As the state government hails a small bar revival following a liquor licensing overhaul, new statistics show almost none of the city’s bars are taking advantage of provisions that allow them to apply to trade past midnight and even as late as 5am.
In response to a review of its controversial lockout laws and complaints that Sydney’s night life was dominated by beer barns, the state government overhauled liquor regulations last December to make small bars bigger and automatically allowing licence extensions past midnight to 2am.
But new figures from the liquor regulator show only a handful of the CBD and Kings Cross’ 40 small bars now trade past midnight and none have been granted approval to open as late as 5am, for which current regulations now allow.
The state government says licensing changes including allowing venues to nearly double their maximum occupancy to 100 have grown the number of small bar licences.
“There has been a strong industry response to our recent changes,” said the Minister in charge of the state’s liquor and gaming department, Paul Toole. “Small bars are meeting a demand for more sophisticated night-time entertainment for those wanting to relax in a more intimate setting”.
About 50 per cent more of the venues are now in operation around the state since the changes were introduced, to reach a total of about 75.
But of the nearly 40 small bars within the City of Sydney, only seven trade after midnight, according to the liquor, gaming and racing department despite confirming they were free to apply for licences to open as late as 5am.
Limits on the bars’ development consents – which are approved by the local council – prevent some three-quarters of those small bars from opening late, the department said.
But the City of Sydney, which has been an outspoken advocate of removing small bar trading restrictions, denied its development assessment process was stifling changes to Sydney’s nightlife.
“[Development] conditions exist to balance the needs of the venue with those of the surrounding residential neighbourhood,” a spokeswoman said. “Our support for the night-time economy and late night trading must be balanced with our legislative responsibility to manage noise and amenity.”
Sydney council said small bars seeking later trading should discuss their development conditions with the City, which could not alter development consents of its own accord. Twenty-four hour trading was allowed in the City’s designated late night precincts, the spokesman said.
One small bar entrepreneur, Karl Schlothauer, is planning to seek the opportunity to trade until 2am.
Mr Schlothauer has moved York Street’s Stitch Bar to the new license category, which he praises as lessening owners’ regulatory burdens, and it already opens until 2am.
But he now plans apply for the later closing time for two of his other venues, Button Bar in Surry Hills and Pocket Bar in Darlinghurst.
“There are a lot of people looking for that smaller space at that time of the morning,” he said.
Martin O’Sullivan of the Small Bar Association said he believed inner-Sydney would benefit from later trading.
“[At the moment] the city is closed but the suburbs are open,” he said. “Tourists come here but are sent home at midnight. It makes no sense that you can’t enjoy a glass of wine [in a small bar] after midnight but you can drink a beer in a pub with pokies.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.