The first Friday night Bar Martin was open, a bloke from the pensioner flats next door sat up at the bar with a white-wine spritzer. “He had a big smile on his face,” says architect Hannah Sharp, who opened the bar with partner Ruben Maurice. “And I thought, ‘If he’s here, then we’ve done our job.’”
You’ll find the bar in a little 1920s block of shops in the middle of Mt Albert, Auckland. Maurice first saw the space years ago while looking for a cafe site: back then it was too far gone to be viable. When it came back on the market, now fully upgraded and earthquake-proof, Maurice jumped at the opportunity to open a neighbourhood bar. “It’s an interesting part of the city that’s going to expand and change over the next few years,” he says.
During the planning stages, the couple would stop by for a wander around the neighbourhood. They found kids walking to school and the community out on the street. “That felt quite unusual for Auckland,” says Sharp. “We’ve chanced on a wonderful community and one that was hanging out for something like this.” You can drop in for a wine with friends, or pick up a bottle from the off-licence. It has become a regular group stop for cyclists seeking a refreshing beer before they head home on the north-western cycle way.
Working with a minimal budget, Sharp – who works for Herbst Architects by day – designed a welcoming space that feels like it has always been there. There’s salvaged kauri, raw steel, a blue dado wall line and a blue-painted cork floor. Family pitched in to help with the build, including both their fathers and Maurice’s brother Benedict, who built the table tops using hand tools only.
The bar reminds Maurice of small, unpretentious wine bars and tavernas the couple has frequented during travels in Europe, and is designed so he can run it by himself on a quiet weeknight. “They work well because they’re not too complex,” he says – and that extends to the short wine list and rustic food. “We haven’t tried to do over-complicated things.”
Simple moves, but ones that make the place feel established and part of the neighbourhood. “We had a shell which was nicely proportioned and well lit, and then we tied it all together with paint,” says Sharp. “It’s a space that will grow as the business grows.”