The Thistle Inn
The Thistle Inn received the second liquor license issued in New Zealand and is New Zealand's oldest surviving tavern and restaurant operating from its original site.
Today many patrons enjoy its hospitality completely unaware of the significance of its wooden floorboards, low sash windows and its location steeped in history, near Wellington's Central Business District.
In 1840, when the original tavern was first built in Mulgrave Street, the sea lapped at the beach just below its front door and the slight hill on which the tavern now stands was much lower. Subsequent earthquakes, particularly the magnitude 8.2 earthquake of 1855 combined with land reclamation have raised the shoreline and moved it several blocks away. Stories are told of the early days when Maori chiefs drew their canoes up on the beach at the front door stopping in for a quick dram before venturing out on a raiding party.
Destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1866, the diminutive Thistle Inn has stood in modest splendour on the same spot for the last 175 years. From its wide front windows it has watched a cavalcade of Wellington's history pass by and rubbed shoulders with politicians, felons and the famous characters of New Zealand history. Today, protected by a Category One Preservation Order, it is still popular with local office workers for a lunchtime break and in the evening it still resonates with the sounds of talk, laughter and the clink of glasses.
Standing as tall as those buildings which surround it, the Thistle Inn still looks good on its corner section in the downtown Wellington suburb of Thorndon. Even without the sea at its front door, the building still looks almost exactly as it did in those early days of Wellington. This lovely old building has become a part of the Wellington landscape every bit as much as the harbour, the hills and the curving foreshore of the waterfront.
Chief Te Rauparaha
The story goes that local Maori chief Te Rauparaha would pull up his waka on the shore outside the pub, wander in and order a whiskey and no one had the courage to charge him. This story is unsubstantiated. However Chief Te Rauparaha died on 27 November 1849 and Thistle was built in 1840 and rebuilt after a fire in 1866, so he had nine years to drink at the pub. Of course he was in jail from 1846 to 1848 but it's certainly plausible. That no one would charge him is also very believable. During his lifetime he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of rivals and European settlers.
Katherine Mansfield was another regular guest - see her poetry about one of her experiences at The Thistle hanging in the dining room. Dock workers, rail workers, politicians, government workers and many others have been regulars over the years.
The well-known names continue on the street with the road in front now named Kate Sheppard Place after the leader of the woman's suffrage movement.