“Take risks… and trust your instincts” is what bar and restaurant owner, Hugo Baird, had to say about working in the hospitality industry.

Hugo has successfully opened a number of cafes, bars and restaurants - most recently, Hotel Ponsonby, a “bar, bistro, beer garden” situated on Ponsonby Road in Auckland, New Zealand. Hotel Ponsonby exists in the iconic Post Office building and has quickly become one of the most popular spots in the city.

We recently spoke with Hugo about his biggest learning curves, sources of inspiration and his non-negotiables when it comes to designing a hospitality space.

GW: What's the best thing about working in hospitality?

HB: Getting to meet, and build friendships with interesting people, from all walks of life who you probably wouldn't otherwise cross paths with.

GW: You’ve successfully opened a number of cafes, restaurants & bars in the last few years. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?

HB: I’ve learnt a lot through each of the openings, as they all threw up unique challenges. But something you need to do with any new venture is take risks (within reason and based on your personal circumstance) and trust your instincts - almost everybody I knew in the industry told me not to take the Hotel Ponsonby lease, everybody thought it was a cursed spot. Even though it came with a huge amount of risk, I was fairly confident that it just needed the right offering for the area. I don’t regret going with my gut!


GW: When it came to designing the fit-out for Hotel Ponsonby, where did the inspiration come from? What were your non-negotiables?

HB: Inspiration came from a variety of places, but the main premise was to open a pub akin to those overseas, where you have different vibes and spaces within the one operation, and those spaces appeal to a wide audience, not just to one specific crowd. I like the idea of bringing lots of different personalities and characters of all ages together, and everyone getting along like a house on fire. I was also keen to do something a little more elevated than what the general perception of Kiwi pubs is. My non negotiable's were and are: Do something different from the norm from a design sense, and don’t skimp out on the small details.


GW:  What are you most proud of in terms of the space you’ve created?

HB: I suppose the following it has, and the atmosphere on any given night, when its packed with punters of all shapes and sizes.


GW: Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

HB: You can’t please them all (although you try, it saves you a lot of stress and self doubt).


GW: Favorite dish on the menu?

HB: Scotch Egg!


GW: What’s on the Hotel Ponsonby playlist at the moment?

HB: Maribou State, Mayer Hawthorne, a few old school bangers. Keeps the punters happy.


You can find Hugo and Hotel Ponsonby at 1 St Mary's Bay Road, St Mary's Bay, Auckland, New Zealand.


All images credited to Jono Parker.

George Wilkins