When Biddy’s moved to Hood St, a community moved with them. That includes staff, musicians and patrons – and it includes a fox terrier called Bella.
Bella tells you a lot about Biddy’s. She and her owner, Mike, have a relaxed approach, which makes Bella a favourite in the pub, and also occasionally, when the bar was at the northern end of Hamilton’s Victoria St, saw her taking a solo walk on the street.
Biddy’s co-owner Mark Flyger remembers two nights in particular. There was the time Bella was kidnapped by a passing driver, to be reunited with Mike some time later, and there was also the time an entire pub downed their drinks and set off on a search mission. Bella had disappeared. Some patrons headed north along Victoria Street, some headed south and some headed out the back of the pub, where there is a parking area and hedgerow between them and the neighbours. Enthusiastic searchers scoured the undergrowth, while those out on the street headed two or three blocks distant. No Bella.
They found her eventually, stuck in the neighbouring pharmacy. Flyger surmises that she followed someone into the A and E centre and then couldn’t get out when the doors closed her in, unnoticed by the pharmacist.
Bella was reunited with Mike after that escapade, and has also come with him to the new Hood Street premises, though other owners haven’t all brought their dogs with them, to Mark’s regret.
It’s that kind of place.
The move to Hood St came after their Victoria St lease expired. Mark says he and fellow owner Duncan Otto hunted around for a replacement in the northern end, but it was heavily tenanted, and a suitable space couldn’t be found. They decided to shift to Diggers, which they also owned. Part of their desire to stay in the north had been the parking, but Flyger says parking has proved to be fine in the southern end.
The shift was completed during the Christmas break before they reopened as Biddy’s in the first week of January, a shift which included all the staff coming with them. It marked the end of almost 25 years for Biddy’s – or Biddy Mulligan’s Irish Pub, as the earlier signage says – in northern Victoria Street and, in a different way, three decades for Diggers.
For the current owners, all of this started about seven years ago. Duncan was a mortgage broker, it was after the GFC had hit, work was slow for him, and the two friends saw a for-sale ad for an Irish pub. They went down and had a pint, and decided to give it a go.
“We thought, let’s have a bit of a play and see what happens. And if we lose a little bit of money it’s not the end of the world and if we make some money it’s even better,” says Mark.
“It’s not the sort of thing you’ll get rich in.”
“But we’ve had so many laughs and met some great people.”
Part of it – a big part of it – is the live music. Mark plays the sax, Duncan plays the double bass, though they’re not necessarily the stars on any given night. But when it comes to organising, they’re tireless.
“We’re trying to keep that live music theme going, particularly in an environment where live music seems to be on the wane,” says Mark. “Some of those old iconic bars that people used to go and play at are disappearing now, which is a shame.
“We try and have music seven days a week.”
If it’s Monday it’s open mic night, if it’s Tuesday it’s a Celtic Club jam out front and the Hamilton Acoustic Club in the back bar, where the acoustics are very different because of the wooden cladding as opposed to the concrete of the front.
Wednesday is quiz night followed by karaoke and, in the back bar, poker school, Thursday is Blues Club once a month or a resident artist, and Friday sees Seanache, with Dublin-born Willie Yeoman, playing traditional Irish music. After them, Friday night reverts to the original Diggers format with a band from 10pm till 2am. On Saturday there is a band from 10pm onwards and Sunday sees a slot for resident artists from 4-8pm, with an Irish theme once a month.
As for those acoustics, they come courtesy of a building that was constructed in 1903 and which is registered with the Historic Places Trust. Flyger says it has seen plenty of tenants since, including a curtain shop and a gun shop, and it once housed the Waikato Hospital Board. Mark and Duncan bought the building in 2013, earthquake-strengthened it and sold it, leaving them in the happy position of having a 10 year lease and right of renewal for a further 10 years.
Seanache continue to be one of the musical drawcards after Biddy’s became the latest tenants. They pull in regulars each Friday night, including one particular group with a fondness for Irish curry sauce. It’s a house specialty, along with hotpots and other Irish familiars, and – courtesy of their “excellent” new Chinese chef – a couple of Chinese dishes. But you don’t mess with a classic, and one of those is the curry sauce with chips. Recently, the bar had run out, so the regulars rustled up their own. Mark got a text from them the next week, checking the sauce would be back on the next Friday night because otherwise they still had some of their own in reserve. They didn’t need to; normal service had resumed.
Duncan, meanwhile, is the “brewmaster” as Mark puts it. He’s pretty good too – Biddy’s has won best pint of Guinness in New Zealand three years running. You don’t get much better than that in an Irish pub. Come St Patrick’s Day, however, he and Mark are on the other side, enjoying one or two of the 3000 pints of Guinness Biddy’s pour between 8am and 3am the next day.
So, yes, Biddy’s is a classic. And there’s one last story that underlines it. It was Mark and Duncan’s second St Patrick’s Day after taking over. One of their patrons had been enjoying the day and needed a snooze. He chose the gent’s, assuming he could still make a choice by that stage. That was fine except he was still asleep at 3.30am when the staff locked up, set the alarm and walked out, exhausted at the end of the biggest shift of the year. Some time later, around 5am, Mark’s cellphone started up – the bar’s alarm had been activated. Mark got in his car, headed to the bar and found the door open. The sleeper had woken up, wondered where everyone had gone and wandered out into the street. He was still there when Mark arrived. No harm had been done, and in recognition of his feat, about four months later Biddy’s bought a toilet seat, put a plaque on it and presented it to him as a memento.