Wellington’s legendary craft beer bar, the almost 30-year-old The Malthouse has come full circle with a return to Willis Street.

The bar has relocated to 76 Willis Street — with a grand opening tonight (December 7) — after a long stint in Courtenay Place, setting up not quite directly across the road from the original site at 47 Willis Street.

The original location, the long-time home to the famous Barrett’s Hotel, was a much-loved spot but after 14 years there, The Malthouse had to move when the property was purchased for development.

Founder and major shareholder Sean Murrie said Courtney Place, with its late-night party raucousness, was never an ideal destination.

“We wouldn’t have gone to Courtenay Place originally but we had to find somewhere and we had dibs on the space down there and we couldn’t find anywhere else.”

When the current location had to be earthquake-strengthened it was as good a time as any to get out of the trashy end of town and back to the post-work crowd. So 15 years later they are back in Willis Street.

“We were told we could stay in Courtney Place but we would be closed down for six months,” Murrie explained. “But often six months can turn into longer, so we took the opportunity to move.”

Murrie hoped to build a “dream bar” in the new location but some of the engineering requirements meant he couldn’t quite realise that vision, but he says the new venue with an “art nouveau” look has beautiful features, including brick walls, a high ceiling, and polished wooden floor.

The Malthouse
The view from the street. Photo / Neil McInnes

And being back in Willis Street, he says, will bring The Malthouse closer to its people — even if it does risk drawing a similar crowd to the Fork & Brewer, which Murrie also co-owns.

“The Malthouse was always a 5pm bar, the first place you go for a beer after work — not after you’ve had a few. So, Courtenay Place was not a natural fit, this is much better.

“It is a concern that Fork & Brewer is close, but it’s also quite good to strengthen an area as well.”

He also says there’s a gap in the area where previously strong competition has faded a little in recent years.

Things that people associate with The Malthouse will continue, The West Coast IPA Challenge and Darkest Days events, for example, will keep going.

“Nothing changes there,” Murrie said, “but we will concentrate more on really good food and make it a great lunch venue.

“And continue serving the best possible craft range of beers.”