It’s fucking cold. We should have seen it coming. Early this year Wellington was teetering between utopic sunshine and blithering bad weather and has finally settled for blithering. The weather is probably one of the most painfully lackluster conversation starters, but sometimes it’s all you’ve got. In my case I came prepared, as always.
When I rocked up to The Backbencher for my review, not only did I have my pretentious conversation one-liners prepared, I also made sure to take my gentle Korean friend with me, just in case the place was full of disgruntled octogenarians. The Backbencher (in Wellington opposite parliament) has been around since 1893. The place is known for being the venue for long running political show Backbenches and a place you can spot a politician or two. It must be the exceptionally terrifying soggy puppets on the walls that attract the bees from across the road because it was quite busy.
It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, to say the least. Staring up into the dead eyes, glistening teeth, and moist flesh of a caricature of Jonah Lomu doesn’t quite feed my political fire.
But I wanted to give this place a fair chance, and let it impress me with its food, its people, and of course, its alcohol. I was pleasantly surprised when the bartender asked for my ID. At the ripe old age of 20, I didn’t think anyone would take me for a spring chicken.
Since I know more about the Shrek mythos than I do about beer, I had to ask for the bartender’s help in choosing a beverage. When I was told that the drink of choice by many politically-charged occupants was the Panhead Supercharger, I had to suppress a giggle. I hadn’t heard such a ridiculous name since Creative Media Production. However, unlike most beers I’ve had the misfortune of trying, this one didn’t taste like vegemite. And fair enough too, I paid $11 for the bloody thing.
My friend and I sat about and absorbed the aura of the place like a pair of enlightened hipsters. I avoided the stares of some of the older occupants from the table next to us, until I realised that I probably had to speak to one of them to get the full experience. The first gentleman I approached completely avoided my gaze, but we did have a conversation. By conversation of course I mean I said ‘hello’ and he said ‘goodbye’ then left, but it was a conversation nonetheless.
It seemed like nobody over the age of 125 wanted to speak to me, so I had a yarn with the bartender, who was also a student. She pointed out the lesser known politicians in the room that I wouldn’t have recognised and explained where the puppets came from. They start off as a 3D drawing by Murray Webb, then come to life by the black magicking of Bryce Curtis from Weta Workshop.
Turns out The Backbencher has had a few dreadful fires in the past, one managed to damage many of the puppets. Instead of throwing these cursed items into the sea and calling an exorcist, the owners decided they’d just store them in the attic. So yes, the leaders of our country have their drinks and merriment at an old masonry building with an attic full of burnt puppets. No wonder so much goes wrong in New Zealand. If it were up to me I’d burn the place to Jacinders, but then the lady who owns the apartment block next door wouldn’t have any noise to complain about.
I returned to our table, where my friend had kindly ordered what we assumed were going to be calamari and fries. What we got were calamari and big fuck off potatoes the size of shakeweights. Not that I was complaining, they were damn pleasant. Can’t say the same for the Guinness that my friend ordered. He knows what a good Guinness tastes like, so I didn’t question him when his face went sour after the first sip. He peered into the glass, then glanced at me, then back again. He described it to me as tasting like, “vaping with a burnt coil.” I don’t know what that’s like, perhaps you do, but I’m sure it’s not what you want in a $10 drink.
How quickly this place had fallen out of favour with him. He had a smile on his face when we walked in, now he was claiming that if he lived in the other half of Korea he would bomb this place in a jiffy.
It seemed like the right time to go, so we headed out towards the restaurant half of the building, and that’s when we ran smack doodle into Jacinda Ardern, in all her sparkling glory.
Or at least, we got a bit of a shock from her puppet counterpart with teeth so big that Jaws would have contracted severe depression.
To make matters worse, the Uber home had doubled in price, and my friend and I blamed it on the government all the way back to our flat, which StudyLink helps us pay for. However, I enjoyed the time I had spent at the Backest of Benches. The food was nice, the drink was palatable, and I got a good yarn out of it.
Regardless, the puppets are atrocious, it’s impossible to afford when you live day to day off cheap tortillas, and I think it’s clear that as young people full of pith, vinegar, and potential, we really have no place there.
I give The Backbencher a total of 3/5 Votes that didn’t matter, therefore it’s kinda meh.
Next Issue: A Gathering of Sorts