Raised from the rubble of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake, the Cabana – then called the Empire Hotel – was designed in Spanish Mission/Art Deco style by leading architects Finch and Westorholm. It was the first Napier hotel to be rebuilt after the quake, carrying on a tradition that has seen a hotel standing on the site for 150 years.

In 1955 the Empire became Hotel Cabana. New owners Claude and Melva Walker named it after their successful racehorse “Lady Cabana”.

1955 was also the year that rock’n’roll swept through New Zealand. With bands playing regularly the Cabana struck a chord, and it developed into one of New Zealand’s finest rock venues.

In 1965, as popularity grew, a new “Band Bar” was built on the vacant land next door. This long, rectangular, brick hall with a low ceiling was perfect for hosting music. Soon the Cabana was the first hotel in Hawke’s Bay to boast live music “six nights a week”. The patrons during this period were an eclectic bunch, with sailors from around the globe visiting from the nearby Port.

Dick Kellett became the Cabana’s new publican in 1972. Dick soon tired of the shuffling rhythm of the local bands. He gave a residency to a young touring band from Wellington, the Fifth Movement. They morphed over the years – with many name changes and line-ups – into New Wave rockers Mi-Sex.

Word spread quickly, and Hotel Cabana soon gained a reputation as “the best gig in the country”. Regardless of who was playing, the crowds would pack in every night for the next 20 years.

In 1974 the legendary Charlie Morrison took over. This welcoming, middle-aged Yorkshire lass nurtured the New Zealand music scene with her own special passion and flare, taking the Cabana through the heydays of the 1970s and ’80s. For many, Charlie was New Zealand’s First Lady of Rock.

All who have passed through the Cabana – patrons, publicans and musicians alike – have an abundance of memories. Jam-packed nights with ceilings that dripped sweat and nicotine: the Cabana was more Rock ‘n’ Roll than the phrase itself. It has “music in the walls”.

The Band Bar closed in 1997, with a final gig by The Muttonbirds.

Now the Cabana rises again!

Hotel Cabana - Thru the Decades