Writer Ellen Falconer's guide to Wellington
Time for another SF Spotlight. This week we spoke with cool kid Ellen Falconer, a fashion and music journalist based in Wellington, New Zealand. Ellen's crafty words have appeared on the pages of Pulp, No, Fashion Quarterly and Rip It Up magazines. She is also currently writing about Wellington fashion for mixitup.co.nz and setting up her own blog at ellenfalconer.blogspot.com in between juggling full time work and part time journalism studies. Despite her busy schedule, Ellen managed to take some time out and let us in on the secrets of her home town.
It’s small enough to make it accessible, but big enough that there’s plenty to do. Wellington has a charm, a nice atmosphere that I can’t quite put my finger on that a certain larger New Zealand city is lacking. Perhaps it’s because everyone who lives here seems to be involved in the arts in one way or another. That or working in politics. Wellington’s all about the house parties too, which makes for a cheap night out and it’s much easier to keep warm by dancing in your friend’s lounge than it is by bar hopping.
What's your latest city discovery?
Arthur’s bistro at the top of Cuba st - it’s the brother café to Martha’s Pantry, a popular spot to go for cupcakes and high tea. Arthur’s is in a converted Edwardian house and everything from the cutlery to the couch cushions are reminiscent of a visit to Nana’s house. It’s very familiar and friendly. The courtyard out the back is lovely for an after-work drink in the sun. Though I’m yet to eat there, the menu is full of wholesome, kiwi-style food (try their eggs benedict) and there is a range of New Zealand wines and beers (Tuatara pilsner is a favourite) to choose from.
Your fail-proof favourite Wellington spot?
Sweet Mother's Kitchen at the end of Courtenay Place. Its menu is Mexican by way of New Orleans. It’s very popular, so there’s often a wait, but there are enough interesting knick-knacks on the walls to look at and make the time go by. Or you could pop a few doors down and have a drink at Ancestral (they have a heated concrete bench!) while you wait for them to call you back. The wait is worth it, I promise. It’s reasonably priced – about NZD$20 for a meal and a drink – and the food arrives quickly once you’ve ordered. I highly recommend their feta and spinach quesadilla. And of course, you can’t go to Sweet Mo’s without getting their curly fries.
Best place to warm up in winter?
The Burgundy Room downstairs at Bodega on Ghuznee St has had a bit of a revival recently. It’s a small room, with a low ceiling and no windows, so it can get pretty warm down there. There have been a couple of dance parties there recently – one semi-regular club night called Compulsory Ecstasy (not as rave-y as the name suggests) and another party that was underwater themed. Both had that house party vibe, where the DJs are more concerned with playing killer tunes (e.g. All Your Favourite Pop Hits) than showing off technical skill.
Best live music venue?
San Francisco Bathhouse on Cuba st. It’s not often we get international bands through Wellington, but when they do, they’ll play at SFBH. It fits about 500 people, so it’s a perfect size – big enough to create a buzz of excitement, but small enough that you feel like you could reach out and touch the instruments. I’ve seen some great gigs by the likes of Mayer Hawthorne, Beirut and Cut Copy there, and local musicians such as Glass Vaults, Sunken Seas and Phoenix Foundation have also taken advantage of their excellent sound and lighting set up.
Favourite shopping haunt?
The Service Depot on Wakefield st (quite close to the Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester stores). It’s Wellington’s best fashion boutique and stocks exclusively New Zealand labels. It’s thoughtfully edited and features well-made and carefully considered designs. It’s a good introduction to New Zealand fashion for those who don’t know anything about it beyond Karen Walker. My favourite designers there are Miss Crabb, Salasai, Lonely Hearts and Jimmy D. The team there is super lovely and they are always keen to geek out with you about NZ fashion.
What would your dream day in Wellington include?
If it were a sunny day, as it often is in Wellington (with strong winds, mind), a walk along the waterfront is really lovely and it can be quite refreshing. The City Gallery has had a remodeling recently and always has an interesting exhibition on. From there, I’d walk through Civic Square to Wakefield st to see what’s in store at the Service Depot, WORLD Beauty and Kate Sylvester. I’d then meet a friend for a coffee at Memphis Belle, not far off Cuba St, before going to Sweet Mother’s Kitchen for dinner and Ancestral for a drink. If it’s the weekend, there’s bound to be something on at Mighty Mighty or Bodega, or a house party that is only walking distance away. There’s a good chance that an evening out will involve either walking uphill or up lots of stairs, so be prepared to arrive at a party gasping for breath and slightly sweaty. You’ll soon learn to disguise that though.
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