Many rich and powerful people have wound their way up the long path to Bill Crowe's house - a large, white mansion overlooking Wellington's Oriental Bay.

In its day it hosted fabulous parties and discreet liaisons for millionaires, MPs and their mistresses.

But time has had its way with both the house and its master. Bill Crowe's glamour days have been reduced to a mere twinkle in an old man's eye.

Cast-iron garden chairs lie tipped over in moss-grown puddles on the balcony where sport stars once drank and cavorted.

Weeds and grass spill over the edges of the majestic pathway that led lusty business executives, celebrities and cabinet ministers to Crowe's front door. There a sign, in tarnished bronze, says simply 'W Crowe'. Push the button to the left of the door and a world of sensual delights would await.

This is Wellington's most infamous - and discreet - house of ill repute. Known as 'The Crowe's Nest' to those in the know, it is perched on a massive, multi-million dollar property, a testament to days when parties were grander, ladies were easy - and even easier money was to be made from someone else's hanky panky.

Now bulldozers are the only ones poised to raise the old house's roof.

At 81, Crowe, the notorious purveyor of sensual delights, has bowed out after nearly 40 years. The doorbell has been disconnected and, early this morning, the last of his lovelies will have tottered home down the long, windy path.

They call Crowe the gentleman's gentleman, a tall old man, dapper in his striped sports coat and gold-laced silver hair, slicked into the same style he's worn for 60 years.

Since the 1940s, Crowe has taken it upon himself to invigorate the capital's night life - first as the head of a successful band, Bill Crowe's Orchestra, and latterly as the host of Bill Crowe's gentleman's retreat.

So confident of the house's reputation for good times and discretion, he has never needed to advertise, save for a listing as 'Bill Crowe" in the Yellow Pages under 'Escorts'. Word of mouth, and obliging taxi drivers, have ensured there has never been a need to court publicity. But as developers prepare to demolish his home of 42 years, Crowe granted us a rare tour of the house - and a few tantalising hints of the goings on behind its walls.

Like Crowe himself, the rooms have barely changed in more than 20 years. A dusty grand piano stands in the reception area where faded French flock wallpaper decorates the walls and gold couches line the room - where the ghosts of a thousand rich clients have left dents in the velveteen cushions.

Classical music is playing in the downstairs room, popular with customers because of the four-poster bed and adjoining spa pool, dug out by Crowe himself. Tubs of baby oil are on the bedside table.

This is the house of secrets - a necessary arrangement when the trade you're plying is infidelity. Crowe still delights in letting the odd one slip, off the record. But the rest he will take with him to his grave.

Upstairs fake period pieces line the walls, and an old television is playing daytime soaps. This is where Crowe spends his days. There is a small bar, and a noticeboard filled with postcards from clients and former employees.

"The more sex you have, the longer you live", a newspaper clipping declares. He implores me to have a drink of "something sparkling", then helps himself to his favourite daytime tipple - ginger ale and white wine. The view over the harbour and the beach at Oriental Bay is breathtaking.

"From here you can see when any girl takes off her bikini top," he muses.

Crowe always has had an eye for the ladies and an ear out for a good time. Since storming into Wellington as a law student in the early 1940s, he has made his mark on the night. "Sundays were hopeless, nothing was open," he says. So Bill Crowe's Orchestra, in blue tuxedos and burgundy bow ties, soon had a monopoly on Friday night charity balls.

He became too busy for university, took a job in public service, played in his band at night and organised beauty contests in his spare time.

He worked in the diplomatic service - escorting the Queen and Prince Philip when they visited in 1953 - and was a prime ministerial speech writer before making it big in real estate.

It was when the owner of large Auckland escort agency came to Wellington in the 1960s and entrusted him with finding a suitable premises to get business started in Wellington, that Crowe got the idea for his gentleman's retreat.

Crowe and his wife - a nudist - then found themselves hosts of racy parties for the arty liberal set of the 1960s. They later broke up but remained close friends until her death two years ago.

He built a sauna, summer house and pool. "I had mixed saunas for five years and Thursdays and Sundays there were a crowd. Then we switched to, ah, a bit more extras," he says, adding a thoughtful "mmmm".

"A chap next door used to bring over four or five girls. He later became an MP and is now a lawyer." As he tells it, the "girls" who came along opted to make some money from these naked mixed sauna romps, and the gentleman's retreat "just grew from there".

By the 1970s it was "the" place to party. "I remember the Welsh rugby team singing Land of our Fathers here in 1987," he says. "The Scottish team was here twice, too. And when [rugby union chairman] Jock Hobbs went about to get votes for the World Cup, it was said New Zealand was more hospitable," he smiles. "I might have contributed to that."

Once the entire crop of New Zealand kiwi fruit was sold to a Japanese man in a deal sealed with a handshake in this room, and followed up by some "entertainment" in a room next door. "Whenever anyone had a good prospect of an overseas order it was thought that if they brought them up here for the ending, they had a better chance of getting the deal."

One very prominent businessman, who Crowe warns me not to unmask, was going to a certain country to make some deals and partied with that country's cricket team at Crowe's place before he left.

The entire cricket team? "He always said it was the best introduction he could have to entertain the team here."

Famous athletes would regularly turn up. But none ever used any of the more discreet services available.

That's what Crowe says has distinguished his place from a brothel or a parlour. "I prefer to call it a club."

There's no cover charge and no pressure. Only once has there been in trouble with the police. It was June 1980. Crowe clearly remembers the night when 12 constables arrived bearing torches and ladders. There was no storming of the premises. Business carried on as usual - but with bobbies in trees and on ladders, peering inside.

Three trials followed, each with a hung jury, before Crowe was convicted on the fourth, then acquitted on appeal. He mimics the voice of his lawyer: "And when you climbed the ladder officer, what did you see?

"I saw a girl committing oral sex," was the reply.

"And what do you mean by 'committing', officer?" the lawyer asked.

"Eventually," Crowe said, "he got round to the fact people were being mugged in Cuba Street with no police to go to their aid, while there were 12 policemen up ladders, peering in my windows in Oriental Bay like peeping toms. So I was left alone for 35 years."

The prostitutes were untroubled, too.

Girls had to be good looking, he said. And they had to know how to give a good professional massage. "In the early days we always had a 20-minute scrub bath as part of the hour. Warm water hose, and sponges and brushes just to ... ," he laughs, " ... aggravate the situation." But times have changed and business has suffered. "I have been luckier in the days when it was illegal.

"Now the girls put ads in the paper and not so many are prepared to do the hours.

"They can put an ad in and have one person see them and they've made enough money to go to town. If they were making money, here they'd have to be here at 8 and stay till 1 am."

So Bill Crowe is shutting up shop and heading for a luxury apartment on the edge of Oriental Bay.

It's a strange life he's leaving - one of regular churchgoing, all-night parties, and loyal friendships he can't reveal for fear of causing the wrong sort of suspicion.

There'll be many callers to his new abode, though life will be a lot quieter from now on. But, on his walks around town, there will be plenty of reminders of the wild days. Like when he pushes his trolley around the supermarket and bumps into a man and his wife coming in the other direction.

"I wink at the male and he winks back - nobody knows we know each other. But if he stops and says 'hello', wifey would want to know 'how did you get to know Bill Crowe'."

Yes, he says, pouring another ginger ale and wine, he will miss the life. "But at 81 you can't have it forever."