Got the message about the new old post office building?

WORDS JENNY RUDD / PHOTOS JARED DOBBS
+ TRACIE HEASMAN

It’s almost worth going to the Clarence Hotel & Bistro simply for the experience of walking up the grand steps that dissect the long, green-fringed veranda. You just know there’s something significant at the top.

Owners Kim Smythe and Noel Cimadom recall feeling the same a few years ago when standing outside what was once Tauranga’s post office. “The building has been in Kim’s family trust for a long time,” says Noel. “We’d already transformed the beautiful old post office in Cambridge into our first restaurant, Alpino, so it’s become a family joke now we’ve done the same here.”

Walking in, you can turn left for the bistro, an elegant dining room serving European brasserie-style food with a Kiwi slant; head up the stairs to the 10 individually styled hotel rooms; or hang a right to Iki, the bar and eatery that sees a constant flow of people from morning till night.

With an art deco nod to the building’s heritage, Iki is an opulent scene filled with hints of gold, pops of neon purple and dark velvet. It’s like stepping into another world; you’ll feel miles away from the city. The heart of the space is arguably the ancient coffee machine at the end of the bar. She’s a grand old dame, too old to make coffee these days, but nevertheless loved for her stately aesthetic.

“I had the same machine at a café I ran in Munich,” says Noel. “It was designed in Venice and made in Portugal in the ’70s. When we were looking for pieces for Iki, I went on eBay to find it and discovered there were two in the entire world – one in Las Vegas, and one in Taupo. I drove down to Taupo the next day to pick it up.”

At lunchtime, local suits drop into Iki to enjoy its quick and easy Eurasian street food menu, starring favourite dishes like barbecue pork belly skewers with apple and fennel salad. At about 3pm, the after-work crowd begins to pour in, spilling out onto the deck under the blue sky, green palms and glass roof that keeps the rain out and warmth in, giving you the choice to socialise al fresco year-round.

When the sun’s shining on Friday nights, you’ll find a DJ outside playing smooth beats. And should you end up slightly over-served after an evening at Iki or in the bistro, simply book yourself into one of Clarence’s designer rooms, and enjoy eggs and pancakes on the veranda in the morning. You’ll never want to leave.

For the hotel, book online; for the bistro, book online; for Iki, just turn up! Visit: CLARENCETAURANGA.CO.NZ