Bustling Kingsland – mid-morning, mid-week, sunny and crisp – on a perfect autumnal Auckland day and Citizen Park, a new indoors-outdoors establishment sits boldly, with its glittering, black-gloss tiles rising from the pavement. Just on opening time, the staff are bustling around indoors, while Darren Tolley, one of the owners, and the designer, Chris Stevens, sit perched at one of the leaner-tables inside.
Auckland is in the throws of an Americana phase. Diner-style eateries have popped up and restaurants have revamped menus to reflect this quaint and kitschy style. Many of these places are fantastic, but Citizen Park’s owners and designers were conscious that while referencing Americana, they also had to address the tastes of New Zealanders.
Stevens describes the interior space as “playful industrial”. “It takes the industrial theme, but gives it a more friendly, accessible kind of vibe.”
Previously it was a motorbike workshop, but the building underwent structural upgrades before it re-emerged in its current incarnation (as a nice nod to its history, the original sign writer who detailed the motorcycle shop was commissioned to re-do the same art for Citizen Park).
Citizen Park’s proprietors engaged Stevens at the outset of the project. Stevens, in turn, has recently been undertaking projects with interior specialist, Rachael Lovelace. The space reflects the brand all parties have painstakingly crafted; it’s apparent in all facets of the design through to the menu and food presentation.
Having eddied into the space from New North Road via the double-doored lobby, you can linger and take a journey within this park. Appealing to the Kiwi love of the outdoors, the courtyard area is envisaged as the first choice for many visitors – the popularity of a neighbouring bar’s outdoor area is a good precedent for this decision. Aware of the lure of the outdoors, the indoor space has been designed with more than enough character and atmosphere to stand on its own. Each space is distinctive, but both are cohesive, and sit happily under the Citizen Park brand umbrella. As complete spaces with individual identities, you won’t feel usurped if one is full and you are relegated to the other.
Situated in its heritage-style shell, raw concrete, exposed brick, the internal space is warm and weathered. Shelving stretches from floor to ceiling across the wall separating the dining space from the kitchen, and is home to the bonafide record player, which weaves warm tones throughout the diner. These shelves are a dialogue between Citizen Park and its patrons, a mix of utilitarian objects and conversation-generating objét. The day I visited, they were home to the kitchen’s supply of La Morena Mexican canned goods – and a pair of roller skates.
While it is a new eatery, the stories behind the furniture and fittings – the bike permanently parked in the courtyard, the genuine-but-modified park benches, Bavarian beer tables, draftsman’s stools, and library carts now used to hold cutlerym – add richness to its charm while making it feel more established than it is. The choice to steer clear of veneers and styled finishes was deliberate. The solid wood bar, for example, was chosen not only for its materiality but also for its longevity in catering to the heavy use inflicted on any hospitality interior.
During the evening this place is lively, warm and accommodating of large groups who wish to rearrange the tables for a more jovial experience. The retractable awning, imported from Italy, spans the space, and protects from Auckland’s frequent downpours.
In the venue’s basement, which houses beer fridges, bathrooms, and office space, Stevens’ influence from a recent trip to Brooklyn is obvious. After descending the “subway stairs” from the outdoor area you find a tunnel lined with bill posters, which will become layered and peeled as time goes on. Towards the bathrooms, tiles laid in reverse create a very interesting geometric and textured wall finish.
Pitched more towards families and locals, Citizen Park is also in a prime location for the hoards of rugby fans that descend on Kingsland for any Eden Park match. At this park, sports culture can brush up against American culture and, thanks to artist Askew One’s large wall mural of Ralph Hotere on the neighbouring building, street art culture is also accessible.
Regardless of season, this space promises to be a well-loved local establishment.