Bunker reimagined: The Bunker chef and shareholder Ben Norfolk, left, with owner Cam Mitchell


One of Queenstown’s most iconic restaurants reopened late last week after a six-month, $1.5 million revamp, which has future-proofed it for the next 50 years.

Cow Lane’s The Bunker — which will celebrate its 25th birthday next year — has been ‘‘reimagined’’, owner Cam Mitchell says, and feedback so far is ‘‘we’ve just created more of
a good thing’’.

Mitchell says the project started because his wife hated the toilets of the ground-level fine-dining restaurant, and his chef and shareholder, Ben Norfolk, wanted a bigger kitchen.

‘‘It came to the point of doing it and we thought, ‘bugger it. If we’re going to do that, we may as well make the whole thing bigger’.’’

The Bunker took over a tenancy in The Mall it backed on to — formerly home to Mall Mania — subletting the front 50 metres to Arthur’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop.

The remaining 70-odd square metres has been used to, essentially, double The Bunker in size.

B V Builders started work on the building, which dates back to at least the ’60s, in May, with the project getting more complicated by the day, Mitchell says.

‘‘We’ve had everything from asbestos to sinkholes, to having to put structural steel in to support the building.

‘‘We’ve had to rewire completely … we had to completely rip up the foundation of an entire half of the building because the plumbing was so old, reinstate everything and build a new foundation.

‘‘We’ve had to basically do everything under the sun to correct the building before we could get in and do the fit-out.’’

He’s in awe of the construction team and takes his hat off to company boss Ben Van Tuyl and his team.

‘‘We’ve just come up against so much, and they’ve been sensational — they always had a solution, nothing was a problem, they’ve been great all the way through.

‘‘Their workmanship has been phenomenal.’’

Mitchell says the kitchen and bar were ripped out and relocated, and there’s also a new entranceway, wine room, and stairwell linking to the upstairs bar, along with two separate
dining areas, where dining capacity has tripled, to about 80, and a second fireplace.

The new bath room is one of the areas featuring some ‘‘very expensive’’ wallpaper —
‘‘$15,000 for 40 metres’’ — imported from Italy.

The finished product also features some historic finds, including an old brass floor safe which was buried in the concrete.

It’s been cleaned up and will be used as a time capsule, being placed back in the floor as a feature.

Despite the refresh, Mitchell says the intimacy the original restaurant offered hasn’t been lost.

‘‘It’s just got a bit of a facelift, but the feeling is the same.

‘‘We’ve put the old, red sofa back in from years ago — we found that in someone’s  basement, we lost track of it, so we’ve had that reupholstered and rejuvenated, so that’s back in front of the fire.’’

Along with the increased capacity, which means larger, more vibrant, groups can be catered to, the expansion’s also enabling the downstairs restaurant to provide a ‘‘little bit more
sophisticated’’ late-night experience.

The larger kitchen means the menu’s also been expanded, Mitchell says.

‘‘[That’s] enabling us to do things that we never could before, like a whole duck, lamb shoulder, Tomahawk steak for two.

‘‘It’s everything it was before, just elevated to the next level.’’

Mitchell says they made the decision to crack on with the project ‘‘before we knew how bad it was going to get’’ in Queenstown, particularly since the second lockdown in August started.

‘‘There was always a risk, but as it turns out, it was probably the best time to do it because we haven’t really been missing much.’’

The Bunker Restaurant and Bar officially reopened its doors last Saturday.