Plans by the Berejiklian government to look at a revision of the lockout laws have been welcomed by many but treated with dismay by others – especially those who work in hospital emergency facilities like St Vincents as well as the police and paramedics. Everybody agrees Sydney nightlife is moribund but whether allowing punters to booze through until the wee small hours will see a return to vibrancy is open to question.
The health of Sydney nightlife has been fraught with problems for decades, such as the integrity of the colourful identities who have traditionally controlled many of the late night clubs and bars. Add to this the greed of the real estate market and the zealous enforcement of a plethora of regulations by State and council bodies and you hardly have a recipe for fun times. Overriding all these factors has been the inexorable link between people shedding inhibition and the sale of copious amounts of alcohol, on which the venues depend for their financial viability.
There’s seemingly no way around this unholy symbiosis in the current climate where alcohol reigns supreme as the social drug of choice, propelled by huge vested interests and a government that reaps millions in liquor taxes. If I am starting to sound like a wowser it’s because I have detected an interesting reaction recently amongst many of my friends and acquaintances who work in hospitality – bar staff, DJs and even musicians.
It’s a growing revulsion to alcohol and the binge culture that accompanies it. When you are stone cold sober but dealing with often hundreds of people, from the mildly inebriated to those totally off their face, this is often a natural reaction. During my university days, I drove a taxi at night to help pay my way, a situation which meant I seldom touched alcohol, even though I was by no means a teetotaler. After a few months in the job, I developed what can only be described as an unhealthy contempt for anybody getting into the cab who vaguely smelled of alcohol or appeared under the influence.
When a drunken sailor threw up in the space between the window and the door and put the cab off the road for three hours to be cleaned, that contempt grew into almost a phobia, a Travis Bickle Taxi Driver kind of hatred. Talk about aversion therapy. I soon avoided intoxicated passengers like the plague and knocking back a potentially lucrative late-night fare was better than having to clean a pile of vomit from the back seat.
What all this has to do with Sydney’s lockout laws may well have you puzzled. Perhaps what I am suggesting is that in trying to revitalise a nighttime culture, we don’t just accept booze as the accepted norm or indeed vilify it entirely as the poison that kills thousands annually. I have often referred to the legendary late 60s Sydney club Rhubarbs which was unlicensed, with only soft drink on sale, but was packed every weekend. I am not for one moment suggesting a return to the days of the alcohol-free Blue Light discos but a complete rethink of the part the demon drink plays in the nightlife of Sydney might well be worth considering.
There is a strange minority of punters who go to clubs and never touch a drop – maybe they get their chemical uplift elsewhere and maybe catering to them with a grog-free environment might set an example. All wishful thinking of course because we are all affected by the booze culture if we set out after dark in Sydney. It doesn’t matter whether you are a perennial pisspot, a social tippler or a total abstainer, alcohol in all its many guises is omnipresent and impacts on everybody.