This week America’s Cup formalities began and the crowds are flooding back to the glitzy Viaduct strip of bars and restaurants. The Covid-hit businesses are desperate for customers, but some are concerned at the area becoming a gangsters’ paradise at night, with a sinister underbelly developing after dark. Tom Dillane reports.
Reclining in his sunny Viaduct restaurant, Metin Yildiz is fully aware of both the appeal – and the curse – of Auckland’s most visible nightspot.
“To be honest with you, what would you do if you had a lot of money in your pockets?” he asks, gesturing to the waterfront restaurant Giraffe that he runs.
“You’d be quite attracted to here.”
It’s not hard to work out the target clientele gazing at the multimillion-dollar superyachts that for decades have bobbed at Auckland’s wealthiest marina.
In the past moneyed tourists from Europe, the US and Australia have placed down credit cards with tipsy abandon on countless sunny afternoons.
But in the Covid-19 absence of foreign tourist dollars, two imports to the Viaduct have made themselves very conspicuous the past few months.
America’s Cup sailors – and gang members.
The latter did so spectacularly at 2.45am on Sunday December 6 in the foyer outside trendy second-floor brew bar Dr Rudi’s.
A patron fired several shots into a glass ceilingafter an altercation with a woman – alleged to be his “baby momma” – who arrived and confronted him while he was out fraternising with another woman.
Also in the bar that night were members of both the Head Hunters and Hells Angels gangs who had held club boxing fight nights and “poker run” motorcycle rides respectively earlier that day.
Some bar and restuarant owners says the gang members’ conspicuous consumption has created a sinister side to the Viaduct after dark.
They’re concerned about a discernible change of tone between the long lunches and America’s Cup sailors’ meals by day and the criminal element moving in at night.
Some fear the late-night seediness risks becoming a stain on the spectacle of the America’s Cup events which began on Thursday with the Christmas regatta.
'Is this going to be like Sydney's Kings Cross?'
Giraffe owner Yildiz is about to experience his third America’s Cup at the Viaduct.
The 60-year-old says the nightlife around his restaurant has continued to take a turn for the worse since those promising early days of the 2000 and 2003 America’s Cups.
“What happened after that was hungry developers came on the market, including Auckland City Council. So they decided on any empty spots, let’s put a restaurant, bar or pub,” Yildiz says.
“People started drinking heavily before they came to the Viaduct, different crowds, and not necessarily to enjoy a nice dinner or nice lunch.
“They get drunk before they come here so by 10, 11 o’clock [we’re] invaded by those guys and girls coming by taxi filling up the places like that and probably creating the problems.
“I could see what kind of future was coming to the Viaduct. Is this going to be like Sydney’s Kings Cross?”
One of the issues is that in the current Covid climate, bar and restaurant owners need every dollar they can get, Metin says.
“When they are desperate, they don’t care who is coming to drink at the end of the day.
“It’s out of control, different operators pulling in different directions and unfortunately when you don’t control it, sometimes it gets crazy.
“When I read there was a shooting accident I thought ‘here we go, on top of everything else that’s all we needed, just trying to survive here and someone makes that event’.”
Yildiz notes that a few weeks ago the Fox Bar next to his was ransacked and 15 bottles of spirits were stolen.
A second Viaduct Marina business figure, who asked not to be named, has also seen an increase in the criminal element in the area, especially with recent “501” gang members deported from Australia.
“To be fair, none of those old-school gangsters, the KCs, Head Hunters, Hells Angels, none of them give us any trouble,” the stakeholder says.
“It’s all these Aussie Instagram gangsters with tattoos all over their faces and they’re all bringing out the worst in each other.
“[We’ve] really noticed it since they started kicking all these Aussies out. Even though it’s a Kiwi gang, they’re based in Ōtara, those stupid Killer Beez.
“I mean they’re just really shambolic idiots. I think they’re basically a Facebook group.”
'Gang members are not welcome here'
Sam Saxton-Beer is the marketing manager for Viaduct Harbour Holdings, which own the Viaduct land, and says the Dr Rudi’s shooting incident was totally uncharacteristic of the area.
“We’re coming into a really high-profile time where you’re gonna have lots of affluent guests in restaurants and venues,” Saxton-Beer says.
“Gang members are not welcome here. You’re not going to have gang members come down and celebrate America’s Cup.
“Our marina’s full. Nothing’s holding us back. It’s crazy down here. Regardless of the [America’s Cup] event, it’s been such a successful Christmas.”
Inspector Gary Davey says police have “no tolerance” for gun violence in the community. When asked specifically about issues at the Viaduct and the Dr Rudi’s shooting he says that such incidents are not limited to any one part of Auckland.
“Police, just like the communities we serve, are generally concerned at the prevalence of firearms and weapons being used within certain groups in our society,” he says.
“We have previously acknowledged that a number of firearms incidents have involved elements of organised criminal groups or gangs, and this issue is not a new one.”
Auckland police are working with the National Organised Crime Group to “disrupt and dismantle organised criminal activity”, Davey says.
He also urges the public to report suspicious or illegal activity to police.
Sailors a welcome addition to Viaduct
Ironically, it’s the America’s Cup sailors, not the gangsters, who wear their team patches around the Viaduct.
And the area’s restaurants and bars are grateful for the custom.
Polo shirts and windbreakers emblazoned with sponsors and team names of American Magic, Ineos and Prada Luna Rossa are standard garb for Cup sailors and crew sipping espressos and downing Peronis.
Giraffe’s Yildiz laments that all patrons of the marina aren’t as civilised as the Italian Prada team who are now regulars.
“Tomorrow morning Luna Rossa guys, 16 of them for breakfast. They come in here three, four times a day,” Yildiz says.
“So you have these European guys coming in, civilised men having coffees and at the same time at night, [it’s a] disaster.”
While acknowledging that his restaurant does not directly experience the drunken later night crowds, Yildiz believes the issues are holding back the Viaduct brand.
“We present ourselves if you come in here, you’re going to eat, you’re going to drink coffee or tea or wine or beer, whatever it is,” he says.
“If you create that environment, you don’t attract the trouble. But if you present yourself, like busy environment, loud music, come and drink as much as you can, obviously you are attracting that crowd.
“Do you think these sportsmen want that? Do you think New York Yacht Club member, or Luna Rossa family members, do you think they love to drink in the Fox bar?
“No, they want a nice breakfast with a bit of European touches and things like that.”
Oyster and Chop manager Richard Pepper says there’s no doubt a quite distinct crowd flips over around 11pm in the Viaduct.
“Luckily we don’t have too much interaction with that element of the market that is always a bit of fun at this time of the year,” Pepper says.
“The thing we’ve noticed like the rest of downtown Auckland is a police presence isn’t as noticeable these days in terms of people on the ground. Saying that, the venues are pretty good at self-policing.
“Our clientele, potentially a bit older, Dr Rudi’s at 3 o’clock in the morning is not really where they’re going to be. Our table of 60-somethings having dinner aren’t really interested in what gang members are selling.”
Pepper says the dinner crowd vibe of the Viaduct coming into summer has “actually been fantastic” with more large groups than last year.
“People are definitely out celebrating and it’s been nice to see,” he says.
“There’s probably more large groups than last year. The first [America’s Cup] regatta next week will impact us in terms of accessibility to the Viaduct but not really in business levels, because most of the restaurants are already fully booked on those days as it is.
“It’s one of the few weeks of the year where we don’t really need the help.”
Stephen Chan has co-owned and operated Viaduct Chinese restaurant Grand Harbour for 20 years and says the occasional gang member has shown up – but as a dining venue it’s never been a problem.
“I think we’re one of the only Chinese restaurants in this area. There might be a couple of smaller ones down Wynyard Quarter, so we’re less affected by all that gang stuff,” Chan says.
“We’ve had the odd gang members come through, not patched up or anything. But they come here to eat. They don’t come here to drink or cause trouble or anything, just like anybody else.”
Chan says the Viaduct in 2020 is a site of mixed fortunes.
The America’s Cup event has not brought the business boost of the 2000 and 2003 events without the tourists.
Chan says Grand Harbour is still 30 per cent down on its usual trade for this time of year.
“Our tourist portion isn’t here. We’re hoping the America’s Cup could bring a little bit of an increase but hard to say,” Chan says.
“We’ve been here for the last two or three America’s Cups. I mean it’s way different to previous regattas. People were coming a lot earlier back then, a lot more supporters.
“We’ve seen a lot of the America’s Cup syndicates people come through. They’re all colourful characters all wearing their branded T-shirts and polo shirts and that’s great.”
But amid that unavoidable Covid-19 business downturn, Chan says there are obvious signs the area is growing with the opening of the Park Hyatt and QT luxury hotels.
Owner of numerous downtown Auckland restaurants Lucien Law says his Non Solo Pizza has done quite a bit of catering for Team Prada.
“Obviously we do the Italian stuff at NSP. It’s starting to feel a bit frothy, you know. It’s good. It seems to be quite a family vibe,” Law says.
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