Wellington’s iconic craft beer bar, Hashigo Zake, is closing down.

It’s fair to say the cult Wellington bar is responsible for incubating any number of Wellington craft beer brands, not the least Garage Project.

Hashigo Zake translates to the “liquor ladder” — which is a Japanese descriptor for a pub crawl. The bar was started by Dominic Kelly in 2009 after he’d worked in Japan and wanted to bring some of that country’s bar aesthetic back to his hometown.

Hashigo Zake was integral to much of my craft beer learning in the early days and Dominic (captured brilliantly by Stuff legend Chris Skelton in the picture below) has always been one of the wisest people in beer.

And you could say he was a visionary for taking a bet on an unheralded Garage Project — launching that brewery to the wider world through the 24/24 series in 2010. It was also where GP poured their first proper release, Pernicious Weed.

As Pete Gillespie from Garage Project told me this week, they owe a lot to the subterranean bar on Taranaki Street.

“Hashigo Zake is integral to the Garage Project story,” Gillespie said.

Hashigo zake
The launch of the Garage Project 24/24 series at Hashigo Zake

“We owe so much to Hashigo Zake. They took us in and gave us tap space. It was Hasihigo that offered up a Tuesday night slot for us to release our weekly drops when started off brewing 24 beers in 24 weeks and Hashigo that helped create the cult following that surrounded the 24/24.⁠

“Hashigo will forever be woven into the story of Garage Project, and we’re sad to see the end of what has been a Wellington craft beer institution.⁠”

But Gillespie urged Wellington beer lovers to take the next week, before the official closing night on March 8 — next Friday — to “celebrate” a bar that helped drive much of the hype around Wellington’s explosive craft beer scene in the 2010s.

It’s worth noting that Hashigo Zake is not closing because of the downturn in the beer market (more on that later) but because of a series of unfortunate incidents (well, two incidents and a pandemic).

First, a pump taking wastewater from the underground bar failed, leaving Kelly with a huge bill.

Then Wellington Water started digging up Taranaki St right outside the bar entry, making it hard to access.

All this is against a post-pandemic backdrop of fewer people working in the city.

“Any one and maybe even two of these crises might have been survivable for us prior to 2020, but in 2024 the cumulative effects of these blows and this decade’s other challenges mean that too much damage has been done and we have to cease trading,” Kelly told The Post.