It was over a decade ago that Mic Dover and Eelco Boswijk started talking about creating their own pub.
Back then, New Zealand’s craft brewing industry was still in its infancy, but the pair knew that they could be onto something. They had been running popular “Beer Fetes” in Nelson, so knew there was a taste for it.
“We were just lamenting the lack of good quality beer here,” says Eelco. “Then, there were very few places you could get a craft beer in Nelson.”
Then an old church on Collingwood St came on the market. It seemed like a sign.
So, in April 2009, The Free House first opened. On Sunday that pub marked its 10th birthday with an open invite to the community to come and celebrate the history of what is now a beer institution.
“We hoped it would be a ten-year project but at the start it was day to day,” says Eelco. “We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we had to try.”
When it first started there were five partners, including Eelco and Mic. Then, slowly, Eelco and his wife Ali bought out the others before becoming the sole owners in 2016.
When they opened The Free House there were only three outside tables with no signage for three years, relying on word of mouth to spread the buzz about a pub serving fantastic craft beers.
Now, they have expanded into a car yard next door, and built a beer garden and seating area.
“We now have one of the very few greenspaces in the whole CBD,” Eelco says.
The Free House even has a record store, after Eelco was approached by Grant Smithies to open one up in an old office.
Eelco says they could not have been in existence if it wasn’t for the support of locals.
“It’s just nice to be part of the community.”
He says there are more plans to change the pub on the horizon.
“You need to keep it relevant. Once you sit back and take it for granted, that’s when things start to dry up.”
During all Sunday afternoon, people would come up to Eelco and say “happy birthday”. And that is something he and Ali can definitely toast to.