The day The World burned

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If you didn’t hear, see, or smell the destruction, The World Bar was hit with one of the biggest commercial fires Queenstown has ever seen. 

It took our beloved venue after 16 years of much hard work, love, lovemaking, break-ups, break dancing, live music and often forgotten good times. But before we get sentimental, let’s take you back to before the shit really hit the fan … 

Most Fridays have that air of relief – a calm before the weekend storm. An excitement perhaps? Ours somewhat started with a storm and had relatively little calm.  

We were all in good spirits, planning for what ought to be an incredible winter season when a certain smell permeated through the building. It’s a tricky smell to describe, but it’s a smell you know that 1) doesn’t smell good and 2) you shouldn’t be smelling. 

We check the kitchen. It’s all okay but our two little master chefs say staff from downstairs ran up and grabbed our fire extinguisher. Not the best news but it happened a few days earlier and all turned out fine. Then 30 seconds later the fire alarm sounds. Thank God it wasn’t 1am and 220 people were having the time of their lives! 

Trying to describe what was going on to our legendary Nepalese cleaner with limited English proved interesting but the universal art of ‘point and shout’ worked a treat. She calmly grabbed her scarf, jacket and glasses before cruising out with us. Savvy move. 

I look back just as the Back Bar and kitchen were getting smoky, but at least the kitchen boys cut our gas supply. Heroes. 

Out front of the bar for almost the last time (sob), I meet the manager from downstairs who was upset but holding strong. The poor girl battled the blaze like a machine but it was too late. 

Through the front doors you could see flames lapping up out of the fryer. That was when we realise the downstairs chef isn’t out. Surely he will appear shortly through the bar. No sign. Still … no sign. Bloody hell. 

Luckily the fire hadn’t reached upstairs yet, just smoke. I run back in and there he is at the bottom of the stairs cursing and seemingly happy with his location 10 metres from the fire. A few choice words and he’s slowly lumbering out of the bar. 

The fire engine and crew do an epic job racing to the scene despite several false alarms and drills they’ve responded to during the recent remodelling of the building. They’re unloading fast but it feels like a lifetime to get water into the building. But any time is a long time to watch your pride and joy disappear. 

It’s strangely voyeuristic seeing fire grow and decimate all in its path, a destructive light spreading. 

?Smoke begins to pour out the front. A crowd is growing. Friends arrive. Staff race to town as word spreads. 

Waves of emotion are inevitable but the overwhelming love and support from literally hundreds of amazing people is consuming. 

Seeing your staff mortified at their work place going up in flames really is gut-wrenching. It was their labour of love too and they are proud to have worked there. 

We all know how this ended. We’re down but we’re not out. We’re already planning the stages of our revival. 

So keep your eyes peeled. We may appear when and where you least expect.  

Gary Livesey is The World Bar general manager