OPINION: The Lockouts Have (Mostly) Come To An End; It's Time To Revive Sydney's Nightlife

14 January 2020 | 12:40 pm | Jessica Dale

"Financial impacts are clear to see... What’s harder is the impact on culture."

In 2014, I went for a holiday to the US and stopped by a bar in Memphis where patrons were still able to get away with smoking inside. In 2014, I lived in Sydney and couldn’t get a beer unless it was served in plastic after midnight

In Memphis, I watched patrons drop shots of Fireball into hard apple cider. In Sydney, you couldn’t even sit and quietly sip on a neat whiskey after 12am. 

Sydney’s lockout laws were introduced to the CBD and Kings Cross areas in February 2014 and with it came a huge amount of controversy and turmoil for a lot of residents and tourists. They (mostly) come to an end today. 

At that point, I’d lived in the city for around a year and a half. Soon after the laws were introduced, my partner and I moved from the Northern Beaches area over to the Inner West - an area that we immediately felt at home in. We lived in Newtown for the best part of four years. In 2015, local MP Jenny Leong condemned the laws and their impact. 

At its core, these laws were put in place to protect people following two incidents of “coward punching” in the Kings Cross district that resulted in the death of two young people. The term “alcohol fuelled violence” became one that everyone knew. 

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The first news piece I wrote for The Music was on a Keep Sydney Open rally in February 2017 - three years on from the introduction of the laws. At the rally, KSO founder Tyson Koh shared a story about how even Bruce Springsteen - The Boss himself - couldn’t get a late-night whiskey at a Sydney bar during a recent trip. 

KSO's Feb 2017 rally (pic by Josh Groom)

Just two years on from the introduction of the laws, the effects had been felt by Sydney’s live music scene. APRA ACMOS revealed that there had “been a 40% drop in live performance revenue within the city’s CBD lockout area” and additionally “a 19% decrease in attendance figures at nightclubs and dance venues since 2014”. 

Statistics like that make it easier to understand why live music venues like GoodGod Small Club, Club 77 and more have closed in the time since. 

I was 19 when I moved to Sydney and 25 when I left. At the time - just midway through last year - you still couldn’t go to a bottle shop after 10pm (ever seen people at a house party realise it’s 9.50pm and panic run to a bottlo to buy more drinks? I have). Even now, after a year and a half of living in Melbourne, my brain is still wired that they’ll be closed by 10pm. 

Financial impacts are clear to see; much-loved venues have shuttered, jobs have been lost. What’s harder is the impact on culture; just how many people just stopped going out, how many would drink at home instead, how many opted for parties in homes, warehouses and gardens instead? How many potentially great artists and bands missed their opportunity to hone their skills in their hometown venues like Divinyls and Flume did?

When I left Sydney, you couldn’t get a drink after 3am within the city limits (unless, you know, you wanted to head to the strangely exempt Star Casino). In Melbourne, you can happily sit in a wine bar in the CBD until 5am.

Hopefully Sydneysiders will get to enjoy the same soon or at the very least, get to drink out of real glassware again.