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Mixed reviews for Sydney’s late-night licence extensions

By Vanessa Cavasinni, editor Australian Hotelier

Three more venues in Sydney’s CBD and Kings Cross have been granted half-hour licence extensions, taking the tally to 14 in total.

The Basement at Circular Quay, O’Malleys Hotel in Kings Cross and The Republic Hotel on Pitt St, were yesterday granted the extensions that allow them to admit patrons until 2am and serve drinks until 3:30am. Liquor & Gaming NSW are currently considering another 16 applications for licence extensions.

Australian Hotelier spoke to the operators of two of the first hotels to be granted the extensions in mid-January – ArtHouse Hotel and Palace Hotel – to see how the extensions had impacted their trade. Ben McBeath, managing director of the ArtHouse Hotel, has seen an increase in trade on the weekends from the extensions, but is of the opinion that it does not mitigate the damage done by lockout legislation.

“Particularly for Friday and Saturdays, it has been well received by the clients. They are not having to race to the city and then only have a short period to enjoy the live entertainment. The key to this is ‘live entertainment’ and whilst the turnover has not significantly increased, there is a longer time people are spending in the venue, as opposed to getting new patrons. Customers are still trying to learn and understand the minor changes and what it may mean to their experience.

“Being one of the first to be approved and with few others being able to fulfil the criteria, the critical mass of people in the CBD has not returned and has dramatically changed from two or three years ago.  It has not been the golden bullet some may have wished, to repair the damage caused by the lockouts. We have remained a big supporter of live entertainment throughout the lockouts, but the number of people visiting the city specifically for this, it has been hindered by the lack of diverse premises allowed to stay open and have patrons freely enjoy a number of venues in the one outing.”

Minister for Racing, Paul Toole, said that these licence extensions “are part of our Government’s commitment to create a more vibrant nightlife”, but McBeath says that in fact, it is curtailing the variety of offerings available in the area.

“So many areas of the city are now trying to accommodate or modify their offering, where the existing one was already a good one. It just doesn’t fit the ideologists taste and have hurt many a good operator. We expect to pursue a live entertainment roster, as always and hold on with baited breath, that the draconian changes placed on good, clean and safe operators (us included) are allowed to exercise the licence as it was issued, until 5 or 6am, when young people best enjoy other forms of live entertainment, in our beautiful, safe CBD. That would really demonstrate a change needed to noticeably benefit trade.”

At the Palace Hotel, general manager Paul Walker has a markedly different reaction to his experience with the extension.

“We have had nothing but a positive experience from the extended trading hours,” he stated. “We hope that there will be further increases down the track to well behaved venues such as those that join the Online Incident Register or take part in the City Safe Group – Phoenix. I want to make reference to the good job our Police LAC (local area command) is doing also.”

While Walker has seen an increase in patronage since the extension, this is likely due to the hotel’s proximity to Sydney’s theatre district.

“We saw an almost instant pick up in late night shift workers coming into the bar, from theatre cast and crew, to restaurant workers and well behaved late-night music lovers. It was two weeks into the extended trading hours that we saw an increase in trade. Importantly, we have seen no increase in anti-social behaviour and I think we can put that down to a well drilled security, staff and management team and tight restrictions on who we let into our venue, combined with our boutique low impact acoustic music offering. Our local police command has also been helpful and it is good to see them on the street patrolling and attending to any anti-social incidents. I think the message is clear – you can’t play up in Sydney City CBD.”

The licence extensions have also made clear to Walker the areas of Sydney’s late-night scene that are lacking.

“The CBD and Kings Cross are now void of the huge amount of late-night food traders that used to be open alongside the pubs and night clubs. These have now closed due to the lockouts so people are seeking both food and beverage later into the night. It is sad that the lockout laws also had those unintended consequences for the eateries however, we are more than happy to provide.”

Currently the problem seems to be that as very few venues have the extension, late-night revellers do not know that they have options after 1:30/3am in the CBD and Kings Cross – and for those that are aware, does half an hour make such a big difference to their plans? As McBeath suggests: “The stigma has been that we are ‘shut’, so the benefits are yet to be realised if ever.”

Perhaps this awareness will change when more venues are granted the licence extensions. Liquor & Gaming NSW are currently considering another 16 applications for the extended trading.

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