened French-Creole-fusion restaurant Le Petit Créole (more on that in next week's Waikato Herald). week.
Williams says while things have started to look up for hospitality, a change in traffic light settings will have the biggest impact.
"We have already seen an increase in people. When the first restrictions were loosened, there were a cracking amount of people coming into the CBD."
The Mercury Room manager and owner Eliot Horsefield just opened two weeks ago and said he is happy with how it has been going, although he admitted the timing wasn't great.
"We are feeling the hangover from lockdown and the red traffic light ... but we are looking at things optimistically. As restrictions ease, people will come back.
"When we opened, we received two types of comments. People either told us we were crazy for doing this right now, or they said now is exactly the right time because people will want to go out after being at home for so long.
"The official opening night will be this Friday. We invited a lot of friends, so we hope we are going to be bursting."
He said the nightlife market doesn't really grow. "So you have a lot of [businesses] wanting a slice of the action."
He said people eat out more these days, which is where The Mercury Room comes in.
"We want to provide a point of difference."
Apart from the menu, which includes signature cocktails and a fusion of upmarket Asian cuisine and bar food, the Mercury Room has a programme including live music and quiz nights.
"We want to give people something to come to the bar for. We are also looking at hosting wine tasting evenings and a version of a paint and sip night."
The menu has been created by head chef XueYuan Meng in cooperation with Eliot's partner Lex Boyd who used to be a chef before becoming a midwife.
"We gave Meng a free hand. We are really impressed with him. Meng came to the interview with lots of ideas. He also listened to mine and when I finished, he said 'that's boring'," Eliot said.
"My first thought was 'you cheeky [bugger]'. We told him we want him to be extravagant, but there is a basic offering he has to cater for as well."
Meng, who has experience at other restaurants in Hamilton and elsewhere in New Zealand, said he originally didn't want to apply for the job because he wasn't confident he was ready for the step up, but a friend encouraged him and told him to go for it.
"The menu includes a fusion of dishes and techniques that I have seen and learned over the years, from magazines, YouTube, my old job and my parents in China," Meng said.
His favourite dish from the newly developed menu is the pork terrine, he says.
"That dish represents where I come from, but I modified it, so it also represents what I learned."
The Mercury Room's journey really started with the building.
"The building was the catalyst. I love old buildings [and this one] looks a lot like bars in Arrowtown. I liked the vibe ... It is the second oldest commercial building in Hamilton and made of Te Kuiti limestone. I had my eye on [it] for a long time."
Eliot has been in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years of which he spent 10 as the bar manager of The Cook in Hamilton East. But he always had the dream of opening his own bar.
"Until my business partner Jamie [Mariu] agreed to do it with me, it was just a fairytale.
"We were going out for dinner with some friends and I jokingly asked 'how about we invest in a bar' and Jamie immediately said yes. I was shocked!"
The Mercury Room is named after Queen frontman Freddy Mercury.
"I always wanted to name a bar after a dead rock star ... and the first album I ever bought was from Queen. We had so many other ideas in terms of names, so we ended up writing them down and pulling one out of a hat - The Mercury Room won."
Eliot says the name was very versatile.
"Mercury is also a planet, an element and the Roman God of wit, wealth and commerce. In our logo, we included the symbol of the God."