Story: Nightclubs

From the glamorous cabarets of the 1920s to the rough-and-ready punk venues of the 1970s, nightclubs have long been a fixture of New Zealand city life – a place for people to socialise, parade in fashionable attire and strut their stuff on the dance floor.

Story by Redmer Yska
Main image: Dancing at the Staircase nightclub, Auckland, early 2000s

Story summary

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19th-century dancing

Dancing was a popular leisure activity in the 19th century, but it was banned in some hotels in the mid-1860s, and in pubs across the country in 1881. Laws kept dancing and alcohol largely separate until the 1960s.

Cabarets and first nightclubs

In the 1920s people danced to jazz bands at late-night cabarets, including the Winter Garden in Christchurch and the huge, luxurious Dixieland in Auckland. Cabarets did not sell alcohol – but it was sometimes smuggled in. Some people saw cabarets as a sign of moral decay.

Private nightclubs where members and their friends could drink were set up in the 1930s. However, the police sometimes raided nightclubs over alcohol sales.

US servicemen in New Zealand during the Second World War partied in cabarets in Auckland and Wellington.

Loosening up

In the 1950s rock ’n’ roll began to be played in dance halls, cabarets, coffee bars and nightclubs. In the 1960s liquor licensing laws became more liberal and many nightclubs opened. Marijuana use also became more common.

Nightclub boom

Liquor laws continued to become looser – from 1971 licensed cabarets could serve alcohol until 3 a.m. or later, and from 1989 alcohol could be sold round the clock.

Many nightclubs opened, each with its own style of music, décor, patrons and dress – from discos and grungy punk venues to gay nightclubs and slick clubs with laser light shows. In the 1990s there was an explosion in dance music and DJ culture, with ‘raves’ held in warehouses and forests.

Strip clubs

New Zealand’s first strip clubs – where an audience watches performers take off their clothes – opened in the 1960s. They included the Purple Onion and Le Balcon in Wellington, and the Pink Pussycat in Auckland. Strippers in clubs were female or transgender, but from the 1980s groups of male strippers also toured the country. In the 2000s strip clubs ranged from huge, expensive establishments, some of which included brothels, to grungy dives in back streets.

How to cite this page:

Redmer Yska, 'Nightclubs', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 July 2024)

Story by Redmer Yska, published 5 September 2013