More Flame: Owners Lou McDowell and Jonathan Bisley at their expanded new Flame Bar & Grill premises, opening on Friday


A bit like ageing its trademark steaks, it’s taken time for Queenstown’s popular Flame Bar & Grill to find larger premises.

But, after a seven-month fitout, interrupted by the Covid-19 lockdown, it’s finally moving across Beach Street to the Steamer Wharf complex this Friday.

Between the owners, Lou McDowell and Jonathan Bisley, and their landlords, the fitout of Darby Partners’ former upstairs offices has cost millions of dollars.

The couple – who bought Flame in 2016 – originally intended developing their present two-level restaurant in a bid for more space.

But at Steamer Wharf they’re able to double seating capacity to 150, including bar seats, and get oodles more window space to make the most of the amazing views.

“It was called Flame Bar & Grill but there wasn’t really a bar, other than to make drinks,” McDowell says.

Now, patrons will be able to eat at the bar, as well as use it for pre-dinner drinks/snacks and cocktails afterwards.

Features include a corner skylight, two dining rooms apart from the main floor area and a dedicated takeaway area.

There’s a large open-plan kitchen from which diners will be able to see leaping flames.

With the extra space, handy for storing tons of steaks, ribs and basting sauce, there’s also room for bread-making.

The problem of smoke pollution from the current premises will also be remedied by “a really sophisticated electrostatic system on the roof”, Bisley explains.

The couple say the biggest issue has been retaining existing well-loved features so regulars don’t feel put out.

Like all business owners around the traps, the Covid-19 crisis and border restrictions were hard for them to swallow.

“But you say this is just a point in time,” Bisleys says.

“We’ve all just got to do a better job, I guess.

“Through the whole lockdown, we spent our time developing new products in preparation for all of this.”

That includes offering their famous spare ribs for people who want to cook them at home.

At this stage, they’ve cut back opening times to five nights and three lunchtimes a week, “but we’re taking it week by week”, McDowell says.