Auckland’s lost nights, rediscovered

Over the lockdown period, thousands of people joined a Facebook group dedicated to remembering the nightlife of inner-city Auckland. Its creator Simon Grigg explains why it touched a chord in lockdown.

Within a few days of The Lost Nightlife of Inner-city Auckland Facebook page accidentally going live on May 12, we had several thousand members, countless photographs, posters, memories and a litany of people just saying “who remembers [insert club or bar name]?”. I’d essentially lost all my spare time and was wondering what on earth I’d done. Then we had a post from someone calling himself Wano Ma. I quickly worked out that Wano Ma was someone I knew, but not well, called Wayne. I’d not seen Wayne in more than 20 years and he’d never wronged me, as far as I knew, aside from perhaps the odd nicked drink at one of the clubs I was once involved in. However, Wayne was well known as problematic and his 420-word mea-culpa began thus:

“During the 80s and 90s, I was responsible for harming many innocent people who today celebrate their shared past on this FB page. My dishonesty, cowardice and selfishness caused suffering, pain and inconvenience to many who regarded me as a friend or someone they could trust.”

The response was immediate, stretching to over 600 likes/loves and mostly generous comments. I understood then that I’d inadvertently created something, a place where people could reflect on, celebrate and enjoy parts of their lives that were important to them for whatever reason. For Wayne, it was a cleansing and that perhaps spoke to the universality of the positivity in the remembrance I was seeing across LNL (let’s call it that).

As I said, LNL was accidental (almost) and as such seems to fit a lifelong pattern: I’ve accidentally helped form bands, accidentally started record labels, accidentally became a DJ and so on. This time I had an idea a few months back that, with my AudioCulture hat slightly on but a little askew, I’d try and see what images and memories there were among those who’d inhabited clubland in the last few decades of the 20th century. The timing seemed right too, given that most of us were locked into a surreal, virus-enforced seclusion – exactly the opposite of going out to listen to music or dance with friends, although I suspect a few people passed the nights by doing exactly that at home (I know my partner Brigid and I did). So I created the page and let it sit. The name was adapted from a Wellington group, but I added time and geographical constraints that fitted more with my times and place.

I talked with Chris Bourke, my successor at AudioCulture, and he was somewhat supportive but warned that it might subsume me. I’d inadvertently linked it to the AudioCulture Facebook page and on May 12, I woke up and noticed that 10 people had followed the page.

That day, I invited some 100 people I knew to the group and said “post away and feel free to invite”.

LNL passed 900 members four days later, 10,000 members nine days after that, and 15,000 members on June 1. At the time of writing, we’ve had 537,000 posts and comments of which 5,500 are standalone posts.

I knew it needed a broad scope – it couldn’t have any kind of coolness barrier. As the numbers grew,  so did the people messaging me asking how we stop “them” from posting their memories of Park In The Bar or Grapes. But “them” was always us. And anyway, for me personally, creating AudioCulture had excised and demolished most of these silly barriers. The fact is that the group is/was all of us – and every weekend night thousands of us gathered and intermeshed, usually harmlessly, in the streets, lanes and precincts of Auckland’s CBD. For much of the 90s, driving a car up High Street between 11pm and 3am was almost impossible.

There was also a manifest racial diversity, particularly from around 1984 onwards, which was why I really liked Marisa Fong’s post. Marisa is a longtime friend and husband to Simon Laan, aka Nick D’Angelo, who’s contributed substantially to both Auckland nightlife and this group (somewhere, someone will have the pics of Marisa in her wedding dress at Retro in Cause Celebre). “I love seeing these photos,” she wrote, “but what’s really striking is the diversity and it’s not contrived… or am I just remembering things through rose-tinted glasses?”

This was in part why I created a seemingly arbitrary end point of 31 December 2000. That’s more or less when I saw the diversity fading, and the crowds dividing again into house music clubs and hip-hop/RnB clubs. Even George FM, once all-embracing, created a second “urban” brand called Base FM. That line didn’t seem to exist prior to then.

Rose tinted? It doesn’t look like it. The melding of cultures and everything else was real and changed almost everyone in the scene for the better. We all felt, mostly subconsciously, that we were a part of a family, one that gave us things like Planet magazine and diverse dancefloors.

Every generation thinks they’re the special ones, the lucky ones, but I’m going to raise my hand a little and say with some pride that for a few years, we were a large and extraordinary whānau, and that thousands, of us clearly still feel that way today and will forever. LNL hit that nerve.

But to the photographs: one of the points of this whole caboodle. There are some extraordinary images, many of them very low-res and taken on whatever camera, often disposable, was at hand. Some are more professional but I’ve chosen a mix that makes me smile and, yes, a little emotional.

Photo: Brigid Grigg-Eyley

This is one of my partner Brigid’s photos. I guess I’m biased but shots like this of Anthony Brown at DKD have such an incredible eye. We – as in Peter Urlich, Mark Phillips and I – used to spend half our days at DKD plotting in the mid-1980s.

Photo: Marty Yates

I asked if anyone had any photos of the great Melba on the corner of Courthouse Lane and Chancery Lane (which also held the great Le Brie). Melba was one of the restaurants that defined the long lunch and used to stretch into the early hours, all fuelled by the cheapest champagne in the world. Horribly, this wonderful building was demolished with a council permit in the 80s frenzy that destroyed much of Auckland.

Photo: Simon Grigg

I took this at The Playground in Nelson Street in early 1988. The DJ is Roger Perry, one of the most talented DJs I’ve ever worked with, and a man who went on to make several club classics in his own right as an artist. People are looking up at the giant screen which used to play cartoons and Max Headroom. You could, if you wanted (and we did now and then), mix the film soundtrack into the dancefloor audio.

Photo contributed by Joe Blows, an old friend under a new name.

This is Kevin the Hat, possibly the most famous and beloved cocktail barman in clubland and proprietor of the infamous Dean Martini Club (the rulebook is on the group page) which was first at Le Bom in Nelson Street and then here in Anzac Ave’s Station Hotel. This Christmas card features Kev’s assistant, the always trusty and equally loved Ron.

Photo: Darryl Ward

Rosie, who passed away in the 2000s in Sydney, with Time Sulusi. I miss Rose every single day despite the years. These two gentle souls were part of Cause Celebre/The Box’s door team and, along with the DJs, were the anchors of the club. It was said that Rose could look anyone in the eye and know whether they belonged. Tim was much the same.

These two members of our family, along with the other great doorman (never “bouncers” or security), disarmed countless situations with a smile. Timmy is also a fine DJ in his own right. This photo was taken in the kitchen of Cause Celebre.

Photo: Simon Young

This photo features two people we’ve lost. I cried when I saw it. Jason, on the left, is still with us. But Michael, who was simply everywhere for a while, died unexpectedly while working on a band’s vehicle, and Darren, Jason’s brother who passed away in the 2000s, are not.

Photo: Laurie Pearson

Alfies! Alfies and De Bretts anchored the lower end of High Street for years. De Bretts was simply the best pub in the city and Alfies was the gay club that was home to everyone, even if they were ever so slightly under the drinking age. I remember the cops were terrified of co-owner Tony Katavich who took no prisoners at the club owners’ meetings the cops would regularly hold. This picture says so much.

Photo: Supplied

Finally one from my collection, via Phil Warren. 1987 backstage at The Galaxy.



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