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Matterhorn: To Be or not to Be there - and no Piña Colada
As this bar and restaurant (with really good and now award winning food; see update at the bottom) has been described as legendary, iconic, a must-have-been place and Wellington institution in every travel guide for centuries we would not want to miss it on our last Wellington visit. Well, it was not full of the promised chic and important people. And they did not serve Piña Colada. Instead the barkeeper(s) used the totally unbusy time before the midnight rush to shift boxes of bottles around, and one guy sat in the dark with his laptop.
You reach the bar from Cuba Street through a long hallway, just follow the signs. There are two bar areas, one where they have the espresso machine and lots of wine, and on the other side is the very impressive cocktail bar where they mix all kinds of drinks which do not need a noisy blender, and no Piña Colada LOL It was already nice to admire all those bottles on the illuminated shelves. I can imagine that it is really great there an hour later or so when more than five or so customers fill the place, and you can watch all those people while sipping on your drinks.
We tried wine and a caipirinha – the latter would have been great with a little more lime juice crushed out from the lime(s) with the pestle. We said, ok, we have been there – but would not have felt terribly sorry if we had not visited this iconic bar and had had our after dinner drinks somewhere else.
The bar was established by two Swiss brothers in 1963, so the name comes as no surprise. They started it as a café, featuring girls in traditional Swiss outfits, and served strong espresso when New Zealanders were still a nation of tea drinkers. The place was so popular that often the queues reached through the really long hallway back out to the street. When one of the brothers died, the other one went back to Switzerland – but the Swiss tradition remained, as the business was sold to another Swiss guy.
However, in the early 1980’s a Polish family became the new owners, and in 1995 it was sold to a Greek family. At this time the Matterhorn had become totally out of date, and Wellingtonians somehow abandoned it. Several young guys acquired it a year later and transformed it into a contemporary place that soon recovered under changing ownership, featuring live music. In 2002 it underwent major refurbishment, and then evolved into a fine dining place, and specialist cocktail bar.
What I think is great about Matterhorn is that they are not pretentious. Although it attracts a lot of famous and rich people the staff do not treat the man from the street with less respect. It really is a place for everyone.
Open daily from 10am until very late
Lunches from about $ 10 to 20, dinner prices are steeper, with entrees from $ 16.50 to 19, mains from $ 26 to 32, desserts about $ 14.
Update 24 August 2008
The Matterhorn has just been named New Zealand's Restaurant of the Year by Cuisine magazine. Not only the food was praised but also the overall restaurant experience. (I cannot comment on the food because we were only in the bar but there is no reason to doubt the great quality.)