A drink or a bite to eat at O.G.B is a perfect way to get a taste of old Christchurch, with staff in suspenders and newsboy caps. The speakeasy-style bar, cafe and restaurant is housed in the city’s grand Old Government Building, which opened in 1913. We spoke to owner Nick Inkster about his motivation for setting it up, his penchant for the early 1900s and his plans for expansion with a second bar – Parlour – opening soon.
How would you describe O.G.B to a stranger?
O.G.B is an institution of Christchurch, bringing old fashioned hospitality back to Christchurch. It is open 365 days of the year from 6:30am to 1am.
What were you doing before you set it up?
I’m a carpenter by trade and was working in Western Australia's oil and gas industry for seven years. After the earthquakes [of 2010 and 2011] I wanted to come home and give back by spending my hard-earned cash on something special for my home town of Christchurch.
What was the motivation behind opening O.G.B?
From the age of 21 my father told me he could see me building my own bar one day. I loved the concept of a bar where people meet, talk and socialise and where the bartender knows your name. I love old buildings so after the earthquakes I had my eye on one location in the city – the Old Government Building.
What drew you to the Old Government Building?
Cathedral Square. I love that it is the heart of our city and always will be. The Old Government Building is, I believe, Christchurch's Buckingham Palace. I was always drawn to it as a kid when I used to bus into the Square from Dallington/Linwood growing up. So many of my customers, somewhere along their life, have come into contact with the Old Government Building. There are many, many stories, which is another reason why it is so special.
What do you think your bar does best?
My staff. I have four golden rules: acknowledge, engage, appreciate and smile. We do these four things for every customer that walks through our doors. Also, table service in all areas – the bar, courtyard and obviously the restaurant.
Parlour is opening next to the O.G.B soon – what’s the vibe going to be there?
Parlour will be the best room in the house, the house being the Old Government Building. It will be a space to speak, bringing people together to generate debate and discussion. It will be where conversation is had, where the ladies can go to talk about the gentlemen.
Can you tell us a little bit about your other projects? i.e. the restaurant opposite the bar and Frederick Woodwards Barber Shop.
Frederick Woodward was a local barber tobacconist who had Woodwards & Co back in the late 1800s/early 1900s in Cathedral Square. I’ve honoured him with a timeless, classic-style barber shop. The restaurant will undergo a Gatsby-style fit out in good time but for now we have a beautiful big grand piano that we have pianists play on every weekend.
Your staff always look sharp. What’s the inspiration behind their uniforms?
The uniform was inspired by bartenders and doormen who dressed like this in the 1920s. Consistency is key and the uniform has been a big factor in the O.G.B brand.
Where do you get all your antiques from?
I’ve been collecting for years. Jo and Alastair from Vintage Wonderland and Chris from Chaos Collections are both down Ferry Rd and source almost anything I'm looking for. They’re amazing people. All my antiques work – from the instruments to my 1946 Austin 10, which sits out front and drives beautifully.
A lot of it seems inspired by the early 1900s – what do you like about that era?
I’m inspired by this time because the building opened in 1913 and my Austin 10 is a 1946. So, everything in the bar is from this era. I found a photo taken in 1950 with an Austin 10 parked out front the Old Government Building. I wanted to replicate the scene and knew a farmer who lived on the way to Amberley who had an Austin 10 for sale. I gave it a lick of paint and branded the car but it was in beautiful condition.
Where do you live in Christchurch and what do you like about living there?
I live above the bar. I bought an apartment there five years ago before securing the lease for the bar downstairs. It was great for the first two years of business but it is becoming a little too consuming now. I’ll look to move away from the building in the next couple months.
What do you think are our city/region’s best attributes?
Christchurch is amazing, you have mountains, oceans, plains, hills and harbours all within one hour’s drive of each other.
What are your favourite things to do here in your spare time?
I love to walk around our CBD, checking out all the new pockets opening. I love getting to the beach when I can. And going up the Port Hills and over into Lyttelton. I’ve always been a fan of Lyttelton Coffee Company coffee.
Is our city different now to what you remember growing up?
It is very different but I'm excited to see it become a livable city with farmers' markets, apartments, residents and an awesome hospitality offering. I can’t wait to build more projects for the people of Christchurch.