The Matterhorn story is an oral history, gleaned from the multitude of people passing through our ubiquitous swing doors at the end of a long corridor on Cuba St - history based on hearsay, gossip, intrigue and the occasional late night lie.
Established on Cuba Street in 1963 by two Swiss brothers, Matterhorn started life as a purpose-built café in a modernist building. It was a time in New Zealand when liquor ceased to be sold after 6pm with very few places to meet respectable society in public. Matterhorn, it must be said, was Very Continental.
Right from the early days it was a special-kind-of-place. Featuring authentic Swiss maids in full outfits, on the menu was a melting pot [fondue anyone?] which included strong filter coffee [then hard-to-find as The Espresso arrived in the mid-80's], club sandwiches, asparagus rolls, stroganoff, sausages and sauerkraut, mince on toast, Swiss pastries and rolled pancakes with lashings of cream.
There are many stories and we want to hear more . . . legend has it that a contingent of the culturally starved Swiss Embassy attended the official opening night of the Matterhorn, the party swinging until after midnight with the Ambassador doing dishes into the wee hours / the ex-cons in the old junk yard top of Cuba St tell that trafficking was commonplace, with baggies left behind camellia trees and pot plants / we've heard of 21st parties of the 60's rich having run of the place well into the night, a sign of your coming of age being if you could finish the massive Matterhorn platter of schnitzel and pickles.
Just plain weird stuff really.
Naturally, the place quickly became a Wellington institution; on Saturdays it was the perfect place to stop off with the kids or grandchildren after a visit to the nearby Farmer's department store, queues sometimes stretching down the corridor and onto Cuba St. When one of the brothers passed away, the other returned to the homeland and the business was sold to another Swiss gentleman, Mr. George Stuck. An amateur cameraman, Stucki stuck out his long lens every moment he had between the mince and slushy machines; you can discover a copy of his Super-8 film 'A day-in-the-life-at-Matterhorn' at the NZ Film Archive - www.filmarchive.org.nz (Film Archive, Wellington 2002.2915).
Elements of the café's interior design, such as a large-scale photographic portrait of the Matterhorn peak and the courtyard still remain in evidence from this period. In the early 80's, the Matterhorn was sold to a Polish family, the Lepionkas, who heralded in the era of The Lamington. The business enjoyed continued success and even assisted the family's son, Stefan, into an orange juice business under his own name [Stefan now runs the publicity loving 'Charlie' brand].
Iconic, Retro, Kiwi Kitsch . . . this is what The Old People usually conjure up when the Matterhorn is wistfully mentioned at a dinner party in Karori, Wadestown or Miramar. Yet Matterhorn has very rarely been 'retro' - invariable it has continued a path up with the times as a contemporary café. It's only fall from grace was in 1995, when it was sold again to a Greek family. Already in disrepair, and slowly fading out of vogue during the booming glam espresso-oriented environment of the 80's, Matterhorn slipped away from the public's imagination and taste.
However, fate intervened in 1996 when the rouge incendiary device by the name of Mr. Allistar Cox [a Young Turk who was never quite 'understood' by Massey's Design School . . . ], spotted an opportunity through the smoke and haze. With Mark Healey and Adam Powell, a successful pitch was made to two young entrepreneurs, Leon Surynt and Tim Ward, and a year later Matterhorn was transformed into the country's first boutique cocktail bar for contemporary young New Zealanders.
Tim moved on in 1999, and in 2000 Sam Chapman stepped into the frame, picking up the spirit and vision and running for touch. Mixing good taste in beverage and food with good fun, Matterhorn once again became a Wellington institution - this time the twist being as a late night haunt jumping to the best music [whatever the genre] by local and international musicians and Djs. After the legendary Gathering (1998), Matterhorn hosted the first ever Welli outing of the band that was to become Fat Freddy's Drop. A few years later, a more infamous session was held by the purveyors of hi-tek soul, who released Live At The Matterhorn on CD, becoming the first NZ Indi crew to achieve gold sales status purely through word of mouth.
In April 2002 The Matterhorn closed its doors to undergo major restructuring. With Allistar Cox back at the design helm, Matterhorn evolved into a refined Eatinghouse, specialist cocktail and wine bar with a modernist style that pays homage to the institutions origins. That year, fresh from running Melbourne's infamous Honky Tonks and possessing an olfactory system that defies nature, Christian McCabe joined the partnership and set the bar for innovative drink design. Finally, the circle was complete in 2006 when Adán Tijerina, a long-standing soldier in the Matterhorn trenches stepped up to take the role of Director made vacant by Leon’s sabbatical in Oz and the Middle East . . .
Throughout the years Matterhorn has hosted everyday people with attitude that outshines any attire or ego. These are the people who we value most.