Remember The Dux

It was with no small measure of dismay that I read recently of the decision by The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora to not reinstate one of their buildings, namely the iconic venue, restaurant and meeting place, The Dux de Lux.

Dux de Lux courtyard, 1996, CCL-StarP-03296A Copyright Christchurch Star.

Instead the plan was to put some strengthening in place and leave it as it has been these last 11 years since the quakes - fenced off and dilapidated. Sad and silent on the corner of Hereford and Montreal Streets (a fundraising campaign to repair the building will be launched later this year but $12 million is a lot and who knows whether it will be successful - but fingers crossed).

For those of us who remember the Dux in its hey-day the mothballing plan prompted feelings of loss and frustration, but also nostalgia. If you never spent more evenings than you'd care to recall in a corner of the Dux courtyard it's perhaps hard to understand what a signficant place it was and the place it holds in the hearts of its former patrons.

History of the building

The Dux started life as the rather fancy home of a local merchant, John Lewis, and was designed by Dunedin architect Francis William Petre. At this time it was called "Llanmaes" which is Welsh for 'the church in the meadow'. In 1926 it was sold to the University of Canterbury and by 1929 it was in use as the Students Association building.

Llanmaes, corner of Hereford and Montreal Streets, 1920 CCL-KPCD16-0019 No known copyright

In the 1970s the University moved from its central city location out to Ilam and the building, along with the rest of the former University buildings took on a second life as a thriving Arts Centre. Perhaps as a nod to its assocation with scholarship, the restaurant and bar opened in 1978 and was named "Dux de Lux", Latin for ‘Masters of the Finest’.

The Dux opened as a vegetarian restaurant, with occasional bands, then expanded into what had been the “lower Common Room”, opening a bar.

Christchurch's iconic venue and meeting place

The word "iconic" is perhaps overused sometimes, but it's no exaggeration to say that the Dux held a special place in the Christchurch music and social scene. Countless local bands cut their teeth performing in its sweaty, smoke-filled confines and their New Year's Eve gigs were the place to be with bands like Salmonella Dub, The Muttonbirds, Shihad and Fat Freddys Drop performing. 

It also somehow managed to be several different venues at once, with a sports bar at one end, a slightly seedy live music bar at the other, a vegetarian and seafood restaurant wedged in the middle, and a chilled out lounge bar with a pool table upstairs (formerly the Upper Common Room). On any given evening you might be there to watch the rugby, attend a private function, or dance (or more likely stand with your arms crossed, nodding arhythmically) to a local band.

Interior view of the salad bar with customers at Dux de Lux vegetarian restaurant, Worcester Boulevard, 1982, CCL-StarP-01523A Copyright Christchurch Star.

My own experiences at the Dux covered most of these, but my favourite sort of Dux evening was when you rocked up and just chatted with whomever happened to be in the courtyard at the time, scooching across on a picnic table seat next to a tall gas heater while eating wedges and sour cream, and downing a few pints Ginger Tom or Blue Duck lager. The appeal of the Dux was often just that it was a sort of nexus for cool and non-cool people alike. If there was anywhere you'd be likely to bump into someone you knew, it would be there.

Post-quake the Dux moved to a gritty concrete bar beside the railway line in Lincoln Road, with the restaurant reimagined as Dux Dine on Riccarton Road. Later the venue moved to its current place in Poplar Lane, but none of these places could truly be said to capture the magic of the old Arts Centre watering hole.

Dux reminiscences

In talking with people about the continued disrepair of this beloved venue it seemed that everyone had a story about it. Some people met their future spouse there. Others saw amazing bands. No one yet has admitted to being in the music video for The Dance Exponents' "Victoria" though some of it was filmed there.

My own stories are fairly tame. There was the time the mother of the lead singer of a local band decided that I needed to go and buy her a pack of cigarettes from the machine in the hallway so that she wouldn't miss any of her son's performance (also, she was on crutches), only she didn't give me enough money so my act of kindness ended up with me out of pocket.

Or the time my cousin's band was playing the always popular (and ticketed) new year's concert and he'd made a point of putting my name on the doorlist but when I got there I didn't know which entrance to use, came through the Hereford Street side door, cut through the restaurant and suddenly found myself in the courtyard in the thick of the gig without a single interaction with security nor need for a ticket!

There was the senior gent who always seemed to turn up to see the bands and practically had his own spot on the dance floor.

We want you... to tell us your Dux stories

These memories and more make up the rich history of the Dux and we want to collect more.

We have only a few photos of the building in our collection and none that really capture the live music and social side of the venue. Did you have a birthday party in the function room upstairs? Was your friend in a band that played there? If you took photos we'd love you to donate them to our digital collection. But also we'd love to hear YOUR stories of the Dux. Who did you hang out there with? Which bands did you see? Did you also love the wedges? Were you there the night the band Clowndog threw soy sausages into the crowd?

If you have images to share you can:

No photos but lots of memories?

Let's #RememberTheDux.

More Dux photos on Canterbury Stories

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