This post is sponsored by our partner, Jameson.
As soon as he turned 18 Benji Smith started working behind the bar. He's now been practising the trade for 12 years, setting up in establishments across the country - even as far flung as Canada. You can now find him at Auckland's The Conservatory.
Concrete Playground: What's your favourite drink?
Benji Smith: Bourbon-based drinks. Boulevardiers and Whiskey Sours are two of my most favourite cocktails.
CP: What is your opinion on Auckland's nightlife?
BS: Much improved. There are a lot more chilled-out, relaxed venues with great food and drinks on offer. When I first started enjoying the Auckland nightlife it was all pubs and clubs, not much else.
CP: Tell us an interesting story about yourself?
BS: My biggest and most fun learning experience in the beverage industry was in Canada, working in a cocktail lounge called the Mix by Ric's. Rubbed shoulders with some of the best mixologists and bartenders in Canada, and the world in fact.
CP: Who do you look up to?
BS: I met a couple in Whistler, BC when I was in Canada by the names of Tia Stonier and Chris Hoy. Tia was my boss in Canada, she is a world-class mixologist. Chris was the bar manager at a restaurant called the Bearfoot Bistro there. It had one of the most spectacular bar programs I've seen anywhere. Absolutely amazing bartenders and mixologists, and all-round nice people. Chris and Tia taught me a lot while I was in Canada and continue to offer advice to me now.
CP: It is the weekend, and Tia and Chris turn up at your bar. What bars would you recommend to them?
BS: 16Tun (North Wharf), Ostro, Bedford Soda & Liquor, Golden Dawn, The Whiskey Bar.
16Tun is loaded with New Zealand craft beers, and some great kiwi wines too. Their knowledgeable staff can help you find the right drop for your palate or help you expand it.
Insider tip: Try the Epicurean Coffee and Fig stout. They also have Buffalo Trace bourbon which is a favourite of mine.
Extravagance with a view.
Insider tip: Killer Mojitos, and a pretty good Moscow Mule.
Bedford has some really funky, fresh cocktails going on, as well as some of the best meatballs you'll ever try. Organic and fresh.
Insider tip: My friend Jess works up there as the floor manager, she'll make sure you're well looked after. Try the meatball sliders and the Bedford Bloody Mary.
4. Golden Dawn
Golden Dawn is another spot with a really funky and fun atmosphere. It's not too loud, it's not pretentious. It's just a really wicked spot to chill out.
Insider tip: The outdoor area is great on a warm summer night, and they have some great DJs on most nights from 8pm. I'd go for a Red Dawn while I'm there (for that mescal goodness).
5. The Whiskey Bar
Unpretentious bar whose owner goes above and beyond to make his customers happy. It's always good to support the individual operators versus the chains. Usually these people have done the hard yards.
Insider tip: Need you ask? The name sort of says it all.
For more ideas and inspiration for your weekend, visit the Jameson Weekend Guide.
Published on October 24, 2014 by Stephen Heard