Friday, June 14, 2013

The Captain Cook: My Part in its History.

Tonight Dunedin’s Captain Cook Tavern closes its doors for quite possibly the final time as one of the longest running and most famous (and infamous) student drinking halls.

The Cook in 2006. It wasn't a Tui pub in my day.
 Nudging Otago University campus for decades, the Cook has in recent years been all but swallowed by the still-growing academic quarter. In recent years its fellow Scarfie pubs The Gardens and The Bowling Green (The Bowler) were in turn closed and purchased by the University, their sites put to better use than watering the throats of their respective student neighbours. I have no sentimental memories of either pubs, miserable boorish concrete booze barns that they were. Both claimed a student relevance that was questionable – The Gardens held its corner longer due to being in Castle Street, but its claim to a garden bar was laughable unless you liked prison yard chic, and The Bowler’s increasingly tragic attempts to mine the ‘Scarfie’ identity with further questionable themes ‘Wife-beater Wednesday’ and couch burning competitions. It earned no sympathy from me when that particular noisy dive was deep-sixed by the modern trend of pre-loading back at the flat. Good riddance.

The Cook was no blushing innocent of course, and at its age could never claim to be. Cookathons, Bladder-bursts, Drink the Pub Dry nights – all got a look in from time to time, and in my first year I’d grimly joke that the easiest way to find my way into town was to trace the puddles of vomit from my hall of residence to the Cook, then the blood spatters to the Hospital A + E before turning a quick right into Hanover Street. Sunday morning walks past would inevitably be met nodding g’day to the downstairs barman Big Merv from as he stood hose in hand, stoically washing down the car park walls from the night before (and in the mid-Nineties, the early mornings also.) I’d scoot past it on weekend nights, its jukebox blaring out the windows the leery ruggerhead anthems of Th’ Dudes, and The Exponents, as swaying ‘boys’ queued loosely outside to get in, prepping the car park wall for Norm the next morning while they waited. Not my tribe, mate, and I wouldn’t be seen dead in that queue.

My local was for most of my time The Oriental, on the other side of campus and opposite the Pink Flat. It was quieter, a little less student-filled, had a sort of old-days character, and was easier to get into on a Friday afternoon, which is invariably when I and my flatmates and fellow band members would gather, often staying for a solid steak meal before mounting the foot assault up half of North East Valley to my flat. Sometimes we stayed longer and we, and it, got rowdier. The ‘Ori’ was my bar of choice for three years, even after I’d moved to the other side of the Octagon, but that said, I regret to admit that I never played live there. There wasn’t much choice, truth be told, because it wasn’t a band venue, and I think I only saw two gigs there in my whole Uni years (although one was a particularly excellent Verlaines performance.) At the same time I can admit with some quiet pride that we did play The Cook, supporting Death Ray CafĂ© one summer evening in late 1990. It was probably a Thursday, the weekend nights being otherwise reserved for the jukebox and dance floor scene; but a gig’s a gig, and knowing that the host band had some Flying Nun pedigree (David Pine from Sneaky Feelings) and that this was the same pub that younger Chills, Bored Games and Verlaines members had set up deck chairs on the outside lawns over the road to hear early Enemy and Toy Love performances, just cemented the significance of what was otherwise a modest and short set. More importantly, it enabled me to catch up with an old school acquaintance, Jac, who was at first to connect us with another ex-schoolmate with a four-track studio, and then later to properly join the band.

 In the end for me The Cook’s best moments were those quiet times of fellowship. Meeting old friends, enjoying the wee miracle of the garden bar outside term time, wolfing down the occasional wet lunch on a weekday with a workmate before slipping tipsily back to work at the University Library for the afternoon (a trick I only attempted once or twice), and in my second to last year, frequenting its downstairs corner bar, where I discovered the Cook’s other open secret – a common place for Arts post-grads and die-hard ‘dependent’ staff that was quieter than the main and garden bars, and a little less salubrious than the staff club, but with a much better jukebox.

I hope that in whatever incarnation the Cook continues, there’s room at least for that sort of Scarfie tradition

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