Tell someone who has never been to Gisborne that there’s an old DC-3 up a pole in the industrial part of town and they’d probably look at you sideways.
But locals know this is just one of the quirky features of the famous Smash Palace Bar which has become a second home to a regular ‘Gizzy’ crowd and continues to intrigue visitors.
Opened 20 years ago by winemaker Phil Parker - whose winery was located behind Smash Palace in Banks Street - the bar has changed hands four times in the intervening years. Current owners Gus and Nicola Heuser have run ‘Smash’ (as it is often referred to) for the last five years and have loved every minute of it. However, with their oldest child approaching school age, they have decided to sell the thriving business to spend more time with their family.
Marketed for sale as a going-concern through Colin McNab of Bayleys Gisborne, the business has an asking price of $230,000 plus GST (if any) and includes an extensive collection of memorabilia – including the DC-3, several old cars which form part of the landscaping and the resident cat, Dash.
Named after the Kiwi film of the same name, Smash Palace was a very innovative concept when it was founded in 1990. Phil Parker is known to be a big ideas man and has gone on to open three interactive wine tasting complexes called The Big Picture in Napier, Auckland and Central Otago.
The idea of a casual bar filled with - and defined by - Kiwiana and eclectic memorabilia, in the midst of a busy industrial area away from the centre of town was probably seen as ‘a bit out there’ by Gisborne folk a couple of decades ago. However, Mr Heuser says the location works brilliantly as patrons go there with the intention of settling in for a few drinks and it’s a destination bar.
“People come here with a purpose and know that they’ll have a great time. The space we have is also very adaptable allowing us to hold live gigs, either on an indoor or outdoor stage; we’ve also held car and motorcycle shows, a tug-of-war competition and regularly host functions from 21st birthdays through to corporate parties,” says Mr Heuser, adding that they offer a full and flexible service including catering.
The bar operation has been streamlined with seamless systems and requires no specialist skills. Mr Heuser was a mechanic for 17 years before buying the Smash Palace business and says if he can do it, anyone can. Keen to transition new owners into the business, he says he feels quite protective of the bar and its reputation and wants the good times to continue.
“I used to come here before I bought the business and I fully intend to keep coming here with my soccer team.”
Most suited to a husband-and-wife team or other partnership where an owner is always on-site, Smash Palace runs on minimal staff with a strong casual pool of ‘ring-in’ help available.
Calling the regular clientele ‘family’, Mr Heuser says the hard-core patrons cover the spectrum with trades people, sports teams and the work boot-attired rubbing shoulders with ‘the suits’, and the relaxed dress code and laid-back management style has found favour.
“It has a great levelling effect and even through so-called recessionary times, ‘Smash’ continued to trade profitably achieving sales figures well above the country’s hospitality industry average. Gisborne people like a reason to go out and by keeping a regular entertainment schedule running, and catering to our core clientele, we have bucked the economic downturn.”
Colin McNab says Smash Palace has always been well-supported by workers from the Jukien Nissho and Prime timber mills who consider it their ‘local’ while news of a new and far larger mill to be built next year will surely have flow on effects for the whole Gisborne economy, including the hospitality sector.
The bar is currently open from 3pm-late on weekdays and 12pm-late at the weekend. A roaring fire in winter helps to even out the troughs and dips of the trade; in fact, trade is steady throughout the year with a healthy spike in turnover around key high-profile local events such as Rhythm and Vines. In the past, a courtesy van has operated from the bar to addresses around the city and the sign-written vehicle is included in the sale.
Smash Palace is not aligned to any one brewery with the current owners preferring to keep the options broad giving people what they want. A new owner could forge new brewery alliances and as the bar is approved as an off-licence, a bottle store operation could be developed on-site providing another income stream.
Likewise, with the food service, a new owner could choose to extend the menu and offerings beyond the current casual bar food on offer and the full commercial kitchen could support this.
The unique décor of the bar and courtyard area is a constant source of amusement for patrons. The extensive collection includes the former NAC, then Mount Cook and Southern Lakes Tourist Company and later Fieldair DC-3, known as ZK-BKD which was retired from active service in 1983. It was acquired by Phil Parker and incorporated into the Bar courtyard. At one time, patrons could climb up into the plane, however, this is no longer so.
Also adorning the walls is a large paper mache dinosaur and a Weka, an antique bicycle with numbers around the front wheel used by the 200-strong Handle Club for draws, New Zealand’s first powered motor mower, chainsaws wedged into posts and four art works by local artist Daryl File who worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
“We have a list of people who have gifted or loaned items to us to display wishing to see them displayed and enjoyed,” says Mr Heuser.
Just as the retro film of the same name continues to captivate audiences, so too does Smash Palace Bar and it’s now time for a new owner to keep the reel running…