It was Daren Zhou’s experiences living in places like Beijing and London that inspired him to move from a career in video and art direction to one in the hospitality realm. Now, after returning to New Zealand, he is set to open a new venue that promises to bring a sophisticated, international edge to the city’s nightlife scene, and it’s the kind of place we’ve been sorely missing. Meet The Nightcar.
“My favourite kind of restaurant and bar is the kind where I can dine and drink in a boutique nightclub setting,” Zhou explains. “For me, the ideal is when you take the vibes and energy of an upmarket nightclub and the booth-seating and table service of a restaurant and combine the two.” It is this mix that Zhou has adopted for his new venture, citing places like Delilah in Los Angeles, Tao in Chicago and Supper in Amsterdam as his inspirations. “The Nightcar is a third culture lounge bar that will deliver the feel of a luxurious nightclub alongside the flavours of the Yangtze River,” he says.
Set in an atmospheric, underground spot on Queen Street, The Nightcar evokes after-dark sophistication with a film noir edge, with Zhou telling me how his background in video direction saw him naturally draw references from some of his favourite movies and TV shows. “One of my favourite shows is Snowpiercer,” he tells me, “which tells the story of a doomsday train that circles Earth carrying the last of humanity. One of the train carriages is a lounge bar is called ‘The Nightcar’, hence the name.”
Indeed, The Nightcar’s interior, expertly brought to life by CTRL Space, has elements that speak to the idea of luxurious train travel, from the cosy and low-lit carriage-shaped dining room to the sumptuous, deep-red colour scheme. It also boasts a futuristic, backlit bar, heavy drapes, and sleek, glossy dining tables surrounded by plush booth-seating that one could only imagine sinking into to enjoy a nightcap or two, or some delicious food.
The menu, designed in collaboration with The Nightcar’s Head Chef Win Siak Lai, was largely inspired by the unique culture of North West China (north of the Yangtze River), where both Zhou and his business partner William Zhang are originally from. “Our food and culture is still very much unknown, even to Chinese citizens,” Zhou tells me, “so we decided to cook and serve dishes based on what we grew up eating.” Best described as modern Chinese, The Nightcar’s food offering comprises a range of small, made-to-share plates, including both hot and cold vegetarian and meat dishes and a number of noodle options, designed as the perfect accompaniments for a cocktail or two.
“The ‘Zha Jiang Mian’ Pork Belly Yangchun Noodles is my favourite noodle dish,” Zhou reveals, “which is best alongside the ‘Huang Gua’ with cucumber, minced garlic and vinegar as a cold dish and the ‘Yang Pai’ which is lightly seared lamb spare rib with cumin and chilli (the traditional choice of meat for the nomadic people of China’s North West) as a hot dish.” He continues, “as a dessert I would strongly recommend the ‘Ci Ba’ Rice Cake coated in panko and drizzled with brown sugar — one plate is never enough of this one.”
Alongside the food there is an impressive wine offering, spanning a raft of international and local drops, as well as a perfectly-curated line-up of cocktails, which combine ingredients from different parts of the world and a variety of spirits from The Nightcar’s extensive list. Here, the drinks and food are made to be enjoyed together, with Zhou telling me how he hopes his guests will be able to discover unexpected pairings and new favourites.
Ultimately, Zhou’s vision for The Nightcar is a place that represents his cultural roots while still tapping into a universal appeal. “The term ‘third culture’ is usually used to explain someone being raised in a culture that is not their own,” Zhou says, “but I like to think that today, it means international and inclusive.” As such, The Nightcar, pulls influence from everywhere, seen in its interesting food, its unique fit-out and the way its lounge-bar vibes are enhanced by a roster of music that marries afrobeats with hip hop, Latin, elements of reggae and modern Chinese.
Open from tonight, The Nightcar is a luxurious lounge and late-night spot that offers the perfect place to perch for your favourite tipple and a tasty bite.
Sunday & Monday — closed
Tuesday & Wednesday — 5pm until 11pm
Thursday — 5pm until 1am
Friday & Saturday — 5pm until 3am
44 Queen Street