From muffin trolleys to jazz bars, Ferndale has seen plenty of hospo hangouts over the past 30 years. But which were hot, and which were… not?
Coro has Rovers Return, Friends has Central Perk, Cheers has, well, Cheers. Shortland Street, on the other hand, has had almost too many locals to count. But which Ferndale food joint is the best of them all? Here’s our verdict, ranked from avoid-at-all-costs to book-a-table-immediately.
10. Nick’s Licks (1995)
Back in the 1990s, loveable drongo Nick Harrison always had some dodgy money-making scheme or other on the go – he even got busted for one by Fair Go’s Kevin Milne in a crossover episode in 1996.
The year before that, he tried his hand at the Mr Whippy business, launching an ice cream truck named Nick’s Licks.
The name wasn’t the only dodgy thing about it – Nick was watering down the soft serve to make it go further. Much to Waverley’s disgust, one day he served up a sloppy excuse for a cone-based treat to a young customer on her birthday.
“Our country didn’t get where it is today by tampering with dairy products,” Wave told Nick, to which he responded, “You wanna bet?” In 1995, Fonterra was still a twinkle in the collective eye of a handful of dairy co-operatives, but if that’s not a subversive dig at Big Milk by a prescient scriptwriter then I don’t know what is.
Anyway, the brakes on the truck failed and it rolled down the hill, careering towards the poor birthday girl whose sloppy excuse for an ice cream had slid off its cone and onto the ground as she crossed the road. Nick grabbed her out of harm’s way with seconds to spare, but that act of heroism wasn’t enough to forgive his previous transgressions – or save Nick’s Licks from the bottom spot of this ranking.
9. The IV (2006-today)
The IV’s certainly got staying power, but it’s positively oozing bad vibes. Just across the road from the clinic, the bar-restaurant-hotel was opened by Jay Copeland (Victor Kahu’s daughter; Maia Jefferies’ future civil union partner) in 2006.
After Jay sadly became a victim of the Ferndale Strangler the following year (brace yourself, the vibes just get worse from here on in), The IV was bought by Kieran Mitchell (played by bona fide British Coro star Adam Rickitt), who soon became involved in the kinds of dodgy dealings that made Nick’s Licks look positively innocent – including laundering a shitload of cash through The IV.
To cut a long story short, he then killed his friend Morgan in a hit-and-run, framed Rachel McKenna, and died after falling off a cliff. A string of owners followed for The IV, as did a string of VERY bad shit (indecent assault, electrocution, awkward dancing, so on and so forth).
A garish 2014 makeover couldn’t exorcise the demons that reside in the very walls of this cursed establishment, and these days it appears to have morphed into some sort of soulless-big-hospo-group-all-day-eatery. Yes, points for being run by the excellent Desi (Kura Forrester), but there’s a juice bar attached, for Chrissake.
8. Coltrane (2004-2005)
Coltrane was a jazz bar opened by erstwhile undertaker Norman Hanson in 2004. It was all dark and moody mid-2000s vibes, with Tama Hudson in the kitchen churning out tasty tapas, but even Tama’s shrooms couldn’t save Coltrane – or Norman – from the grim reaper’s icy grip.
Norman had seen a lot of death but managed to beat a brain tumour, only to meet his demise when Tama drove their car into a pole. His fiancee Li Mei Chen and a pre-IV Jay Copeland took over for a while but Coltrane was eventually phased out to be replaced by the equally death-cursed but enduring IV.
7. The hospital cafeteria (c2000-today)
I was going to give the caf a lower ranking – it’s a fairly sterile queue-up-with-a-tray kind of establishment – but then I saw it did nachos. Nachos that Prince spilled all over Angel in one 2019 episode, but nachos nonetheless.
Also, it offers an array of baked goods, has te reo signage and St Pierre’s sushi* to boot, so it’s really catering for all appetites.
*Shortland Street’s publicist confirmed that the St Pierre’s logo was a “product placement deal” but did not provide further details on what this deal entailed. Side note: other product placements I’ve spotted during research for this story include Phoenix drinks at Lionel’s cafe and Allpress coffee at The IV.
6. Sugar (mid 2000s-2015)
Sugar was rather beige when it first opened c2004, plus it had outdoor cafe tables inside, but the cafe underwent a delightfully twee makeover in 2010, with pastel hues, formica tables, postcards hanging from little wooden pegs and a large world map covering the wall. It even had a bona fide La Marzocco coffee machine so you know you’d get a decent flat white to pair with your date scone. On any given day you’d find Daniel Potts there flirting with Loren Fitzpatrick as she tried to work, a generation of other Ferndale teens (Sophie and Hunter McKay, Angus Phelps, Tuesday Warner, Scarlett Valentine et al) having an after-school hot choccy, or TK Samuels enjoying what appears to be a bowl of kiwifruit. Sugar faded into obscurity around 2015, squeezed out by the all-conquering IV.
5. The Penlington (????)
Ah, The Penlington – a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in prosciutto, probably. As the fanciest restaurant in Ferndale, The Penlington is for special occasions and hot Chris Warner dates only. It’s so damn exclusive I couldn’t find a single scene set there to screenshot, but that only adds to its allure.
4. Dog’s Day Inn (2001-2003)
A good old-fashioned no-nonsense boozer, the Dog’s Day Inn just looks like a good time. Raucous music, free-flowing booze – it’s my kind of place. Why didn’t it rank higher then, you may ask. Three words: body in chiller. Yep, the corpse of Geoff Greenlaw, original DDI owner, who opened the bar in 2001 and then lost half of it in a poker match to Nick and Waverley in 2003, was soon thereafter found in the pub’s deep freeze. Turns out he’d been murdered by dastardly Dominic Thompson (a pre-DWTS Shane Cortese). Still, helluva pub.
3. The muffin trolley (1992-1999, 2014-2015)
It’s 11.27am as I write this, and what I wouldn’t give for Lionel Skeggins to wheel his glorious trolley past my desk. I’d point to a scone, he’d grab it with a pair of tongs, shove it lovingly into a paper bag and flash a winning smile. I’d hand him a few pre-cost-of-living-crisis coins and he’d be on his way. Dreams are free.
Lionel wasn’t the OG trolley tsar – that was Gina, of course – but he was the one who threw it off a cliff, only for it to magically reappear in the hands of one Waverley Harrison in 1999. According to this very informative Herald story, the trolley was reintroduced in 2014, with the baked goods replaced with “all gluten-free, healthy salads and protein-packed smoothies”. Lionel would be turning in his grave (if he is indeed dead, that is).
2. Kennedy’s/R Bar/Lionel’s/Buzz Bar (1993-2001)
Kennedy’s was the OG Ferndale bar, opened by Declan Kennedy in 1993 and soon after sold to Alex McKenna (Rachel’s mum). Alex was one sophisticated lady, and Kennedy’s reflected that, all gold and floral decor, leather booths and bartenders in shiny waistcoats.
It was the sort of place where you could prop yourself up at the bar and yarn to Alex while snacking upon complimentary chippies (there were always two bowls in exactly the same spot on the bar) while she hand-pulled you a refreshing ale. It was also the sort of place where you could cry into your whisky and refuse to eat the nacho’s Leonard Dodds had ordered you after your wedding to Kirsty Knight had been interrupted by a lovelorn Stuart Neilson, and no one would blink an eye.
Anyway, Alex eventually sold the bar to Jenny Harrison (Nick’s mum) who then sold it back to Alex, who in turn gifted it to daughter Rach. The name was changed to R Bar and it got a funky mid-90s zhuzh. Lionel took over in 1998, gave the bar a retro refit and called it Lionel’s, but the following year he was swept off a cliff. Then it became the Buzz Bar for a while (I’ve no idea what receptionist Moira is doing behind the bar, but I guess she was always a woman of many talents), before everyone ditched it for the Dog’s Day Inn.
1. Strombelli/Stromboli (Gina then Lionel’s cafe) (1992-1999)
Fan sites and Wikipedia disagree on what this legendary establishment was actually called, but names are irrelevant when you’re this iconic. In the early days the decor was subtle but the atmos buzzing thanks to the effervescent proprietor, bona fide early 90s style icon Gina Rossi. No one has paired fabulous earrings and a butcher’s apron with such panache since.
After Gina sailed off into the sunset on the Toroa with new hubby Leonard (I think they actually ditched the houseboat and moved to America, but you get the picture), Lionel Skeggins took over and gave the cafe a bold mid-90s makeover. Orange walls! Neon waves! Tapa cloth pillars! Ivy-covered trellis! An exact replica of the Venus de Milo! It was all there and we bloody loved it.
The fridge was full of fancy Phoenix sodas (product placement alert), the muffins were the size of a grown man’s head, the pizzas were deep dish and the bowl lattes were bottomless. It was heaven, in other words, and the deserved holder of our top spot.