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Destinations autumn 2005
 
 
Eichardt won his hotel in gold nugget lottery
A touch of luxury
By:Bruce Laybourn
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The Story is about: Queenstown
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Eichardt‘s, born of a nugget of gold won in a lottery 130 years ago, remains a lakeside icon as Queenstown prospers from the more enduring goldrush created by travellers pouring into this alpine adventureland.

While the fasade has remained largely recognisable over three centuries, the interior has seen dramatic changes. From its days as a hotel, pub, a tavern, bawdy house and nightclub, Eichardt‘s has been once again elevated to the role of a premium Queenstown property. Reopened as Eichardt‘s Private Hotel in December 2001, the historic hotel is now billed as new Zealand‘s most exclusive lakefront address

Publican and former Prussian guard, Albert Eichardt, who bought the hotel, then known as the Queens Arms, in 1872, would surely be comforted to know that his name has endured the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries ­ and looks set to remain for many years to come. He would certainly be delighted with the new interior designed by Virginia Fisher, whose previous design briefs have included Huka Lodge, Kauri Cliffs and Wharekauhau Country Estate, in conjunction with architect Michael Wyatt. The designers worked within strict guidelines to preserve the historic integrity of the property.

Eichardt‘s features five luxurious suites with striking lake views from the rooms or from private balconies. Three rooms face directly onto the lake and two have captivating mountain views.

General manager Victoria Shaw runs Eichardt‘s with characteristic calm. Previously manager at the award­winning Wharekauhau Country Estate, Victoria is a familiar face to regular guests who return from around the world to enjoy her hospitality. In its short renaissance, Eichardt‘s has won world accolades ­ from both guests and travel magazines. Woolshed beginning William Reeswoolshed originally occupied the Eichardt‘s site. This old wooden shed was later converted into Queenstown‘s first bar, the Queens Arms, run by Arrowtown‘s original policeman, Sergeant Major Bracken. He employed a barmaid, Julia, who later became one of the main personalities associated with Eichardt‘s.

Albert Eichardt, an Arrowtown ginger pop manufacturer, won a gold nugget in a lottery and used his winnings to purchase the Queen‘s Arms. He pulled the old bar down and rebuilt it in its present solid stonework. Albert retained the Queens Armsbarmaid, Julia, and later married her.

Julia was just 42 when her husband died in 1882. She ran Eichardt‘s very capably for the next 10 years. While Albert Eichardt is remembered for his stately appearance and air of distinction, Julia remained the Queen Victoria of landladies. An intriguing innovation she introduced was a obering uproom for patrons who had had too much to drink, known affectionately as the stone jug. In 1886 Julia had the hotel wired up for electric lighting, making Eichardt‘s the first commercial premises in the country to be lit, 30 years before the town had its own electricity supply. She achieved this by hijacking the main town water to drive a pelton wheel electricity generator.

She began extensions to the hotel the same year, adding a ground floor parlor for gentlemen, complete with a piano, and a larger ladiesparlour with two pianos. Bedrooms, a parlour and bathrooms were all installed upstairs, complete with running water to the bedrooms and bathrooms.

Eichardt‘s thrived on the rich vein of gold that drew many prospectors, opportunists and dreamers from around the world. The pub became a place to discuss fortunes won or never achieved in that pioneering past.

From the 1860s to the 1890s the boomtown shantytown became a bustling town, with characters from around the world adding to Queenstown‘s colourful mix. Eichardt‘s was the finest accommodation available, and it welcomed many notables as the infant travel industry moved toward the grand age of travel. In 1892, when Julia died at the age of 52 after a fall outside the hotel, women were still one year away from getting the vote, yet for 10 years this enterprising woman had been in charge of the biggest business in town. Queenstown turned out in force to farewell Julia Eichardt. It was the biggest funeral ever seen in the town, with 400 mourners and another 100 at the cemetery.

The Searle family took over and, among other achievements, had the first motor launch on the lake. It could carry 30 passengers. The hotel was the hub for the grand Motor Tourin automobiles.

A pioneer of New Zealand tourism, the Mount Cook Company, included Eichardt‘s as one of the stars in its prestigious network and extended the hotel. The company developed the first commercial ski company at nearby Coronet Peak in 1939. The Tourist Hotel Corporation (THC) operated Eichardt‘s for a period, until it reverted back into private hands.

Publicans Laurie and Lee Wild ­ 1970 ­ 1973 we first saw Eichardt‘s Hotel in 1965 when the THC owned and ran it. We were most impressed with the fabulous reception area with the magnificent sweeping staircase to the upper floor, and spent several pleasant hours crammed in the over­full house bar in the company of many of the locals, recalls Laurie Wild he second time I saw it, in 1970, was when it had been sold to a private consortium of DB, Mt Cook Airlines and Shaw Savill, who were in the process of turning the ground floor into a tavern, of which I had just been appointed manager. In the 1970s Queenstown operated at the whim of the seasons ­ the summer and winter months being extremely busy, with visitor numbers plummeting in autumn and spring At the time I took over Eichardts, the White Horse Hotel had just been destroyed by fire and the only other drinking establishments were the Queenstown Hotel and the Mountaineer, which had the lion‘s share of the local drinking trade.

To boost turnover, which was my priority as manager, I started providing entertainment in those quiet times. We had talent quests, fashion shows, wine and cheese evenings, oyster­eating competitions, champagne and crayfish nights, turning Eichardt‘s Lounge Bar into a good­time haven for the locals. It‘s hard to imagine now, but we ran oyster and crayfish smorgasbord evenings for $2.50 for all you could eat. Music was provided by the Chord 3 (Colin Robinson, Lyall McGregor and Peter Doyle).

when we did put on entertainment, we‘ve open the windows, turn up the music and it would go straight up Rees Street ­ it was like the Pied Piper all over again. Lee‘s brother, Garrick Tremain, came to stay, upstairs in the tavern, for a couple of weeks 30­odd years ago ­ and he still hasn‘t found the road out of town.

he worked behind the bar in the evening and, being an artist and cartoonist, started drawing sketches of some of our well­known customers, which completely blew them away. I asked him to do caricatures of some of our regulars, which we framed and hung around the bar.

It was quite amusing to watch those people come in and proudly sit or stand beneath their own drawing. Some memorable ones were Geordie Cockburn, Jack Kelly, Dr Bruce Todd, wicked Willie Biff Norris, Goose Lindsay, Spike Woods and of course, the unforgettable Lou Toombs. In those days New Year was celebrated around the southern end of the Mall and the pier. New Years Eve, after the tavern closed at 10pm, was a very tense time as we patrolled the inside of the building, waiting for the first bottle to be hurled through the window.

I consider I was very fortunate to have been the first manager of Eichardt‘s Tavern at a time when Queenstown was just starting its tourism boom. It was certainly the best three and a half years of our lives. When the Wilds arrived in May 1970, Ballarat Mall was Ballarat Street, there were only three restaurants in town ­ two of which closed at 7pm, the other at midnight. The three main tourist hotels were Fosters (later renamed Trans when it was extended), O‘connells (which no longer exists) and the Esplanade.

eichardt‘s ideal location at the end of the mall, with those huge windows in the public bar giving magnificent views right up the lake, was a real drawcard for locals and tourists alike.

Eichardt‘s was the focal point of town ­ the meeting place. People came straight off the Mt Cook bus or off the taxi stand and into Eichardts. Publicans John and Ann Mann ­ 1991 ­1999 Eichardt‘s was the longest time we had ever run a hotel for in our extensive hospitality career,recall John and Ann Mann. From the first time we stepped into the bar in 1991 we knew it was something pretty special. You could sense its history and it was obvious that it was the centre of the town‘s social life ­ and that wasn‘t just by judging from the very lovingly cleaned but obviously worse for wear carpet.

the town was much smaller then, and liquor licensing hadn‘t been fully deregulated. It was one of three public bars ­ both Diggins and Wicked Willies consequently closed with the advent of dozens of new bars.

everyone gathered there from lawyers through to tradesmen. Hosts of well­established married couples actually met each other at Eichardt‘s and those whose marriages have survived the rigours of life in this tourist mecca still recall those days fondly. 鈥溾楳eet you at Eichardt‘s was a catchphrase worldwide and that‘s what people did.

we settled in very well. More than well. We put a rugby stadium into the previously unused back bar with a huge screen for the World Cup. The best night was an England­Scotland Test where each side‘s supporters outsang each other while crushed on opposing grandstands.

that‘s the nature of the town ­ it‘s truly international. We once ran a State of Origin involving sports from all the codes, with teams from all round the world. The Irish team of course was very proud to come a convincing last in everything, including the drinking competition. They were the last standing ­ albeit on a bit of a lean. The Manns recall the summer they tarted upthe back bar, laying pallets on the floor and creating a sandpit to form Queenstown‘s Muscle Beach The happy hour boasted, the less you wear the less you pay.Luckily the patrons self­policed the happy hour, preparing to shout those who did want to participate in the promotion but definitely were better viewing with their clothes on. The banter and innuendoes made very lively entertainment in itself.

Albert Eichardt was a hero, and his painting stood proudly in the bar. When we finally upgraded the lounge bar in 1993 and developed the town‘s first Irish Bar, we named it Shanahan‘s, after his wife, Julia‘s maiden name. The Manns discovered that Julia Eichardt‘s grave had been derelict and forgotten for years, so they tidied it up, and with their new­found friends from the left footers clubthey held a touching memorial.

We placed her portrait proudly in 鈥榟erbar where she gazed somewhat sternly over the many nights of mayhem that followed the launch of Shanahan‘s. A lot of Eichardt‘s activities overflowed into the mall, including St Patrick‘s Day potato cricket, charity threelegged Christmas stocking races, and a Mallburn Cup with locals racing recklessly down the mall on wooden horses. Other favourites were oyster shucking competitions after racing to Bluff on opening day in the Eichardt‘s county Sheriffcar, and even building a gangway over a moatso that guests could be piped on board for the hotel‘s Nautical Ball.

We were the forerunners of outdoor dining, and Eichardt‘s was always a people­packed meeting place at the bottom of the mall. Our kitchen was crammed into an old staff changing room but poured out good pub fare, even though our kitchen floor once fell through to the murk of the waterflooded area below.

We were proud of our reputation for the best chips in town and took our chip chopping seriously. We would have hand peeled tons of potatoes, our supplier sourcing the best, as he reckoned we would have been the biggest consumer in the South Island. During the Mann‘s time at Eichardt‘s the hotel was the centre of Queenstown‘s New Year‘s Eve celebrations, with more than 60 staff dispensing two containers of cans and copious kegs, as well as the 5000 litres stored in tanks.

While we operated on the ground floor, and became renowned for our themed parties, there were a succession of tenants above. At one stage our neighbouring chemist jokingly made the comment that Eichardt‘s had ‘sex, drugs, rock and rollcovered, as the new upstairs tenants were a rather dubious strip club. Because of the hotel‘s history we had every excuse to party ­ the last of the 10 o‘clock closing where the police kindly autographed everyone‘s certificate, verifying they had been thrown outby the boys in blue ­ it was, after all, the end of an era.

We had a huge reunion in 1997 to celebrate Eichardt‘s 135th birthday and reenacted the old six o‘clock closing ­ with guests having to bang on the back door three times to get back in. The very first Queenstown Winter Festival was planned from a bar leaner in Eichardt‘s. So it was only fitting that to celebrate its 20th anniversary all the originalsmet at the hotel, a gathering that spawned the Queenstown Fartonian Society which continues to meet for an annual Old Farts Ball.

We had t­shirts made up for every promotion. One of the tag lines for a sixties party was, Eichardt‘s…swinging since the 1860s.Apparently if an Eichardt‘s t­shirt is worn overseas someone is bound to recognise it. We were the last publicans of the original operation. We had seen dozens of bars open up during our tenure. We did not renew our lease after the 1999 flood, although Eichardt‘s was still the most popular bar in town and the biggest seller of draft beer, with more than 200,000 jugs being poured annually.

the flood was a pretty traumatic event for us. Prior to that the hotel had never been shut for a day. We always managed to keep it open through all the other floods, with our children swimming past the door on a couple of occasions. We kept going when the snow fell and power was cut. The rest of the town closed up and everyone headed to Eichardt‘s to celebrate the white gold that had fallen from the sky. The candles flickered well into the night. sadly we lost a lot of memorabilia, old photos and records, stupidly stored in nooks and crannies below the flood line, but like a lot of people before us we have magic memories of this Queenstown icon. We continue to believe a pub is about people and not just the four walls, and live in hope that one day an enlightened entrepreneur will pass the building, peek in through the dress racks, and say, hey, this would make a great pub. The Manns remain active in the community. Ann chaired the high school board for six years, John is a current district councillor, and together they have run dozens of events and another hotel in Arrowtown for a couple of years. They are still remembered as the last publicans of Eichardt‘s by the locals.

so much of the local history has taken place in this spot,said A M Miller, the president the Queenstown District Historical Society in 1975. The cavalcade of colourful characters which have come and gone have congregated at Eichardt‘s. They have all contributed some part to the history and should not be forgotten. Clive Manners­Wood ­ patron since the 1970s Eichardt‘s was always the premier watering hole of Queenstown and host to the many interesting people who came through town, such as Danny Kay, Jean Claude Killy, Ted Turner, David Frost, Alan Whicker, Kenny Rogers, Paul Simon and many more who made themselves available around a bar leaner.

J C Killy regaled us with stories in the winter of 1969. In the United States television show, The Killy Challenge, he was asked what was his favourite ski area. The American interviewer expected him to nominate Aspen or another North American ski resort, but Killy answered: new Zealand. The flabbergasted interviewer asked why. Killy replied, no one wanted my autograph ­ they just wanted to buy me another jug of beer.Submit=Add


 
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