In its heyday, Parliament’s Pickwicks bar was cheek to jowl with patrons including some of the country’s most influential politicians, journalists and lobbyists. These days it can barely pull $200 a day.
The sorry state of the third floor Beehive bar, known by workers as 3.2, was revealed in a survey of staff which asked whether it was time for for Pickwicks to pull its last pint.
It has been under threat of closure since a survey of catering services at Parliament earlier this year.
Most staff were in favour of keeping it open – but a surprising 40 per cent of staff were happy to see it close.
It is no longer the vibrant place it was. In the 1990s a couple of dozen staff at least would drop into it almost every night just before 6 pm to watch the news, have a drink or two, chat about the day, and then head back to work. Occasionally they may turn into all nighters.
My major achievement was getting the management to place a second TV in there, so we could watch both the TV1 and TV3 news.
Former patron, Carterton Mayor and former NZ First MP Ron Mark, said the writing was on the wall after the introduction of smoke free bars in 2004 forced the smokers among the MPs and journalists to go elsewhere.
Parliament was the worse for the loss of that regular contact between journalists and MPs over a beer, Mark said.
It gave both a chance to understand each others perspective.
”There was an old rule that what happened and what was said in 3.2 stayed in 3.2.”
That is indeed the rule.
Former TVNZ boss Bill Ralston, who worked as a parliamentary reporter in the 1980s and 1990s, said the bar used to thrive.
”It was one of those places certainly during the term of the Lange Labour government and the early years of Bolger and the late years of Muldoon, [where it was] a huge advantage for journalists to be actually to reach out and sit down and talk with the key politicians of the day.”
Pickwicks provided a more relaxed social setting where people from all parts of the political process could meet.
Media and MPs had less contact today and the relationship was more formal.
”It made Parliament a little, kind of gentler I suppose in some ways. Simply because you were going to be confronted by these people, should you go to that bar you would run a chance of meeting them. Whereas I suppose these days you can sit in the Gallery, write a story and go home and never actually see the politician that you might have described from the House or in any form of commentary.”
It will be sad if it closes, but if not enough people use it, then it shouldn’t be subsidised.