It was around 11.45pm when we ordered. When the bartender served them all “on the rocks”, one of my companions asked for his without ice. He didn’t like ice he explained.
“Sorry,” the barman said. “It’s illegal to serve shots without ice, due to the midnight laws.”
It was before midnight we pointed out. “Preventative laws mean I can’t serve it without ice even close to midnight,” he said. “Preventative laws we chorused? Never heard of them,” before sipping our spirits and leaving somewhat deflated – not at all like the sense of bonhomie I had felt leaving an Irish pub.
Another friend told me he had a similar experience at a Coogee venue much earlier one Saturday evening (that is, not after the 1.30 am lockout law rule). He ordered a glass of spirits neat (without ice or water). But his drink was served topped up by water – Chateau Warragamba’s finest. Without being asked if he wanted it. On hearing this story, our Irish companion quipped that back when he was a barman, the topping up of alcoholic spirits with water usually occurred in the bottle behind the bar, before it was poured into a glass and sold.
I understand NSW has had a tenuous relationship with alcohol since the rum rebellion, but isn’t outlawing alcohol without ice, or simply watering it down, taking the nanny state a little too far? I know as a nation we have an issue with alcohol-fuelled violence, but how is policing it this way building personal responsibility? Don’t get me started on how miserly some Sydney servers of alcohol pour wine strictly to the line on the glass too. In France where I used to live this would be scoffed at, in California where I worked in the wine industry it would be considered down-right rude. I wonder what ripple-effect these laws have on Sydney diners and drinkers, and how our city is perceived worldwide.
These issues and more were raised in submissions and hearings in this week’s joint select committee on Sydney’s night-time economy, which will conclude tomorrow (Monday) with its final hearing.
I trawled many of the submissions – from doctors and nurses and the 70 eastern suburbs venues who all say the lockout laws are helping to curb violence related to alcohol consumption. Through to those from the Sydney Harbour charter vessels association who say tourists report that Sydney is “dead boring” and those from the National Drug Research Institute who claim there is a link between patron violence and venue queues, lighting and transport availability – both public and private. I read the submission from the Newtown Vibe round table, which found a considered, collaborative approach to maintaining a safe and vibrant nightlife can be successful, where top down punitive approaches like the lockouts had, in their opinion failed. Doris Goddard, once the publican of the faded grand dame of Surry Hills, the Hollywood Hotel, would turn in her freshly dug grave to learn Mark Symons, the current licensee has seen his revenue drop 35 per cent since the lockout laws. As City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott said, since last May Sydney has lost 176 venues. “It is clear the lock out laws are not working,” she wrote in her submission.
It’s not just a Sydney issue either. Last weekend, in Byron Bay a cab driver told me about the Byron Bay Liquor accord which, like Sydney’s, restricts the serving of alcohol late at night. The liquor licensing people even interviewed the cabbie of 40 years standing, who told them the regulations had done little to curb antisocial behaviour.
“In the end, all it has done is taken the hospitality out of the hospitality industry,” he told me.
I’m inclined to agree. I also agree with a young woman, Maddison Kingston, who in her submission recalled an old newspaper she saw at NSW Parliament, with an advertisement encouraging people to vote against prohibition. “Crazy to think that we had better insight in 1917 than we do in
2019,” she said.
Helen Pitt is a journalist at the The Sydney Morning Herald.