Dunedin's iconic student haunt Starters Bar closes, citing health and safety concerns

The Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) has shut the doors of the iconic Starters Bar, citing health and safety concerns.

It's the latest scarfie haunt to go dark. Both The Bowler and The Gardies were bought by the University of Otago but were later shut. Additionally, the Captain Cook Hotel was closed, then reopened as a gastropub, before shutting again.

Starters Bar has been part of Dunedin's bar and live music scene for decades. Bought by OUSA in 2018 as a safe space for students to socialise, it's now decided to shut the bar.

"We were obviously really gutted to announce that we wouldn't reopen. We took lockdown to review building reports that we had, and ultimately had to make the decision just purely based off health and safety," says OUSA president Michaela Waite-Harvey.

Police say they would rather students were drinking and enjoying music inside controlled licensed premises rather than out on the street.

"There's no controls on the street, there's no limits to alcohol they can drink, there's no limits to intoxication, whatever goes on in the street. We don't get those inside licensed premises," says Sergeant Ian Paulin of the Alcohol Harm Prevention Unit.

These venues have also hosted thousands of bands over the years, from legends like The Chills through to up-and-coming local artists.

Sound engineer David Bennett is leading a campaign to save live music in Dunedin and he's keen to work with Dunedin City Council on an action plan.

"We have a few small dedicated venues in town that are pulling a really heavy load, doing a lot of the gigs. But losing venues like Starters really cuts deep," he says.

Meanwhile, Starters Bar's property manager Eric Johnson says it may not be the final chapter for the last student pub.

"Well that's probably a wee bit premature. Basically what's happened is the OUSA have decided not to continue with their lease, but that doesn't mean that the bar's closing for good," he says.

And with earthquake strengthening work being planned, there’s still a chance a new operator could take over this iconic Dunedin venue.