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Takapuna’s fast-growing reputation as one of Auckland best destinations for bars and eateries gets a further shot in the arm early in March with the launch of ‘Master and Apprentice’ a completely new craft beer bar and eatery being opened on Hurstmere Road.
Master and Apprentice represents the first collaboration between two well-known North Shore publicans, Kevin Schwass and Paul Lomax. The two have combined experience of more than three decades in Takapuna. Kevin (affectionately known as Schwassie to most) over two decades and Paul close to a decade. I guess that makes Kevin the Master and Paul the Apprentice?
As I got together with the duo to talk about their new venture in mid-February, builders were full steam ahead transforming the old Blankenberge Belgian Beer Café into the Master & Apprentice. It certainly is a makeover. The only thing that will remain vaguely similar to patrons will be where to find the toilets from Blankenberge.
Blankenberge has been a fixture on the ‘Hurstmere Strip’ for 15 years, so why the change?
“Blankenberge has been an institution in Takapuna for a long time but it had done its dash,” explained Schwassie in his usual forthright manner. “It was time for something new so I rang Paul to get his thoughts. I was actually digging to see who would be the best designer for a new concept bar. Over the ensuing beer we decided to get together. We are starting with Master and Apprentice and then we will also be making some exciting changes to Florrie McGreal’s Irish Pub as well. It’s the Shore’s only Irish bar so it will be staying, but enhancements will follow shortly after the opening of Master and Apprentice.”
“We’ve been mates for quite a few years,” adds Paul Lomax. “While we’ve been staunch competitors we have always got on well with a mutual respect for one another. This pub game is one of the hardest of all so we do respect the fact that we have been successful over a long period. We reckon it’s a pretty good fit and we are both excited about this new concept we have come up with for the Master and Apprentice. Locals will love it.”
Kevin and Paul say that between them they have operated every bar in the block. It is ironic that the new bar will be a craft beer bar as Schwassie was ahead of his time when he opened R’toto Pub & Café and the Rangitoto Brewing Company – with its own brewery on the site – way back in 1996. He had just come from a decade managing and owning the famous Poenamo Hotel. R’toto and the Rangitoto Brewing Company stayed until 2002 when Blankenberge was introduced and then further changes came a few years later when R’toto became the Macs Hurstmere Road Brew Bar in 2010 under a partnership that Kevin Schwass was involved in. He sold that interest following the establishment of Macs Brew Bar. In 2009, an opportunity came to acquire the neighbouring premises to Blankengerge. Once acquired he set about renovating and reintroducing Florrie McGreal’s Irish Pub to the Takapuna pub scene. Florrie’s, named after Kevin’s grandmother, had been part of the Poenamo from 1993.
Kevin Schwass is well known for his community involvement as a local councillor for many years. In 2010 he was honoured with a Queens Silver Medal (QSM) for his services to the community and hospitality. In 2015 he was inducted into Hospitality New Zealand’s “Hall of Fame”.
English-born Paul Lomax came to Takapuna in 2007 from Christchurch. A chef (for 25 years) turned publican, Paul loves the hospitality game and came along to operate the Copper Room and Goode Brothers in partnership with Barworks Hospitality Group. He was instrumental in the development of the site into The Elephant Wrestler which was launched just four days before the Rugby World Cup. Since that time he has gone on to open a number of new bars and eateries in other locations, including Northern Union Pub in Silverdale and Pilkingtons in Shortland Street in the City. He still owns both. Paul’s expertise with food is playing a big part in the interesting menu being created for Master and Apprentice.
“We believe locals will go wow when they see the new bar,” says Paul Lomax. “It will be hard to remember what was there before. Master and Apprentice will be a real meeting place. We will have some great beers, clearly lots of craft beers (13-14), but also many of the much-loved mainstream beers.
“I am excited about the menu. It has been developed with sharing in mind and there will be something to satisfy most appetites. Regulars will know what they are going to get and will love it!. We have even retained a couple of much-loved aspects of Blankenberge for nostalgic reasons – Mussel Madness Monday and Steak Night, which we will call The Butcher’s Cuts.”
The name for the new bar has significance as well. Master and Apprentice refers to the brewing process (not to Schwassie and Paul!). They share mutual respect. There’s always a Master who is passing on knowledge to the Apprentice. The Master is always focused on quality, while the Apprentice provides the edginess. There will be an edginess in the new bar with whiskey and beer tasting trays, a GeorgeFM DJ on Friday nights, ladies nights on Thursday’s as well as regular degustation and tasting nights. The striking design that includes prominent skylights to create conservatory-style natural light will also add a great deal.
You don’t have to spend too long with the two to pick up that Paul’s enthusiasm and energy has given Schwassie a new lease of life. He is focused on reinvigorating the Hurstmere Strip and together they are a formidable team. These days Kevin spends time between a home on the Sunshine Coast in Australia and an apartment in Takapuna. He has found the perfect business partner to fit this lifestyle.
“Takapuna is really growing new legs with hospitality in a number of areas,” adds Kevin. “Where we are is the bar precinct. On the waterfront are the eateries and there are quite a few other interesting new eateries as well. We think Master and Apprentice will fit great in the overall mix.”
Master and Apprentice, 136 Hurstmere Road, Takapuna Beach, Phone 486 6330 or visit: www.masterandapprentice.co.nz
Channel Magazine: Issue 74 March 2017