The Captain Cook Tavern’s long history looks set to come to a close, with the pub’s lease expiring un-renewed on 29 June. James Arnott is one of the owners of Cook Brothers Bars, which has operated the pub for nine years, along with other establishments in the Octagon, Queenstown, Christchurch and Auckland. He told Critic that neither his company nor Dominion Breweries, which holds the main lease on the property, were interested in continuing the lease.
Arnott said that revenue at the Cook had fallen 40 per cent in the last five years, which he attributed to a “massive change in student culture.” Students drank less frequently, and were more likely to drink at home when they did. Meanwhile, the high rent on the large property had not reduced, and “major renovations” were required to keep the ageing building up to standard. General Manager Matt Barakauskas said that the pub’s staff faced unemployment due to the closure, but that efforts were being made to secure them employment elsewhere. …
If the Cook closes, it will bring to an end 153 years of operation. The establishment began in 1860, although the present building was constructed in 1874 after the original “aged wooden structure” was demolished. According to an article published in the Otago Daily Times on 8 June 1909, the pub “had always one or two permanent boarders” well into the twentieth century, and at least two people died while living in the then-named “Captain Cook Hotel.”
The Cook has had a long reputation of brushing the edge of liquor licensing laws. Around the turn of the twentieth century, The Cook’s publicans were fined on multiple occasions for secretly selling bottled beer on days when the pub was supposed to be shut, and patrons who had been forbidden to buy alcohol were often hauled before the courts for having sly pints at the Hotel. In more recent years, the wildly popular “Cook-a-thon” party held at the end of lectures earned the owners a warning from the Liquor Licensing Authority for encouraging excessive drinking.
As the University expanded in the 1970s, students formed an increasing percentage of the patrons. However, licensing laws that allowed the sale of liquor in supermarkets led canny students to pre-load as a “more cost effective option,” according to Arnott. He also believed, “with a small bit of confidence,” that the increasing use of other recreational drugs among students meant that patrons came to the club tripping, and interested only in drinking water. Whatever the reasons for its demise, the Captain Cook’s taps look set to run dry before next semester.
How very sad. I spent four years at Otago University and had many great nights at the Cook. It was also the venue for my 21st. With both the Cook and Gardies gone, it just won’t be the same there.