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A Greenhouse Gathering: A Dinner Party for the Ages

Of all gentle pleasures lost to lockdown, the dinner party with friends and (friendly) foes – and sparkling, spikey conversations which enliven the mind – might be the most missed. The Greenhouse has a residents’ lounge with a 10-seat table as its centrepiece, ideal for a green light gathering of kindred spirits. Join us for the ultimate (imaginary) Ponsonby dinner party.

The Setting

Earlier in the day, the great table had been used for meetings, unravelling large maps, and reading newspapers of record, but as evening nears, it has been set for dinner. Although the sun is only just slipping over the Waitakeres, the lounge walls, lined with American Crown Cut Walnut panelling, are exquisitely lit by an Orion Globe light. The carpet — Mist by Shaw Contract — is woven in an array of greens with twists of pale grey, like the underside of a leaf. The floor beneath is engineered European oak, like a stage arranged for a performance.

Equipped with a kitchen, the lounge opens to a balcony which allow guests to indulge in a favourite ritual of the neighbourhood — perusing Ponsonby passers-by.

“We’re ignoring that ludicrous Aotearoa axiom that one doesn’t discuss religion, politics or sex at the table. What else to talk about!”

The Guests

We established strict criteria for The Greenhouse’s inaugural dinner: this was to be a gathering of imaginary friends, late legends with a connection to postcodes 1011 and 1021 (lest an overlooked invite or inadvertent snub cause a ruckus). We’re also ignoring that ludicrous Aotearoa axiom that one doesn’t discuss religion, politics or sex at the table. What else to talk about!

Down one end is a face familiar from the photo that hangs above so many mantelpieces in the neighbourhood. It’s a beatific Michael Joseph Savage, who once delivered seditious blasts up the road at the Star Newton Hotel. Down the other end, a voice booms: “We are living in an ethical twilight, with the ideals of the new in our hearts and the pattern of the old upon our minds.” It’s John A. Lee, soldier, socialist, one-armed writer; one-time Grey Lynn MP and Savage scourge.

Thankfully any glare-off has been avoided: Lee is mesmerised by Freda Stark, of nude dancing fame. However the golden dancer is more interested in Florence Keller— doctor, social reformer, feminist and vegan. The dedicated Dr Keller saw patients six days a week until she was 92; here, she has struck up an unlikely rapport with Graham Brazier, rebel with a cause, Imperator of the Gluepot. And one-time winger for the Mt Roskill Red Devils. Yes, Brazier was an out-and-out leaguie — and finds himself beside his boyhood hero, Kiwis’ legend Bill Sorensen, from that most royal of rugby league families.

Hordes of neighbourhood artists could join the party: Colin McCahon and Charles Blomfield were serious cats but Tony Fomison would be more fun. Alongside Tony, Vaitulutu Purcell, whose family home at 28 Scanlan Street became a de facto community centre for scores of Pasifika families.

Vaitulutu has connected with Whāea Betty Wark, founder of Arohanui, mother to thousands of young, urban Māori.

The evening’s MC? Peter Taylor, equestrian and father of much-loved local bar Surrender Dorothy, can be counted on to bring the fabulosity. “I stomp on mediocrity with a tall pair of riding boots caked in horse sweat,” he said at the launch of his memoir ‘Don’t Postpone Joy’. “I plan to go out that way, too.” Meanwhile, capturing everything, the unmatched documentary photographer Robin Morrison.

Oh...what a night! The formal part of the evening concluded, whereupon Freda Stark hauls Messrs Lee, Brazier, Taylor and Fomison off to karaoke.

When dinner parties return to the menu, there’ll be no venue statelier than The Greenhouse. Give Ockham’s Joss Lewis a call to find out more about Auckland’s most exquisite apartment building (and, in the meantime, devise your own Top 10 dream dinner guest list!). Contact Joss on 021 245 5155 or

First published in the marvellous, perspicacious Ponsonby News, December 2021.