An iconic part of Auckland’s cultural history now adorns the Epic Brewing taproom in Onehunga.

For years the Kean’s for Jeans “neon cowboy” twirled his lasso over the entrance of Kean’s Queen Street shop in Auckland.

The company started in 1909 in Wellington, when P F Kean and C O Josephson opened a store on Willis Street. They set up in Auckland three years later and the Queen Street building opened in 1929, according to the New Zealand Fashion Museum website.

With jeans increasingly associated with western movies, Kean’s advertised using cowboy references in their radio jingle and then set up the iconic 5-metre high neon sign. The cowboy was modelled on Vegas Vic, a neon cowboy sign that adorned The Pioneer Club in Las Vegas from 1951.

Kean’s sold their shop and brand in the mid-1970s to Warnock’s which went to voluntary receivership in 1993.


The neon sign was removed and for a while was outside the Armadillo Restaurant & Bar in Symonds Street.

Epic founder Luke Nicholas says the neon cowboy on show at their taproom is the “B side” — a reverse of the original that was introduced in 1987 when the sign was turned 90 degrees, from being flush to the front of building to being visible up and down Queen Street. Turning the sign side-on meant a second sign was needed so it could be seen in both directions.

The Neon Cowboy turned side on

How the cowboy ended up at Epic’s taproom is a story in itself.

A punter, Hayden Mitchell, was in the taproom ahead of a Warriors rugby league match at nearby Mount Smart.

He mentioned to Nicholas that the taproom could be the new home of a neon sign he had stored at home.

The pair got talking and it turned out that Mitchell had deep connections to Nicholas and Epic, having worked as a printer for Adhesif, who do Epic’s labels. Plus, his father used to work with Nicholas’ father in the building industry.

Mitchell still owns the cowboy but has loaned it to Epic.


Mitchell told Nicholas he bought the double-sided neon sign in 1997 from a wrecker’s yard and it was stored in a barn in Hunua for a couple of years, before it ended up in his Whitford garage.

Side A was sold to an art collector in Taranaki and Mitchell kept the B side.

Nicholas said Epic are looking for more information to build the back story behind the history of the sign and its importance as an icon of Queen Street, and Auckland.

And it seems there may be other Kean’s-type cowboy signs in use or hidden away in New Zealand.