The Imperial Hotel. Photo: Lauren O'Connor

Posted by & filed under City Hub, Inner West Independent.

By Emily Contador-Kelsall
While Sydney’s lockout laws have curbed the alcohol-fuelled violence they were set out to fix, less popular impacts are also being felt across Sydney’s CBD and inner west.
Oxford Street, famous for its LGBTI venues, has experienced a downturn since the implementation of the lockout laws as late night revellers turn their attention towards alternative venues outside of the lockout jurisdiction.
President of the Darlinghurst Business Partnership Stephan Gyory said that while no one had measured the changes in the Oxford Street area, it had seen many licensed venues having to readjust their business model.
“Obviously there’ve been businesses that have closed and they pointed at the lockouts and I know of at least one licensee that sold into residential and moved into the inner west… that was purely financial, he goes, ‘well why would I stay when I can go trade there?’,” he said.
The Imperial Hotel, an iconic LGBTI venue in Erskineville has recently been taken over by The Spice Cellar, a dance club that was formerly located in the CBD but moved to the inner west. The current owners of The Spice Cellar said they had made efforts to maintain the LGBTI legacy of the venue.
Mike McGrath, co-owner of The Imperial and an Erskineville resident of over 10 years said he was very aware of how culturally important the Imperial is for the gay community and Sydney.
“We have stayed true to the queer heritage of the venue by offering a huge line-up of LGBTI gender illusionists, DJ’s and musicians performing almost every night of the week,” he said.
But City Hub was told that the Spice Cellar customers do not mix well with the former Imperial Hotel crowd , giving rise to a host of security issues.
Mr McGrath said the venue does not target anyone based on their sexual orientation and that Spice, which operates on Saturday, “has always had an open door policy”.
“Our mantra at the Imperial is ‘Community, Culture, Diversity’ and we live by that,” he said.
The shift of nightlife to more residential areas like Erskineville has also brought other issues.
President of the Friends of Erksineville resident group Darren Jenkins said he received a detailed complaint about the noise and behaviour of patrons leaving the Imperial.
“My impression was that there had been a little bit of additional noise and a little bit of additional rubbish from patrons,” he said.
“It’s not something I have any personal knowledge of and we’ve put our feelers out into the community to see whether this is an ongoing problem or whether this was a one off and we haven’t really gotten much additional feedback from that.”
Mr McGrath said in the early days of opening any business there “will always be teething issues” but that “the outpouring of praise has far outstripped the few negative comments we’ve had”.
The Newtown Hotel is another inner west venue that was a former iconic LGBTI pub. Dawn O’Donnell, former owner of both the Newtown and Imperial Hotels, helped define and create Sydney’s gay night scene.
Currently the Keystone Group owns the Newtown Hotel, one of their many venues across Sydney, including Kit and Kaboodle in Kings Cross and The Cargo Bar in Darling Harbour. The Newtown Hotel told City Hub they had seen a definite lift in patronage since the implementation of the lockout laws.
The Newtown Hotel still runs gay events, and sponsors the Breakaways girls AFL team and the Asian Marching Boys and Friends, a group that promotes the visibility and acceptance of gay Asian men in Australia.
But as these inner west venues grow in popularity, licence venues on Oxford Street’s are feeling the effects of the lockouts differently.
Recently, the Midnight Shift, a gay venue that has stood for almost 33 years, converted half of its downstairs into a restaurant – one of several venues adapting their businesses to the changing climate. And Q Bar, “the home of queer parties” will close next month.
But Glenn Hansen, Promotions and Marketing Manager at the Stonewall Hotel on Oxford Street said he believes Oxford Street is “still very much the heart of the Gay scene”. Mr Hansen said that the Stonewall Hotel had been supported by their clientele since the lockout laws have been implemented, as they now arrive earlier and stay the entire night.
“Friday and Saturday nights were starting much later prior to the lockout laws. Since the implementation  we have seen an increase in our patronage these nights and people arriving earlier,” he said. Mr Gyory said he thought that the future of the Oxford Street area would be residential as it was more profitable than opening licenced venues, but didn’t want to see the area lose its character.