Ask any Christchurch local where the best spot for a drink or catch up with friends is, and chances are they’ll suggest Smash Palace. The famous Christchurch establishment has survived both earthquakes and has fast become the go-to for casual drinks, parties, and especially a Sunday sesh. Smash Palace is a bar in a bus, a motorbike mechanic, and a live music venue; but more than this, it has become a part of the Christchurch community.
We caught up with the man behind the Palace, Johnny Moore, to find out how Smash Palace has not only survived, but flourished in Christchurch, what the new regeneration of hospitality establishments means for the city today, and how Johnny fnds time outside of running Smash Palace for some mandolin playing!
So Johnny, tell me a little about yourself, have you always been in hospitality? If not, how did you end up in the industry? What’s your story?
I spent a decade in hospitality after high school before retraining as a journalist. Journalism led to marketing and along the way I opened a bar with a few friends. It was more that we wanted a place to hang out than wanting to start a viable business. Anyway, the place went great guns, dragged me back into hospitality, launched a bunch of serious hospo operations, and here I am – working bar again.
Life doesn’t always take the path you expect.
Smash Palace has become something of an establishment in the Christchurch
hospitality and nightlife scene, tell me about how it all started?
We had a bar – Goodbye Blue Monday – which fell over in the earthquakes. After deciding that we wanted to commit to rebuilding in Christchurch, the next question was: how to run a bar in a city where the centre will be moving for a while. The answer: create a bar that moves. So, after a night drinking we bought a bus and started fitting it out on our neighbours abandoned property.
I think it has been embraced because locals and tourists love the story of a little bar that insisted on being a part of a damaged community.
Where did the name come from?
Originally it was called “Smash City” but with the first iteration being ringed in wrapped scaffold it started to look like a castle and everyone just started calling it Smash Palace.
I thought “who am I to argue with public opinion” and we changed the name.
Smash Palace is on old Kiwi film starring Bruno Lawrence. I recommend it if you like weird old NZ cinema.
What does an average day at Smash Palace look like for you?
I sometimes think that when people imagine owning a bar that it’s much more glamorous than reality. Ordering stock. Chucking kegs about. Managing staff. Trying to hustle cheap product from suppliers…
An average day sees me working with my sister, brother-in-law and my parents which is the part of the job that I love. Business is fun but family business is about something beyond just making a buck. It’s about creating a community.
Smash Palace certainly feels like a community to us.
The earthquakes had a devastating effect on many loved bars and establishments throughout the city, how did Smash Palace overcome this to become the success it is today?
While the earthquakes damaged the city, they also represented opportunity. Smash Palace would never have worked in the past – I mean, it’s an open-air bar in a city now renowned for its weather.
When the earthquakes came the option was to cash out or to work twice as hard to do something special. We chose the second option.
The success of the place is mainly due to the hard work of all the awesome staff we have who have bought into our vision for a bar that provides something that all the others don’t.
Also, don’t forget the customers who populate a bar. Without all our loyal regulars it’d just be a bus in a car park. I think there was a bunch of people looking for a community centred place and we happened to chance upon being that place.
There have been lots of new bar and restaurant openings in the last few months, how do you view the hospitality scene in Christchurch now and how do you think this will impact the fabric of the city?
The scene is more vibrant than ever before. It’s easy to forget that before the earthquakes, Christchurch was a sleepy wee city in slow decline.
Now it’s got the most up-to-date hospo offerings in the country. Whether restaurants or bars, what we see in Christchurch is bang on trend (something Christchurch has never been accused of).
There are a lot of bars opening at the moment which means we need to stay on our game and work at being the best at what we do.
I think what the city will be left with will be much better than what we had before.
Alongside running such a successful bar, what do you get up to in your life outside of Smash Palace?
Play mandolin in an Irish band. Ride motorbikes with my friends. Race vintage cars where possible. Tramping and bush walking. An interest in native trees and birds. And try to spend as much time with my amazing wife as a I can.
What does the future hold for you and for Smash Palace?
The earthquakes taught me to stop doing too much future reading. I work on a much shorter timeframe now.
Hopefully this Summer is sunny and prosperous. Hopefully I can get my motorbike back together in time for some good summer rides. Christmas is coming – my favourite part of the year – and I’ll try and eat my weight in ham.
I’ve been meaning to walk the Heathy… Let’s see.
Smash Palace will be around for some time yet I suspect – the locals wouldn’t have it any other way.
Check out Smash Palace here