Cupid bar

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Something different in Pt. Chev

Will the Ambassador Theatre ever show films again?

In April, we celebrated 90 years of the Ambassador Theatre in Pt Chev. Today we observe 1 year since a freak fire incident threatened to end it all. What is happening there now, will it ever show films again and what lessons can we learn from the past?

The only image of the original screen we have ever managed to source. Kindly provided by Allan Webb of Regent Theatre, Te Awamutu. The photograph was likely taken by Trevor Skelton. Date unknown.

The only image of the original screen we have ever managed to source. Kindly provided by Allan Webb of Regent Theatre, Te Awamutu. The photograph was likely taken by Trevor Skelton. Date unknown.

The Ambassador Theatre was built in 1929 and seats were sold out on Friday and Saturday nights during its peak trading years. Attendance dwindled in the 1960s with the introduction of television and also the extended closing time of local pubs and hotels. It stopped showing films in 1985.

Historically, there has always been competition between the Ambassador (or, the Pt Chev Theatre as it was known after 1956) and The Hollywood, Avondale (previously called the Grosvenor) or the Cameo Theatre up in Grey Lynn shops.

Fast-forward to the present day and The Hollywood is having great success currently under the ownership of Matt Timpson. The split between hosting live music events and films is attracting a crowd of interested folk. Showing cult classic films, as well as some new releases, means it has an edge compared to the mainstream cinemas. The Hollywood was one of few independent cinemas to survive financially, and it did so under the ownership of Jan Grefstad 1966-2002 who made it famous through regular Friday and Saturday night screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the 1980s.

The Cameo is presently a trampoline studio and gym, and shows little sign of ever being a cinema again. Meanwhile in another part of Avondale, Ryders Cinema and Roast Dinners offers an unexpected and wonderful experience, operating on Riversdale Rd in what was once a private museum owned by Jack Ryder.

The Ambassador Theatre, Pt Chevalier, is a private art studio that belongs to artist Peter Roche. The artworks he creates here in this space are intriguing and have an element of minor psychological disturbance or danger. I relate this to stepping into a dark/bright space, or getting a mild electric shock.

Peter Roche’s show Cinema at Saatchi & Saatchi. On the left, Trickle. On the right, Shiver.

Peter Roche’s show Cinema at Saatchi & Saatchi. On the left, Trickle. On the right, Shiver.

His glowing linear forms are often based on spontaneous drawing, violently muscular bodily gestures on paper that relate to his past as a confrontational performance artist.
— John Hurrell, 22 November 2012

Peter has owned the building since 1996 and has continued making work here since the fire upstairs in late June, 2018. There was never a cause determined for the blaze, and building repairs currently taking place include upgraded fire safety systems in the building.

However, it is unlikely that The Ambassador will ever show films again. To my knowledge, no cashed-up benefactor has ever come sweeping in with the intention of buying and transforming it back to its former glory - including reinstalling seating, projection equipment, heating, and a screen.

In actual fact, a lot of her glory still remains. The theatre features including vintage paintwork and sconces can still be seen. It is full of valuable and interesting content, as those who celebrated the building’s 90th birthday with us were able to view with their own eyes.

If you want to support local independent cinema, I strongly suggest you visit The Hollywood, Avondale or The Capitol in Balmoral. It is no easy feat running an independent cinema, and hats off to those who do it well.

The Hollywood Cinema, Avondale, during a recent screening of the cult movie “Christine”, a 1974 film adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Photo from Instagram @hollywoodavondale

The Hollywood Cinema, Avondale, during a recent screening of the cult movie “Christine”, a 1974 film adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Photo from Instagram @hollywoodavondale

Who has a tale to tell about the Ambassador bar?

Sometime in the early 00s a little pocket of something potent existed in Pt Chev. The quiet beach-side suburb possessed a grungy, rockabilly-punk bar tucked into the row of shops opposite the library.

I’ve described the Ambassador bar as a vibrant, messy, banging rock and roll venue. I’ve imagined elements of this and put my own spin on it, because I was never there.

However friends of mine were, and stories abound about their escapades. Some played guitar in heavy metal bands, some discovered substances in the toilets, some danced on the floor and some on top of the bar. The air was smoky, lights were dim and the walls were covered by shiny red wallpaper. Occasionally there would be a late-night venture into the dark theatre space for a peek.

The Ambassador bar, c. 2000-2012

The Ambassador bar, c. 2000-2012

Anecdotes such as this have slipped into a space between nostalgia and retrospect. Too recent to warrant a faraway look in the eyes, too long ago to remember entirely what took place. Peter Roche owned the bar between 2000-2012 then leased the bar to other owners. He remains the landlord and occupier of the main theatre space.

There exists a collection of stories from the early life of the Ambassador Theatre, which was built in 1929, focusing on it’s time spent as a cinema. “Pt Chevalier Memories: 1930s-1950s” was collated by local librarian Padmini Raj. These stories are wonderful but they only give half the picture, as the authors were all children during this time period.

Earlier during my research, I discovered a less-known fact: between 1925-1935 a dancehall existed down by Pt Chev beach. Called “Dixieland by the Sea” it was an incarnation of an earlier venue on Queen Street, “The Dixieland Cabaret”. It attracted busloads of party-goers who travelled from the CBD out to Pt Chev to dance the night away.

It was funded by a Canadian businessman and his heiress partner. They helped to popularise Jazz in Auckland city, providing dance classes and employment for local musicians, as well as entertainment.

Well, dance the night away they did: and dance the night away, we shall.

We are planning a retrospective of the Ambassador Theatre building to celebrate its 90th birthday, including it’s early life but mainly focusing on the stories that haven’t quite been committed to the archives yet - the period of time 2000-2012 when the Ambassador bar was the notorious spot in Pt Chev.

If you have stories, photos or video links, we invite you to share them with us! Please only share photos that you own and have the legal right to share, and that you don’t mind being reposted. (If you don’t want them reposted or if you wish to remain anonymous, please say so.) These can be shared via facebook or emailed via our contact page.

Why did I call my bar Cupid?

So, just over a year ago this crazy thing happened. I need to stop discrediting myself by saying “somehow I ended up owning a bar” and say “after working a heap of different hospitality jobs for different companies over the last 15 years and soaking up every snippet of advice I could about starting a business, running a business, and general witchery I decided to take a calculated risk.” Not too calculated mind you, I mean there was certainly an element of crazy there.

Naming my new bar, as it turns out, was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. Why did I call my bar Cupid?

Image credit: feat. Sam Cooke from the album “Sam Cooke at the Copa”, 1964

Image credit: feat. Sam Cooke from the album “Sam Cooke at the Copa”, 1964

The short answer is, because someone told me not to.

The longer answer is, because more than one person told me not to, and I had to think really hard about what I was in this for.

The business I thought I was going to start, my specialty craft beer shop, was going to be called McGinty’s Beer Shop. A bastardisation of my surname that nobody can remember or pronounce: McEntegart.

That’s a sensible name for a beer shop. But I didn’t start a beer shop. I bought this alluring little bar in what was formerly the entranceway to an art deco style cinema built in 1929. It is rumoured to have a few resident ghosts (I haven’t seen them but I am certainly not doing any séances in the bar). It’s been a vibrant, messy, banging rock and roll venue as well as its time spent as a cinema and it wants to put its name back on the map.

For this bar, I felt it needed a strong name that people would remember. I thought about its history showing films, referencing nostalgia, drama, human emotions like love and despair. When I thought of Cupid as a bar name it seemed to fit all the art deco illusions I was having. I was creating a mood of romance and mystery on a budget; an intriguing, alternative sort of place that people would want to come to. I know “The Pt Chev Bar” would have an excellent google ranking but that’s just not me, and it’s not interesting.

I came across this brilliant post by Ash Ambirge whose blog I follow. Titled “My Brand is Boring as Fuck. With a capital F.” it helped me to realise what I wanted to do.

I didn’t want to be Boring as Fuck. I wanted to play Nick Cave songs and drink enough whisky to start growing a beard while swanning about dressed like Stevie Nicks and turning men into toads. I’m halfway there, in case you’re wondering.

Music has become an important feature in my bar, which perhaps is unsurprising given that it owes its name to a song. If you want to hear my playlist, click the link on my website here: The playlist features a number of musical references to Cupid (the first of which was my inspiration for the bar name):

“Cupid”, Sam Cooke, released 1961

“Don’t Mess With Cupid”, Otis Redding, 1968

“Hello from Cupid”, Jonathan Richman, 1998

“Cupid”, Amy Winehouse (cover of Sam Cooke), 2006

“Cupid Carries a Gun”, Marilyn Manson, 2015

Intuition, AKA trusting your gut, plays a really big part in running a business. So does defining your values and being true to yourself. I have been waiting a long time for my opportunity to shine, and while I know I’m a slow burner, I also know I’m not going to go stale overnight.

Cupid is re-inventing him/herself all the time.

Image credit: Stevie Nicks album cover, 1981

Image credit: Stevie Nicks album cover, 1981

Was there a fire in the Ambassador Theatre Building?

Yes. On 25 June 2018 there was a non-suspicious fire in the apartment upstairs. Nobody was in the building at the time except the infamous Puss Puss, my landlord’s kitty. She was missing for the duration of the fire, but she managed to avoid harm and was found later by firefighters.

The damage is centered on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building, where smoke was seen pouring out the windows and escaping in the top left corner of the building. Thankfully Cupid sustained minimal damage, including some flooding as the water cascaded down the stairs.

If you should ever need it (and I really hope you don’t) the website recommends the following mixture for cleaning smoke residue on walls and floors:

  • 4 to 6 teaspoons emulsifying solvent cleaner (a cleaning agent you can find at a hardware or paint shop such as Resene)

  • 1 cup household cleaner or chlorine bleach

  • 4 litres warm water

At the time of this post, repairs have not yet begun upstairs. However the bar downstairs and the studio space in the main theatre area which belongs to Peter Roche are operational.

ambassador sepia copy.jpg