If the walls of the ornate, heritage-listed 1913 Old Government Building could talk, they’d sure have some stories to tell. 

Nick Inkster at OGB Bar, Christchurch
Nick Inkster at OGB Bar, Christchurch. © Jim Huang

The grand old building, designed in 1909 by Joseph Maddison in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style, was originally the base for Government departments.

It fell into disrepair in the 1980s before being rescued and transformed into the Heritage Hotel Christchurch.

Having been re-strengthened in the process of that restoration, the building came through the earthquakes of 2011 and 2012 well. It was, in fact, the only heritage building left fully intact in the CBD. 

This was when local carpenter Nick Inkster entered the scene, having seen the potential of a vacant space in the building. “Christchurch lost so much heritage in the earthquake. My vision was to complement the traditional building and bring it back to life,” he says. 

Nick used his carpentry background to transform a corner of the building into OGB Bar. “I started with a clean canvas, stripping it right back, but with respect to its heritage status,” he says.

He spent hours researching the fittings, hardware and mouldings of buildings in the same era and poring through every antique shop in Christchurch to find the right decor to style the bar. “The brass cash till, the original phonographs and gramophones are all in working order; nothing is just a prop,” Nick says.

The result: an authentic take on old Christchurch combined with old-school hospitality. Stepping inside OGB Bar is like stepping back in time to an era when gentlemen enjoyed a cigar with their whisky and women sipped cocktails in their own, discreet lounge. 

“It starts the very minute guests step through the door. Bar staff wear newsboy flat caps and bowler hats, suspenders and matching striped collarless shirts in keeping with authentic 1900s Christchurch,” Nick says. 

Outside OGB Bar in Christchurch's historic Old Government Building.
Outside OGB Bar in Christchurch's historic Old Government Building. © Jim Huang

A secret door that Nick built behind a bookcase leads from OGB Bar through to Parlour, an intimate cocktail lounge with opulent chandeliers and mirrors, low-seated booths and a mahogany and marble bar where “the ladies can go to talk about the gentlemen,” Nick says.

Always in search of ways to repurpose, Nick salvaged rimu timber from both his first home and his parent’s property that had been damaged in the earthquakes to make a servery to the outdoor courtyard.

Original features include the four big windows, architraves and sills, and internal doors, some complete with period timber moulding.

It would seem Nick’s venture not only pays tribute to Christchurch’s past, but a vision held by his late father, Robin. Growing up, his father told him how he could see Nick building his own bar one day because of how much he loved playing host. Robin bought Nick a photograph of Cathedral Square before he passed away and pictured at the bottom of the frame is the Old Government Building. “It was like he was guiding me towards the place that would one day become my dream bar,” Nick says.

Read more from this AA Directions issue while you're here: 

Reported by Monica Tischler for our Autumn 2023 issue

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