Lime Bar turns 25

Nostalgic Ponsonby cocktail bar celebrates a quarter century.

Ponsonby staple Lime Bar is getting set to turn 25, making it the longest continuously running bar on the Ponsonby strip.

A wondrous achievement in the fickle world of hospitality, making the milestone even more remarkable is Lime’s Kevin Fraser, who has been at the helm of this family-owned business since its conception.

A familiar face behind the bar for decades, those of a certain vintage might also remember Kevin’s other ventures in the early 2000s, including the underground Hobson Street Lounge, followed by Pickle, Plum in the Viaduct, Ruby in Kingsland, Coco Club on Fort Lane, Boogie Wonderland in Auckland and Wellington, and Alice, also in Wellington.

Taking over the space that would become Lime in late 1998, a then 28-year-old Kevin and his builder dad spent several weeks renovating, before opening the doors on 23 January 1999.

A champion of classic cocktails, good times and a nostalgic soundtrack to sing along to, fast forward 25 years and Lime (with the odd nip and tuck) has aged gracefully, moving with the times while still retaining its original charm.

With his family happily pushing him out the door most nights, Kevin says the bar has been humming along since lockdown lifted and he finds he still gets a kick out of chatting with customers and just enjoying the vibe.

At heart Lime is a neighbourhood bar, says Kevin, but folks come from all over. “There’s the loyal wider Ponsonby faithful, but plenty come from far and wide in search for a good time.”

Occupying a special place in Auckland’s cultural history, staff past and present have many a story to tell. One particularly raucous night saw $350 in cash (back when cash was still a thing), a pair of tights, a pair of heels and someone’s anxiety pills all found on the floor on closing.

“There are many happily married couples who met at Lime over the years - we love when they visit on their anniversary - and a few kids floating around whose middle name should probably be Lime. They’re more than welcome to come in for a beer when they turn 18.”

We’re really quite old now, says Kevin. “Whole generations have come and gone and come back again. And in the meantime, their kids are joining in the fun now too.”

Part of the appeal no doubt, the team use only premium pours for the creation of their alcoholic beverages. “Even our house pours. Customers might notice we also use a greater volume than most bars. Yes our margin gets reduced somewhat in the process, but the focus is on quality and on keeping our customers happy.”

With the focus on classic cocktails, flowing champagne and refreshing beer, one standout on the drinks list is the plum daquiri – a signature at Plum from back in the day and still one of Lime’s most asked for drinks. For sour lovers, the options range from whiskey, to blackcurrant, pisco, and gin and lychee, and the chilli margarita and espresso martini much loved. Customers also like the gin and tonic pairings as they take the guesswork out of ordering.

Anyone who’s visited Lime may notice something else that’s still going strong, and that’s the music. “Yes, we love retro. Stevie Nicks, Tom Jones, the Stones, Dr Hook, Kenny Rodgers, Neil Diamond. It’s the stuff we all grew up on, it takes people back. It’s fun, unpretentious.”

At just 33sqm, peak hours can be a bit of a squish. “We like to call ourselves ‘fun-sized’, but a bit of a tight squeeze never hurt anyone,” says Kevin.

While still doing well as a late night joint (the bar is licensed to 3am), Kevin says one change he’s noticed in recent years is people going out earlier. A popular spot for a pre- or post-dinner drink, the warmer months see the bar become a suntrap, with many a group enjoying a cocktail in the late afternoon sun.

Older customers will remember Sumo, Rob, Dave and Selena from the early days, but there are younger faces who’ve added an essential layer to Lime’s character more recently. Kevin’s son George ticked the intergenerational box and brought fresh enthusiasm to the family business, with Brit Tom and American Olivia currently doing Lime proud.

So what of the 25th birthday? Kevin says he and wife Alex are planning a party in late January and are looking forward to celebrating with their many customers, friends and staff from over the years. With big plans but a very small footprint, neighbours Ponsonby Road Bistro have agreed to help co-host.

Will Kevin still be here in another 25 years? “I hope not,” he laughs. “But if people still want those classics, then Lime may still be here.”

Open Monday-Thursday from 4pm & Friday-Saturday from 2pm.

Lime Bar, 167 Ponsonby Road, @lime.ponsonby

Pictured above: Tom, Kevin and Olivia.

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Published: February 2024