It’s a Saturday night and instead of peeling my shoes off of a sticky bar floor, I’m heading over to a dining table to watch a group of girls down RTDs and play competitive UNO. 

The music doesn’t make my ears ring and everyone I’m surrounded by is a friend or a friend-of-a-friend. I feel safe, comfortable and ready to have a good time. 

The deeper I get into my twenties, the more I appreciate flat parties and the less appealing I find clubbing. 

I’m not alone in this. 

Tom Smith is a big proponent of flat parties. 

“I love playing host and showing people my house,” the 23-year-old university student says.

At his old flat on Millward St in Wellington’s Newtown, Tom hosted a trilogy of parties.

The first party was called ‘Millward Madness’ and was held during flatwarming season. 

“During your second and third year of uni, everyone is getting into new flats and there’s a party every weekend.”

Prep is important. The day of the party is spent cleaning, packing away valuables, carving out a dance floor area and sorting out playlists. 

Tom cares a lot about lighting and insists red New World bags should be tied over the living room light for moody ambience. 

Gavin Bishop, on the other hand, cares a lot about getting his guests to dance. 

A university student in Christchurch, Gavin is an avid party-thrower, having hosted 10 parties in 2022 and 11 parties so far in 2023. 

“There’s some parties where everyone is bored and so they drink. But if you provide a fun environment, their only option isn’t just to drink,” he says. 

A dark living room, $12 strobe lights from AliExpress and a heavy duty speaker is Gavin’s recipe for success. 

He provides enough snacks “to make the hangry people stay” and keeps the food table out of sight from the dance floor so the snackers won’t make the dancers self conscious by staring at them. 

The most common reason Gavin’s flat throws a party is if one of them pulls a ‘red card’. 

The concept is most popular with students from Dunedin, where each flatmate has an imaginary ‘red card’ that they can ‘pull’ any day during the year. Everyone else must drop their plans and participate in whatever activity their flatmate chooses. 

One of Gavin’s flatmates hosted a kindergarten-themed red card, with Jump Jam, Bullrush, dodgeball and a quiz. Alcohol was consumed with every challenge. 

His flatmate acted as the principal, eliminating a person after each activity - and there was even a dance-off at one point. 

Red card days often involve a lot of drinking - which Gavin doesn’t advocate - and usually ends with a night of partying.

It's liberating for young people to freely party on our own terms. We can control the environment, the people, the food, the alcohol and even the clothes we wear. 

At flat parties, you don’t have to dress formally, Gavin says, but it’s a requirement for Christchurch town. 

“It’s also very gendered … like guys have to wear long pants.”

Tom’s flat had a lot of fun hosting Millward Madness and no longer felt like they needed an excuse to throw a party. 

‘Millward Madness: the second one’ was held later on in the same year. 

Their third flat party ‘Millward Ball’ was a formal-themed event where everyone showed up in suits and gowns. 

Inviting drunk guests into your home can turn messy and Tom has a permanent chewing gum stain on his Egyptian cotton bed sheets to prove it. 

But he doesn’t mind. 

He would rather be crammed in a nook of someone’s hallway than be crammed in a corner of Red Square Bar. 

When Tom first moved to Wellington for university, going to town was an “adventure” and “a way to flex your new adulthood”. 

Clubbing was accessible and predictable, becoming the default plan for empty Saturday nights. 

But it can also feel like an unpersonalised partying experience which can make someone feel like a little fish in a crowded, thumping sea. 

“You’re not a ‘guest’ in town. You’re an intruder, an interloper,” Tom says. 

Loud music at night clubs makes it hard to start conversations. 

“I don’t wanna smoke but I'll go to this break out room just to talk,” says Tom, who finds the only way he can socialise at a club is by stepping out of it. 

Going out to town for drinks is also expensive. The 23-year-old says he could drink better liquor at home for less money.

He worked in a pub for two years and says $10 jugs of beer are a thing of the past.

Now, Tom says he either opts for a box of 10 beers, costing roughly $22, or a bottle of wine or Nitro, costing $12 each. 

Wellington isn’t shiny and new anymore to Tom. 

“It’s not that I’m too busy to go. At this point I know deep to my core that I don’t enjoy town, and I’m just being true to myself.” 

Tom’s idea of an adventure these days is venturing into a suburb he hasn’t been to before for a flat party held at a house he hasn’t explored yet. 

“Town loses its novelty, its magic, and once that’s gone you're left with the cons.” 

Gavin says drinking out is “an expensive hobby”. 

“Town is definitely suffering because of the cost of living. It’s simply cheaper to not pay for an Uber [to town] or for drinks out.” 

But not everyone thinks that town has lost its sparkle. 

Cody Halton, operations manager of Wellington Entertainment Group which runs venues like Dakota Bar on Courtenay Place, says clubbing is still affordable for young people. 

“Young people living centrally in university halls … it's easy for them to come down to town, they can just walk there and back.”

He’s noticed more people in their mid 20s have become used to drinking and partying at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Halton says Wellington doesn’t really have many dedicated clubs - most of the ‘clubs’ here in Wellington are bars like Dakota. 

He says Auckland’s club scene was more diverse and successful, as they had dedicated clubs and dedicated bars, and that these venues were spread across the city. 

When asked why clubbing in Wellington seems to “lose its magic” after a few years, Halton says it’s because of the lack of change on Courtenay Place. 

But with new venues scheduled to open on Courtenay Place in the next few months - including Sugar Woods which is set to replace the now-defunct Establishment Bar - he says he’s excited for the future. 

Halton says he also supports Wellington City Council pedestrianising more of The Golden Mile, the main retail and commercial strip in central Wellington, which he believes will bolster the surrounding hospitality venues. 

“Council is also putting in more effort to make Courtenay Place safer. They’ve done a big clean up recently … and I’m really looking forward to Let’s Get Wellington Moving.” 

There’s hope still for Wellington’s club scene to revitalise. 

But, for now, long live the mighty flat party.

More stories:

A love letter to the Pacific heart of Central Auckland

Director Litia and producers Torisse and Ursula reflect on the journey of making STILL HERE S2.

Teens working in NZ are paid less than everyone else

Here’s why these activists think the starting-out wage should go.

A Tongan father and son talk about bisexuality and being a good dad

"For me, the biggest thing is just to have you as a dad, there all the time."