Rites of Passage Part II: University Bars


Yet another darkened underpass feeding you straight to the base of Shads mountain

The natural follow-up to the post about school balls is the leap into tertiary study, still a teenager, so young and clueless.

Not everyone takes the prescribed New Zealand ‘drink yourself into the bowels of hell’ route, but let’s be honest, a great number of us do, even just once or twice.

Some of us never learned where the ‘off’ tap was. We didn’t even care in our first year about lectures; there were Coles Notes for that.

Our meeting ground — from 12pm — was the student bar, and each of the campuses had a real clanger. Mine was Shadows Bar at Auckland University. I’ve mentioned others at other centres later on; please leave anecdotes, please do.

Being a BA/MA student for 6 or so years taught me that free time was for the taking. When you enrol and you are lost, you are really not sure why you came, the only answer is to hit the student bar at lunchtime, and stay there until closing.

In those days it was easy to get money. There was an 0800 number to Student Loans and a nice lady or man would release funds into your account overnight. There was a general traffic jam around the phone booths on a Thursday.

Shadows was well patronized and I am sure the end-of-year financials showed a robust turnover, even if there was heavy expense on cleaning products.

In effect it was a 60s concretion of ugly proportions. Like a shower block at a camp ground, it was purely functional: you walked in, stood at a bar, ordered two jugs (one for each hand) and sat on a seat. The only thing to make it more efficient would have been to have a conveyor belt running from the front door, to the bar, to your seat, then back to the toilet and so on.

I remember more wood paneling, as if I’d been shot from the Mandalay out of a canon towards Symonds Street and just landed, ready for the next onslaught.

Once you were in — if you’d managed to get past the infamous Singh (insert generic large manager/bouncer who hated you on sight, especially when you drunk-smiled), you were left alone to just drink. From a jug, from a 250ml glass, from your handbag, from your cupped hands.

You would then smoke. Often, I would see non-smokers fag it up all night long. That was the impact of this place. Good Christian folk would be bow-legged, a fag on, a jug in hand, dancing alone in front of the jukebox to Rage Against the Machine.

Meals were served as follows: Chicken Ripples.

Shadows was like Limbo, and you either fought your way out, or stayed.

Other friends went further south and I was a little jealous. The Cook was a biggie in Dunners. The Gardies. Oh woe. I feel for the actual gardener of that bar. What would they have found after a Friday night? Enough shoes and bags to open a boutique I imagine.

For Christchurch it was the Dux, from what I can tell. I could stand corrected. I visited this establishment pre-earthquake and immediately spun into a time warp. What a place. Wooden picnic tables, check. Awash with booze, check. Heaps of spunks, check. Flat screen, screening sports … meh. One of the great things about students bars of yore, is that they didn’t have televisions.

For Wellington, I’m told it was the Southern Cross. The name alone renders me bereft of life force. It does sound like a hospital, and that is probably appropriate, given the raised bile count.

For Palmy, I’m told it was the Fitz. I’m thinking Massey, I’m thinking not much to do. I’m thinking; an agricultural approach to drinking. One punter recalls a scenario where you could actually throw up at a table and no-one would notice mind. Kind of a ‘bring your own Rug Doctor’ vibe.

Hamiltron. It was the Hillcrest Tavern. Indescribable drinking. See image for more visuals:


You can smell the Draught from here (Photo courtesy www.fclarchives.co.nz)

But Shadows, with its creepy range of undergrads and ‘colourful characters’ like Gort (who should have had a long-service medal) was something else. The place made you creepy.

If you never got thrown down the stairs by Singh, you were blessed indeed.

But if you actually survived student bars, with a degree intact, then, well.



Next time on The Sane Companion: Auckland clubs of the 90s. Theme song: Somebody Does it Better.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *