Monday, December 27, 2010
Cuba St. - Bohemian, with an edge
Cuba Street is Wellington's equivalent of what the socialite with a predilection for liquor becomes after a few snifters - a little wild and a little trampy. Wellington is a beautiful city on a gorgeous harbor, but it is also the diplomatic and governmental hub, so it can be a little dull and staid at times.
Cuba Street is her bohemian side that likes to go a little crazy once in a while. It's a wonderful neighborhood - named after an early settler ship to New Zealand - and a registered Historic Area.
An eclectic place, with incense shops, tattoo parlors, strip joints, vegetarian restaurants and old record stores close on top of one another, it's fine and fun during the day, but can get a bit bawdy and wild at night.
While much of the street is modern and definitely Kiwi, there are even some buildings that reminded me of the crumbling beauty of Havana - including a bar called Floriditas. It even looks like Bar Floridita, Ernest Hemingway's favorite hangout in Havana. The Wellington version is not quite as grand, but still has a nice sophisticated feel to it: white-tiled floor, marble-topped bar and, of course, it serves mojitas.
Cuba Street itself has a bit of a split personality. The ground floor stores look new and modern, with neon signs and slick advertising. But many of them are in old and historic buildings that have seen better days. There's a charming tattiness to the place that adds to its street cred. The same can be said of some of its denizens, the artsy, disheveled types who add to the flavor of the place.
Twenty years back the area was the center of Wellington's red light district. You can still see traces of it. In fact, we spotted "Morgan's Building" and were about to tell him to stand in front of it so we could take his picture, when we spotted the large neon sign that said "Striptease." It housed a business called Peaches and Cream which, to put it politely, is a parlor, but not of the ice cream variety. Perhaps not appropriate for the next Christmas card.
Prostitution in New Zealand has been "decriminalized," which somehow is not the same as being legal. It's a distinction, frankly, that I have not spent much time investigating.
This might not be the best segue, but there's something for all the family on Cuba Street. Morgan went into the Slow Boat Records store and found a, to him, really old John Butler Trio CD; it was from 2001, but he acted as if he'd just discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. There were buskers on every corner that he could critique. Ewan, our mysterious vegetarian, felt validated by finding a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, which we had to immediately patronize - even though we'd just had lunch.
For me, and for another day, there was a wonderful Irish pub flying both Scottish and American flags that seemed to be calling my name. And Amy found some truely intriguing and somewhat bizarre stores. I'm not saying she went into this store (at right), but I can only imagine what they were selling. I just hope it wasn't a second-hand store.
Cuba Street used to be a haven for Wellington's homeless until it became a (well sign-posted) Alcohol-free zone. Amy and I spent some time looking for the free alcohol - unsuccessfully. Whatever it is, the homeless have found better places to hang out.
At night the street becomes a little more disreputabe, but every city needs a little of that, right?