Photo: Getty Images, sign wording changed by The Spinoff (original image from Greenpeace's 2004 GE protest – spot a young Gareth Hughes in the background)

We were lovin’ it: Farewell, McDonald’s Queen Street

Earlier this week, it was announced that Auckland’s oldest McDonald’s is closing its doors. Here are some saucy stories from the Queen Street icon over its 40-year tenancy.

If you’ve had a night out downtown in Auckland, chances are you’ve ended up walking past the Queen Street McDonald’s, if not actually going into it. It’s the very definition of high-low: the world’s most famous fast food restaurant set up in one of Auckland’s most beautiful heritage buildings, the 136-year-old Auckland Savings Bank Building

This particular McDonald’s, the oldest in Auckland and the second oldest in New Zealand (hey Porirua!) is also a lightning rod for memorable stories – stories that go past the threshold of “lol I had a drunk night there once”. In 2004, Greenpeace launched its McDonald’s GE Free campaign there, complete with a hired actor playing Ronald McDonald quitting the franchise over its use of chicken fed on genetically modified soy meal. It was also the site of a hundreds-strong ‘“McStrike” rally in 2006, protesting poor pay for minimum wage workers in fast food restaurants.

While the store is technically moving two doors down, not closing, it still feels like the end of an era. As of next week, you’ll no longer be able to enjoy a McChicken while looking up at a facade inspired by the Italian renaissance. To honour that end of an era, I put out a call for the best, weirdest and worst stories of the place. A selection of these are below, with names anonymised to protect the unclean.

Content warning: gross stuff, including way more vomit stories than you’d expect from a place allowed to operate as a restaurant for over 40 years, ensues below.

The Auckland Savings Bank Building in 1910; and in 2008, now housing McDonald’s (Photos: Queen Street, Auckland. Ref: 1/1-002886-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23100294; Wikicommons)

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Years ago, maybe 2003, I went to a Shihad concert at the St James with my brother and one of his friends. After too much pre-drinking and tequila at the venue, we went there and I threw up perfectly into one half of a Big Mac box – no spillage. The friend couldn’t handle it and she went to eat on her own on the other side of the restaurant. I then threw up again on the way out by sticking my head into one of the bins.

I remember none of this.

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Place was basically a nightmare of fry bits everywhere and drunk teenagers and uni students. Including myself of course. Once ordered a quarter pounder with blood dripping down my face and they didn’t even bat an eyelid.

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One time after our school ball there was a dude yelling and being rowdy. When he was ordering at the kiosk he would do a little spin and dance with some flair each time he chose an item. It was pretty lit, tbh.

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As most stories start, and indeed most stories about McDonald’s Queen St, I was drunk. I was 19, wearing a white playsuit from Factorie and living my best goddamn life, despite the bad rain. I was wearing these obnoxiously high heels (to prove a point, probably) and toppled over outside New World Metro. I used to work there and wanted to point out to the reasonably new friends I was with that “they do the best cheese ciabatta rolls!” and lost my balance. This wasn’t a oopsie-down-she-goes drunk fall either. It was a oh-she-might-be-dead fall. I grazed every surface of skin that hit the concrete and realised what had caused me to slip was someone else’s vomit (yay)! White playsuit was stained with blood, some random’s vomit and rainwater. Maccas and a taxi felt like the only solace for this dire situation, so we hobbled up despite the embarrassingly early (BEFORE MIDNIGHT) hour. 

When we walked in, Chris Brown’s ‘Forever’ was playing on the TVs. A group of women were screaming, “Turn it off! He sucks!” while a group of school-aged boys were belting the song as loud as they could in protest. It was a musical turf war. I mean, of course the women were right because, yanno, Breezy is an abusive creep whose career should’ve taken the hit a woman’s would’ve, but whatever.

My friend offered to get me my usual – Chicken McNuggets Hunger Buster, of course – while I went to the bathroom and cleaned myself up a bit. When I walked into the bathroom, there was a very well-dressed woman in her 30s. She was fixing her make-up, and I felt like an urchin troll skulking into the bathrooms with her in there. Instead of the judgement I was expecting, though, she was sympathetic to my appearance. I don’t remember all the things she said to me, but it was all very welcome pity. She then PRODUCED A NEW PLAYSUIT FROM HER FANCY LADY BAG and handed it to me. “Wear this! It should fit!” and said something to the effect of the night still being young. “I always carry a spare outfit on nights out, because YOU NEVER KNOW.” 

I don’t know what this woman had seen in her life or the stories she could tell, but if you’ve encountered enough crazy shit on nights out that you bring a whole ass spare town outfit, you’re doing something right. Anyway, lovely fancy lady helped me get cleaned up, told me to keep the dress and disappeared into the musical turf war outside like a spirit in the wind. I left my stained playsuit in one of the cubicles and re-emerged as a new woman. We ate the Maccas and then went to some club (Cassette, probably).

Hours later, while back on Queen St, I spotted a woman walking down the street with her pals. She was wearing my blood and vomit-stained playsuit. My friends and I decided we had to go speak to her and ask her what misfortune had befallen her that she was wearing the Cursed Playsuit. Turns out, she’d ripped a hole in the butt of her playsuit (I guess 2014 was a big playsuit year) and had gone to Maccas to examine it in the mirror. She saw MY playsuit and decided the stains were the lesser evil compared to the hole. I’m inclined to agree. 

So conclusively, McDonald’s is a Feminist Sanctuary, and I hope this was a wholesome reprieve from some of the horror stories!

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A lovely tweet: https://twitter.com/crybaby_bri88/status/1316035273382264832

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In 1989, the Herald printed a student coupon for $1 small fries with any burger at that location for students. Suffice to say it was overrun by uni students every day of the week. I think it was an incentive to make us all walk down the hill from Albert Park.

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So I’ve spent two weeks in Auckland in my entire life and the office I worked in was right above the Maccas. On my first day there, I walked into the bathroom and the toilet was missing. There was a stall with a great big hole in it just going down through the tile and into darkness. Somebody appeared to have stolen the hand dryer because where a hand dryer would normally be there was just a bunch of loose wiring, and also some damage to the wall as though someone had torn the dryer away from it with great force. 

It is my single most powerful memory of Auckland: that some incredibly strong man apparently tore through the Queen Street Maccas, stole a hand dryer and toilet with his bare hands and disappeared into the night.

I am in awe, still, of that city’s bottomless capacity for weirdness. There’s nowhere else like it.

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The old Queen Street Maccas was one of the best places to be at 3am on a Friday or Saturday when most clubs on the block closed in the 90s. Where else would you have every subculture from hip hop to EDM to goths to metal heads just wanting a feed? It was a cross section of the club cultures that used to be commonplace in the CBD.

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One night a few years back I went along to what turned out to be a pretty desperate New Zealand Music Month showcase event at that bar on Elliott Street and decided to pass the time by nipping out for a toke. Perhaps I’d had a couple too many free drinks, but I felt a bit spinny after that and realised I should eat something. I decided to go to the Queen Street McDonald’s. Really bad move.

The place was a shambles – uncleared tables, weird characters camped in the corners – but I went ahead and ordered a burger and fries and pushed the rubbish off one of the tables to eat it. It was hideous – one of the worst meals I’ve ever partially choked down. The chips were cold and fatty and the burger was bad in ways I struggle to describe, except to say that the patty looked and tasted like it was made of rotting cardboard.

I was so traumatised by this revolting food that I have never eaten McDonald’s since. Well, OK, maybe a cheeky Filet O’Fish once or twice, but nothing involving meat patties or chips or sitting down.

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I remember I once watched a couple have a huge drunken fight in that McDonald’s. The woman stormed out and left her untouched Filet O’Fish on the table, and then a few minutes later the man followed her out. I didn’t eat the Filet O’Fish but I did think about it very, very hard.

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So, that McDonald’s on Queen Street. Back in 2016 I was dating a guy and we decided to go to Laneway together. He’d somehow gotten ahold of something that was advertised as LSD. It had been dropped onto a sugar cube.

We decide to take the acid before the festival. Usually if I’m taking drugs I take a half dosage, but that’s a bit tough when the vehicle is a sugar cube. It was all or nothing. So I take the whole crunchy cube and predictably start having a much more intense trip than I’ve had before.

Eventually we decide to go to the festival, but stop at Queen St McDonald’s because all we’d had to eat that day was LSD-laced sugar cubes. Inside, it’s a dystopian hellscape, not unlike the fast-food places in 2012 Dredd reboot (great film).

Half the lights are out, there are sirens going off, it smells like stale grease and urine.

I am incapable of talking to people, so my boyfriend goes to order burgers. I sit at a booth and watch flies flit around discarded chips and burger wrappers.

In a corner, a substantial man is tapping away at a laptop that looks like it’s from 1993. It’s bulky and ancient and he’s tapping away at it like a villain in a Disney film. To my eyes, his head is oddly distorted – he looks like Roz from Monsters Inc. My vision is wobbly and it’s all too much. I honestly think that he is orchestrating some ridiculous world domination scheme from his relic of a laptop using McDonald’s wifi.

My boyfriend arrives with burgers. I eat half a McChicken, then we leave – I can’t handle any more time in that bizarre dystopian place.

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My first year of uni they revamped their store and gave out vouchers for free Big Macs with any purchase. We went in every day and ordered soft serves for 70c so we could score a nearly free lunch. It became a competition to see how few bites we could finish a BM in. My record? Four.

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it’s where i first did drug.

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I remember coming out of there after uni with a quarter pounder combo in 1996 during the election campaign, to see a NZ First billboard van idling at the lights, and I saw red and ran up to it and threw my Fanta, and it went splat on (billboard) Winston. That’s right, Fanta, baby.

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I went there on the first day with Grandpa. He was always an early adopter. Also I scored a lot of free fries with the challenge where you had to say all the Big Mac components in four seconds. Can still do it.

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There were always pickle slices stuck way up high on the walls – people would throw them and see how high they could get them to stick.

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The architect of the ASB building was my great great grandfather, Edward Bartley. My grandparents were horrified when they heard that McDonald’s was to open a restaurant there. They conveyed their horror to me, Maccas’ target demographic at the time, at great length.



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