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FOOD & DRINK

What the New Liquor Licensing Laws Would Mean for Our Favourite Bars

How do we create a vibrant, all-hours city that's also safe? We ask some of the pros.

By Rima Sabina Aouf
January 23, 2014
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What the New Liquor Licensing Laws Would Mean for Our Favourite Bars

How do we create a vibrant, all-hours city that's also safe? We ask some of the pros.

By Rima Sabina Aouf
January 23, 2014
  shares

We've known for a while that all is not perfect in the Cross. It's seen some unforgettable tragedy lately, that perhaps could have been avoided, and most of us would rather face torture than its main drag on a Friday or Saturday night. Of course, everyone's got an opinion on what might help — and for many people who live and work in the area, those opinions don't jibe with the actual proposals by the State Government, announced late on Tuesday after mounting pressure from media and community groups.

Aside from the mandatory sentencing provisions, which are generally loathed by legal professionals, the proposals include some harsh licensing changes for the bars and venues that fall within the 'CBD Precinct', a designated zone that stretches east from Darling Harbour to Kings Cross and south from The Rocks to Darlinghurst. Exempting small bars with a maximum capacity of fewer than 60 people, venues in this area will be required to impose lock-outs from 1.30am and to stop serving alcohol at 3am. In addition, across the state, bottle shops will be closing at 10pm, and on-the-spot fines for 'anti-social behaviour' are going up — for disobeying a move-on order, from $200 to $1100. In infrastructure news, free buses will be going from Kings Cross to the city every ten minutes.

The buses are mostly uncontroversial. But every other aspect of the proposals is being pored and picked over. Most troubling are the lock-outs, which arguably push even more people out onto already crowded streets, all at once, and the ham-fisted, blanket approach to violence that's only being caused by a small minority. More broadly, the question of how we can create a vibrant, international, all-hours city while also making a safe one seems hard to answer.

Since we tend to think of our readers as 'people who like to go out at night and not be tossers', we think this affects you. It affects us. Some of the proposals included have value, and certainly the intention is good. But does it come at too high a cost for the cosmopolitan culture we've all being building in this city? Is it even effective? We thought we'd ask some of our friends who know best — those who run the bars we love, where we retreat for nibbles at 9pm, a nightcap at 1am or a dance at 3am. Here's what a few of them had to say about what the proposals will mean for their businesses and the culture around them.

Frankie's and The Baxter Inn

Anton Forte co-owns the Shady Pines Saloon, The Baxter Inn and Frankie's Pizza together with business partner Jason Scott. Shady Pines, which opened in 2010, is often thought of as a leader in Sydney's small bar revolution.

How do you think your bars would be affected by the proposed legislation changes?

The Baxter Inn shouldn't really be affected at all — we close at 1am, so no sweat with this little guy. I don't have much hope for our extended hours getting approved. We're waiting for a response from OLGR [The NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing]. I thought it would be neat if we had a little extra time to trade. There are a lot of folk who are keen for a late-night tipple before bed. There are a lot of humans that keep different hours to the social norm — hospitality industry staff, and just regular folk who come to the city to watch theatre/shows. These people might only arrive just in time for our last drinks. t would be swell to give a little extra service to those folk. But alas!

If the proposed legislation gets approved it would affect one of our bars, Frankie's Pizza, a ton. We keep our doors open until 4am religiously, and have a super positive clientele enjoying local live music, delicious hand-rolled pizza and icy cold craft beer. The atmosphere is electric! We get all sorts of people coming into the venue — travellers who have just landed, hospitality crew winding down and grabbing a bite to eat after a hard night, and lots of punters who have just seen gigs or shows in the locality. It would be such a bummer to not be able to service these people. It would be a real shame!

What about the area as a whole?

Obviously, it would be detrimental to the late-night economy of the City of Sydney. Part of what makes Sydney such a fantastic place to live and visit is, its thriving after-midnight scene. Within a five-minute drive you can have such a diverse set of experiences after 2am. A quick drag show on Oxford Street, followed by Peking duck and pinot at Golden Century, a short walk down the road takes you to Good God where you might run into an International Breakbeat DJ, and finish off with a high-end Martini at Palmer & Co. All these things make the city dynamic and interesting! That's what makes a place special: people being creative and putting together products with substance and soul ... So many human beings are connecting after 1.30, and that's what makes for a truly international city — the ability to do all those things listed above, and the facility for people to go out on a whim and attempt to succeed in the concepts they believe in.

What, in your experience, would be an effective measure to curb alcohol-related violence?

There are some positive measures that this proposed legislation had put foreword, but I don't agree with all of them. I think we should focus on increased police presence, transport and working on 'dangerous venues' instead of placing a blanket ban on the City of Sydney.

The Hide and The Flinders Hotel

Jason Ryan is the owner of The Flinders Hotel, a classic late-night destination in Darlinghurst. They've just opened The Hide wine bar upstairs, which we love and which was looking like the chill antidote to any rowdier influences in the area.

How do you think your bar would be affected by the proposed legislation changes?

We have already begun the awful task of reworking rosters and cutting back staff in preparation. The effects on our business will be dramatic ... The Flinders is a safe and well-established late-night venue. We have also just invested large amounts of money into trying to develop The Hide, our new bar upstairs. At the moment we are reliant on the cash flow from late-night business to support and pay for this investment. Now that late-night trade is being severely compromised, it's a real worry as to whether we can sustain cash flow over the next few months whilst developing the rest of the business. This may ultimately jeopardise the future of The Hide. We hope people we still turn out in force at The Flinders for the lock-in!

What, in your experience, would be an effective measure to curb alcohol-related violence?

Venues and pub owners already do so much to ensure the safety of patrons. I think the government should look at more socially responsible programs. In Denmark they’re really progressive. There’s a national voluntary organisation, called Natteravnene (Night Owls). This is a concept where volunteers work locally across the whole country to increase safety for young people in the public arena. Police are not the answer and neither are lock-outs. It’s an infringement of civil liberty and an impingement on trade.

Hinky Dinks

Dan Knight is a co-owner of Hinky Dinks with Jeremy Shipley. It's a sweet slice of the '50s just off William Street, and one of our enduring favourite date spots. But just because they close at the wholesome hour of midnight, doesn't mean it's smooth sailing for the future.

How do you think the area around Hinky Dinks would be affected by the proposed legislation changes?

Undoubtedly it will change the area and the entire city. There are a lot of businesses in the Cross that make their money early in the morning and for them business is going to suffer. You will see a lot of places closing if and when this legislation comes into effect. And the trickle-down effect will eventually see our city lose some of the vibrancy we have all worked so hard to cultivate over the last seven years.

Will we see a drop in violence? Probably not. Since neither incident that has inspired this legislation actually happened on a licensed premises, and since both incidents actually happened before midnight, I can’t see how this legislation moves to address an issue that is far more social in its scope than the government is willing to acknowledge. In my opinion forcing entire precincts of drunk people out on the street at taxi change-over and two hours before public transport resumes is more likely to increase alcohol-fuelled violence.

What, in your experience, would be an effective measure to curb alcohol-related violence?

Perhaps if we stopped glorifying violence in our society people wouldn’t see it as an heroic or powerful act. If I grow up idolising boxers, cage fighters or even thuggish and bullying politicians, then when I am out (with my inhibitions and my self esteem at an all-time low) why wouldn’t I start a fight in order to try and feel better about myself?

Beyond that, just running public transport 24 hours a day would also make a huge difference by taking drunk people off the streets and delivering them to their homes. This is something the O'Farrell government could implement immediately, but I doubt it would make them look as tough. Just like the guys throwing the coward punches, this government is more concerned with looking tough than actually being part of the solution.

The Old Growler

Jack Brown is the owner of Old Growler, just a really great bar in an area with a troubled reputation. The bar closes at midnight so will only be looking at flow-on rather than a direct impact.

How do you think your bar would be affected by the proposed legislation changes?

For us and our locals we believe it's likely to have a positive affect. If it alters peoples perceptions of the dangerous nature of the Cross then that can only be positive.

What about the effect on the local area?

Again I think its about perception more than any genuine impact. The proof will be in the pudding but it's unfortunate that an international city like Sydney is forced to introduce such drastic blanket measures.

What, in your experience, would be an effective measure to curb alcohol-related violence?

It's a very difficult one as many of the serious incidents which were the catalyst for this legislation were actually drug-related; they just happened to be in a high density of alcohol venues. Tougher sentencing for alcohol-fuelled crimes will help but mostly its a cultural issue and thats a generational thing and will take time to alter.

Goodgod

Jimmy Sing, Adam Lewis and Hana Shimada are owners and operators of Goodgod Small Club. They made their impassioned opposition heard on Faster Louder yesterday.

"When we started Goodgod three years ago we wanted to create a late-night environment that was music centric, fun, welcoming and safe. We were inspired to create experiences where people felt entertained, understood and cared for. It’s something that we’ve cultivated week-to-week, hosting thousands of incredible bands, DJs and performers for a community that’s as engaged and passionate as we are. And in doing so, it’s become very clear that Sydney wants to be engaged with something much more than just drinking ... These new measures present a challenge to our ability to nurture this late-night culture. They risk forcing major events away from the planned lockout zone and into nearby precincts, reduce the opportunities available to musicians and music promoters, and wear down the viability of venues that strive to go beyond simply facilitating drinking for drinking’s sake."

Read the whole statement over at Faster Louder.

Palmer & Co

Palmer & Co is a CBD favourite in classic speakeasy style. It's part of the Merivale empire along with the likes of Mr Wong, El Loco, the Beresford and, of course, ivy, so they're all governed by the word of CEO Justin Hemmes in Tuesday's press release:

"Justin Hemmes ... strongly welcomes and commends the Premier for these tough measures to combat drug and alcohol fuelled violence. Without doubt, these measures will create a safer environment for all."

Published on January 23, 2014 by Rima Sabina Aouf

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