When Auckland music venue Whammy Bar decided to continue checking vaccine passes, they were flooded with negative reviews online – including one from their own landlord, ex-Shortland Street star turned property mogul Paul Reid.
Well-loved music venue Whammy Bar is nestled in St Kevins Arcade on Auckland’s Karangahape Road. As the number of music venues across the city have dwindled over the years, Whammy has cemented its place in Tāmaki Makaurau’s alternative music scene as a rare gem for live performance.
Since announcing last week that it would be keeping its vaccine pass system in place, despite the government removing the mandate for hospitality businesses, Whammy has received a spate of one-star reviews and negative comments online – as have other bars that have decided to keep using vaccine passes, such as Dunedin’s Woof!
On Monday evening, things took a turn for the bizarre for the owners of the bar. “I was quite surprised to see my landlord was one of these people leaving reviews,” says Tom Anderson, who co-owns Whammy.
The review came from their ex-Shortland Street actor and Rubicon frontman landlord Paul Reid, who has owned St Kevins Arcade since 2015 under his property management company The Icon Group. The review read: “This used to be a cool punk rock dive bar..you know punk anti establishment cool kinda vibe.. now there’s nothing more punk rock than ‘can I scan your vaccine pass please’ lol”.
Responses to Reid’s post were overwhelmingly negative, with commenters describing his move as “simply disgusting and unacceptable” and “a chicken shit way to shaft” his tenants. Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick also criticised Reid’s review on Twitter.
Anderson says Reid hadn’t expressed any concerns to him ahead of posting the review, and added, “he has my number so it was an interesting way to get his point across”.
Reid was quoted earlier today in a Stuff article saying that he thought it was ironic that Whammy, a venue that he believes has made a name for itself as being “anti-establishment and anti-government”, was “clinging so religiously to an outdated government mode of social exclusion”.
“I also thought it a poor business decision to exclude a certain percentage of the population who may be unvaccinated for a host of ethical, religious or moral reasons,” he said in the same Stuff piece.
On his landlord’s commentary about what is considered punk or anti-establishment, Anderson says, “I think that’s a strange take to come from somebody who’s literally a landlord.” From Whammy’s perspective, punk and anti-establishment ideology “means looking after your community and taking care of each other”.
“The establishment has also said that [vaccine passes] are not necessary any more and we’re choosing to use them anyway to keep our communities, staff and punters safe,” he adds.
Reid played troubled teen Marshall Heywood on Shortland Street from 2001 to 2004, and enjoyed some success with pop-punk band Rubicon around the same time. Alongside his property business, he still dabbles in music, and last July, Reid’s pop-rock band Capital Theatre received $10,000 in NZ On Air funding to make a music video.
His transformation from Shortland Street star to property mogul has been a colourful one.
In 2019 a Herald investigation found he was the country’s most prolific house flipper during the six years to 2018 – closing at least 130 trades and 70 homes in short-term sales in a single year.
The Spinoff reported in September 2020 that struggling businesses in Elliot Stables, another central Auckland property owned by Reid, had been threatened with eviction after two lockdowns. Five eateries and one backpackers were served Property Law Act notices from their landlord, demanding that they pay the shortfall in their rent to avoid further legal action.
In 2016, Metro reported that on the night Reid secured the ownership of the St Kevins Arcade building from previous owner Murray Rose, he declared he was buying the building and would “get rid of you left-wing creeps” after being asked to leave The Wine Cellar, the bar that neighbours Whammy in St Kevins Arcade.
Rohan Evans, who owns The Wine Cellar, and established Whammy Bar over a decade ago before selling to the current owners, has also decided to maintain the vaccine pass system. Evans was with Anderson when the Facebook review “popped up” and says, “the more you think about it, the more outrageous it is”.
Considering how difficult the last year has been for venues because of the Covid-19 outbreak, “that’s throwing a bunch of your tenants under the bus for no particular reason”, Evans says.
Similarly to Whammy’s reasoning, the decision to keep the vaccine pass system operating at The Wine Cellar was made “largely on making staff and musicians that we are in day-to-day contact with feel comfortable”, says Evans, so “it seems quite outrageous to be attacked by a landlord who is also a musician”.
Despite being “mostly overwhelmed by support” they’ve had plenty of anonymous negative reviews due to keeping passes, says Evans – though none so far from Reid.
Will this criticism influence Whammy’s continuation of the vaccine passes? While case numbers remain high, it certainly won’t, Anderson says. “We’ll continue to do what we were doing for however long we’re going to do it for. This is never a permanent solution to anything – it’s just another layer of safety.”
According to one scientific model of New Zealand’s omicron outbreak, when compared with boosted people, unvaccinated people are 3.1 times more likely to infect others and 2.4 times more likely to be infected.
“We’ll continue to keep vax passports and masks for people moving around the bar,” Anderson adds. “We’re still currently in the middle of a pandemic and if any of our staff go down, we can’t open, so that’s bad for business.”
And if Auckland bar-goers are as supportive as Dunedin’s, the negative reviews may backfire – in the wake of the backlash to its decision to keep vaccine passes, Woof! celebrated its biggest week of the year.