09/02/14 Smash Palace, Christchurch
Recurrent natural calamity isn’t the best incentive in prolonging business ownership. After a chain of earthquakes that rocked the South Island of New Zealand, however, Christchurch resident Johnny Moore sought to raise his bar and the town’s spirits along with it.
During the penultimate quake of February 22, 2012, three floors of a neighboring building had fallen on beloved bar Goodbye Blue Monday. Moore decided to bid farewell to the ominously named joint and put up Smash Palace, a temporary bar concept that’s become a symbol of the town’s entrepreneurial mobility.
Within a perimeter of scrim-covered scaffolding is a former commercial bus that serves as the bar, painted like a Trapper Keeper from the ‘80s. From the bus bar’s roof, multicolored string lights hover over tables fashioned from salvaged doors. “The design came from necessity. We were going to do shipping containers but discovered that a bus and a 40-foot container cost about the same. Also, a bus that drives itself was a good option for if we needed to move again,” says Moore.
Perhaps driving home the feeling of transience is the ever-changing burger menu. Apart from the house’s handmade arancini, “the must-have is the special burger of the week,” spanning a pork patty with thyme-roasted apples and brie to a slow-roast lamb patty with chutney and caramel pears—all easily paired with the selection of craft beers on tap. Besides mincing their meat themselves, Smash Palace buys their ingredients only from local suppliers.
While the bar has become a festive go-to for the neighborhood, especially for petrolheads who wheel in for weekly bike nights or to get their rides fixed by an on-site mechanic, moving is inevitable.
The future of Smash Palace relies on a landlord, so Moore’s planned ahead and put up Brick Farm, a locavore-centric restaurant on High Street. Eventually, he’d like Smash Palace to move next door, to a space more permanent. If this summer is its last, at least this clever space has been a memorable detour in the city’s ride towards rebuilding itself.
Neighborhood Recommendation: “The best places to visit in Christchurch are The Darkroom on St. Asaph Street, which has live music and has continued the spirit of Goodbye Blue Monday. The Last Word on New Regent Street for whisky nerds. Civil and Naval in Lyttleton for the authentic Lyttleton experience. The Tannery in Woolston for what can be built beautifully in the most unlikely of locations. And non-hospo—check out Ivan Mauger’s gold-plated speedway bike at the Canterbury Museum. I can’t believe we’re lucky enough to have this display in our wee city.” –Johnny Moore