From quake ruins to popular Chch bar: The Brewery turns 10-years-old

Joe Shanks, Alasdair Cassels and Zak Cassels. Photo: Supplied
Joe Shanks, Alasdair Cassels and Zak Cassels. Photo: Supplied
The Brewery at The Tannery in Christchurch is celebrating 10 years this month. Founder Alasdair Cassels recalls how it all came about.

The year was 2011 and the city had just been shaken to its core. People were panicked, businesses were scrambling and lights were out in restaurants, bars and clubs right across town.

But in times of chaos inspiration can strike, and that’s exactly what happened for Alasdair Cassels.

“Two days after the earthquake the family was up in Wellington for a wedding, still covered in dust and licking our wounds. Three of us lost our houses and my daughter Pippi was almost killed by a falling chimney. All the same we wanted to get back on our feet. The question was, how?”

With plans already underway to create a brew bar at the then undeveloped Tannery, it seemed like the right place to start. But only one building in the precinct was relatively undamaged by the earthquake – a 1970s building next to Garlands Rd.

“It was just a rundown old building we had planned to knock down,” said Cassels. “I proposed we go back to Christchurch and turn it into a bar. I was definitely the most enthusiastic ringleader!”

The Brewery Bar & Restaurant. Photo: Supplied
The Brewery Bar & Restaurant. Photo: Supplied
It didn’t take long to get everyone behind the idea. On the family’s return to Christchurch they all got stuck in, with the help of a few friends.

“It was quite a strange time because nobody was really doing anything. That worked perfectly for us. Sometimes we had 50 people down here helping out. Even Gerry Brownlee and Jim Anderton got on the same page to short-circuit a whole lot of building consents for us.”

The Brewery as we know it today opened in the middle of winter, on June 21, 2011. The turnaround was fast - just 100 days from the earthquake until the family was pouring pints from behind the bar.

Said Cassels: “We were the only bar between Beckenham and Taylors Mistake, there were no bars in Brighton or Lyttelton and you couldn’t get into town. The east side of town was in pieces.

“Because there were no bars, there was no music. So we decided to become a venue too. It’s actually a bit inconvenient having live music in a restaurant, but we ended up having gigs just about every night of the week.

“We wanted to create something for everyone. We’d have tradies in for breakfast, followed by mum’s groups for coffee. There were people having EQC meetings, people watching bands playing. It was quite an eclectic gathering place.”

Over time, The Brewery has expanded its food menu and become less of a watering hole. But the fundamentals remain the same, and that’s just the way the family wants it.

“We’re known as a place where you can enjoy good beer, good food, friendly staff and it’s not too expensive. That’s our trademark. It’s a family business and I think families feel comfortable here.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think of The Brewery as my achievement. It was the earthquake that did it and the people that came together to help. The earthquake was an awful, horrible thing, but some good did come from it. That’s worth raising a glass to,” said Cassels.

 

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