Return to Elegance at The Black Sparrow in Embassy Theatre
July 25, 2012
Return to Elegance at The Black Sparrow in Wellington's Most Iconic Theatre
Nestled beneath Mt Victoria, Wellington’s newest bar, The Black Sparrow, opens in the iconic Embassy Theatre on Wednesday 25th July.
Although it takes its name from an avant-garde 1960s publisher, the bar harks back to a time when black tie, silk dresses and the cocktail reigned supreme.
The bar itself occupies what was originally the orchestra pit of the Embassy Theatre, left derelict for more than sixty years and filled with the detritus from decades of cinema-goers. Now, where the music for silent movies once played, a central bar dispenses the libations of a bygone age.
That history is apparent in its heritage features; the original tiling is retained, art-deco-inspired carpet and furnishings, and a sumptuous marble-topped bar. Additional styling is provided by original glass bottles and other relics salvaged during the refurbishment.
The bar takes its name from Black Sparrow Press, a book publisher founded in 1966 by John Martin of Santa Rosa, California. Its oeuvre was the imperfections of life, in resisting the glamorisation of the corporation. Instead, founder John Martin choose to gamble on writers such as Charles Bukowski and Joyce Carole Oates. It was there that he found hidden potential.
It wouldn’t be art deco without a martini in hand, so a talented team of cocktail mixologists, led by Max Hart, contribute to The Black Sparrow’s unique style. Working in the shirtsleeves and braces of the bartenders of the era, they conjure up the classical styles of the golden age of cinema and the later avant-garde movement.
A jazz and ragtime band fills the bar with nostalgic tones and completes the journey back through time with live performances on Thursday to Sunday, most weeks.
The Black Sparrow will no doubt also benefit from being the stylish bar within the theatre that plays host to nearly all of Wellington’s magic cinema moments.
The Embassy is already earmarked for at least one international red carpet premiere this year, ensuring that the former orchestra pit stands to once again play an important role in the iconic building’s place in Wellington for years to come.
About the Embassy Theatre
Located at the eastern end of Courtenay Place at the foot of Mt. Victoria, The Embassy Theatre (originally named The De Luxe) has been a landmark for Wellington since its creation in 1924. Designed by Llewelyn Williams, The Embassy originally seated 1,700, before remodels done during the 1960s, including installation of a 70 mm screen, proscenium, and false ceilings reduced seating to 852. The theatre’s existing main screen is thought to be one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Further remodels were undertaken in the early 2000s in advance of the world premiere screening of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, underwritten by a $4.5 million grant provided by the Wellington City Council, with a condition of this funding that the ownership of the building be transferred to the Council. Also retrofitted into the base of The Embassy at this time were two boutique cinemas each designed to occupy 70 patrons.
Designed in the classical style, the interior of The Embassy includes a marble staircase with brass fittings, tiled walls and floors, and dark wooden fixtures. Many of the furnishings reflect the original style, including the extensively tiled and mirrored restrooms.
In December 2009, management rights were sold to Australian company AHL, but The Embassy building continues to be owned by Wellington City Council and is recognised as a place of historical/cultural significance by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
The Embassy remains the only custom-built 1920's cinema still in use in New Zealand – a staple home of the New Zealand international Arts Festival and the New Zealand International Film Festival, The Embassy is indelibly etched into Wellington’s culture and is set to continue to serve the city for many years to come.