Small bars central to Sydney’s revival plan

Old Mates Place

Since May this year a Joint Select Committee of the NSW Government has been listening to testimony and working through submissions regarding Sydney’s night time economy.

Sydney’s nightlife is failing, yes some venues are succeeding but foot traffic is down, revenues are largely down and it feels like there is a general lack of confidence in having a great night out in Sydney. It’s a travesty.

So the Committee was convened to take a holistic approach to the city’s night time economy. This is not just about getting people into bars and pubs, it’s not about getting people drinking more, it’s about getting people to go out at night. Give people the confidence that there is a better option than food delivery and TV bingeing.

This week saw the Committee publish its report with recommendations for the NSW Government to give the night time economy the kick up the backside that it needs. The report carries 40 recommendations for the Government. From improving lighting and streetscapes to safe taxi zones, and from extended public transport running times to making Government office spaces open for ‘creative pop-ups’ showcasing art and creativity.

The incredible small bar scene in Sydney has also been recognised: the work bar owners and operators have done in creating an exciting scene for Sydneysiders and visitors in spite of all the regulations in place.


Indeed, the report has a dedicated section titled “Making Small Bars More Attractive” and as Karl Schlothauer the President of the Independent Bars Association says, this should mean exciting times ahead for Sydney’s small bar scene.

“This a massive step into restoring the vibrancy into the NSW night time economy,” Schlothauer told Bars and Clubs.

In looking to make small bars more attractive, the report said: “Small bars are an example of a licensed venues which expand the options available in the night time economy. According to the NSW Small Business Commission there are many small bars in Sydney that offer a ‘genuinely bespoke aesthetic and ambience.’

“They are viewed as adding a sophisticated and unique option for patrons wanting a smaller or more ‘low tempo’ venue.

“An example of a small bar that was brought to the attention of the Committee is the Shirt Bar in Barangaroo, where patrons are able to buy high-end cocktails, while being fitted for a custom shirt. This kind of innovative, boutique offering supports the development of a diverse night-time economy.”

To help boost small bars, the Committee has made a number of recommendations, including:

  • Increase the patron limit on small bar licences to 130;
  • Increase standard hours of operating under the small bar licence to 2.00am;
  • Remove ‘rule of thumb’ requirements for small bar licences, for example one security guard per 100 persons;
  • Remove high risk licence fees for later trading from these low risk venues.

It’s positive news all around and Schlothauer added: “Small bars are big players in Sydney’s night time economy.

“It’s great to see that our voices have been heard throughout this inquiry and the Committee has recognised the positive contribution we have made to improving late-night hospitality and entertainment for Sydney.

“Increasing the capacity limit will allow some of our members operating on a General Bar / PSA license to jump ship to small bar license and trade later into night not previously possible within the liquor licence freeze precinct and ditch the post-midnight drink restrictions.

“With the removal ‘rule of thumb requirements’ like one security guard per 100 patrons. This will allow our members to become more commercial viable and re-invest that money into things like live entertainment programs, new and innovative guest experiences and potentially more unique and tailored venues.”


Overall the report recommends the following be removed from the Sydney CBD precinct, including Oxford Street:

  • 1.30am lockout
  • prohibition on service of certain drinks after midnight, including: shots, drinks containing more than 50 per cent spirits or liqueur, ready to drink beverages with an alcohol by volume content of more than five per cent
  • cocktails and drinks prepared on premises containing 30 ml or more of spirits or liqueur
  • restriction of glass in the late trading period, and
  • the 3.00am cessation of service.

These recommendations are also positive outcomes for small bars and will hopefully be the first steps in the road to recovery for Sydney’s night life.

Chair of the Night Time Industries Association, Michael Rodrigues, told Bars and Clubs: “The Report contains a number of recommendations aimed specifically at removing operational barriers faced by the small bar community.

“In making these recommendations the Joint Select Committee is sending a strong signal that it is supportive of small bar culture, which reflect the underlying principles of diversity and inclusivity so important to strong night time economies, the world over.

“I’d encourage the many small bar owners whose businesses are currently under severe financial stress to hang in there – change is around the corner.”

Mikey Enright, Director of the Barrelhouse Group also welcomed the move, but told Bars and Clubs that after years of neglect, the Government will need more than just regulations to help re-build Sydney’s nightlife and change consumer habits.

“I obviously think it’s great that we’re finally getting a positive outcome for Sydney nightlife and the night time economy,” Enright said

“But let’s face it, it could take a while to change the perception of late night Sydney after being broken for so long. People have been forced into frequenting venues earlier rather than later. It will take time to build the trust up again between the venues, clientele and the Government.

“The completion of the tram lines will most definitely help but overall a pretty extensive PR campaign will drive good folk back into the city for a night out.”


While the Committee has not recommended any of the legislation be changed in the Kings Cross area, it does point to small bars potentially being part of the revival in that area as well.

“The Committee is of the view that an increase in diverse venues in the Kings Cross precinct will assist in developing a safe night-time economy. As identified by Liquor & Gaming, only one small bar is currently in operation in Kings Cross. If more venues with diverse offerings open in the area, it is more likely that the precinct as a whole will continue to shift culturally and move away from excessive alcohol consumption and related violence.”

What does all this mean? You could say that the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched on, but there is still a long tunnel to get through before being able to fully enjoy that light.

Schlothauer has this message for bars and importantly for the public: “This is only the beginning of what has been long journey and as an industry we need to continue to work collectively to call on the NSW Government to realise the vision outlined in the Committee’s report by working fast to implement its recommendations.

“As for the people of NSW, ditch Netflix and Uber eats for a night or two and get out and explore your backyard, meet a random and throw your support behind the businesses of the night.”

Bars and Clubs fully supports this sentiment. We’ve come this far, let’s make sure we get this important stage right and let’s get our Sydney back.

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