So here’s a thing I discovered last Thursday night.
In an effort to combat the violence our binge drinking culture has created, 2014 heralded the beginning of Lockout Laws in Sydney. In the interest of public safety hotels, clubs and nightclubs in the entertainment precinct of Sydney’s CBD and Kings Cross were no longer permitted to allow entry to patrons after 1:30 am, with last drinks for those inside needing to be called by 3am.
Now, I would like to be able to say that I discovered this while sitting behind my computer reading the plethora of articles on the pros and cons of this legislation from the perspective of emergency workers and business owners. I really would like to be able to say that. However, I cannot.
The reason I know about lockout laws is because I got lost down a rabbit hole of wine and geeking out about Firefly and the new Voltron reboot while chatting with a friend in a pub on Angel Street. By the time I struggled out of that blissful warren of tipsy, nerdy comradery I was brought back to reality by an unfortunate coincidence that changed the carefree direction of my evening.
The lamentable coincidence I encountered was that at the exact moment our feet hit the rain soaked pavement outside the pub, the last train out of Sydney for the night pulled out of the station. Not ideal, if I’m honest with you.
After making The Call of Shame to my husband, he kindly struggled out of bed and made the three hour round trip to Sydney to rescue his drunk arsed wife from her own stupidity. However, I still I needed to find somewhere safe and warm to buy a coke and wait the hour and a half until my knight in shining armor arrived in his little blue stallion.
Aaaand this is the part of the story where I discovered the Lockout Laws. I could see inviting yellow light spilling out into the night and people drinking and laughing at the bar in many places I passed but every door I tried was locked. Soaked to the bone, desperate to pee and feeling overwhelmingly unsafe with nowhere nearby I could wait indoors, I wandered the streets (in a non-prostitutey kind of way) looking for a public toilet that was unlocked before making my way back to a 24-hour Maccas.
How do the Lockout Laws affect my night out in Sydney?
The Entertainment Precincts affected by these laws stretch from parts of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst to The Rocks. This zone is mapped out in the image below from the NSW Government’s website. The Lockout Laws are also in effect from Kings Cross to Cockle Bay.
Directly from the horse’s mouth, the NSW Government’s site lists the following changes in response to “drug and alcohol-fuelled violence”.
- Lock outs and last drinks: 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks at hotels, registered clubs, nightclubs and licenced karaoke bars. Small bars (maximum 60 people), most restaurants and tourism accommodation establishments are exempt. Venues currently licensed to stay open after 3am can do so without alcohol service.
- Takeaway alcohol sales: stop at 10pm for bottle shops, hotels and clubs. This law is NSW-wide.
- Temporary bans: of 48 hours for troublemakers.
So what do the Lockout Laws in Sydney mean to me?
Knowing all of this has certainly explained why we noticed how dead the city was when coming back to our hotel in the city after a Nickelback concert in 2015. We had decided to wait until after the concert to eat, not wanting to be caught with a full stomach in a crushing crowd without adequate ventilation or hydration. Assuming there would be an abundance of places to procure a classy kebab or some noodles in a thriving city like Sydney, we waiting until we were back in the CBD to grab a bite. But do you think we passed a single open eatery at 1:00 am between Central Station and our hotel? Thank goodness for room service and low standards is all I can say.
Currently, the Keep Sydney Open movement is trying to have these laws overturned and there are not so subtle whisperings that some legislators want to extend the crackdowns further. But the long and the short of it is that Sydney nightlife is dead if you want to stay out well past your bedtime on a school night. Or any night.
The Star Casino falls outside the lockout precinct, making it a viable option for people wanting to party til the dawn. Just be aware that figures show that there were “6.3 assaults per month on average at The Star between February and September 2014, almost double the 3.5 average in the same period at the venue the previous year.”* With people spilling out of the city after a night out, it could be that the violence from the city pubs and clubs is not gone, merely shifted.
There are several establishments that have been granted an exemption to allow entry to patrons since the Lockout Laws came into force, however, that does not mean you will be served alcohol once you are in. The Albion Hotel in George Street can grant entry but is denied the right to serve alcohol after 1:30 am to newcomers or provide any entertainment during the lockout period aside from gaming machines.
CBD venues that share similar exemptions include V, Triple 8, The Criterion, The Smoking Panda and Scruffy Murphy’s and a handful (so to speak) of strip clubs.
The Oxford Arts Factory has been granted an exemption but you might want to check their opening hours before heading out there as they may still willingly be complying with the Lockout Laws.
So basically Lockout Laws and train services that do not operate 24 hours a day mean that you need to plan ahead. If you’re staying until the 3 pm closing time, you won’t be getting on a train until after 4 pm to make your way home.
Eateries have stopped staying open until closing as there is no foot traffic to support their businesses. The 4 am kebab is an endangered species in the CBD.
If you want to sit and catch up with a friend into the wee hours of the night, meet outside of the CBD in a bar that can accommodate your need not to watch the clock. Trust me. I speak with the raspy voice of personal experience.
So the upshot of the Lockout Laws is if you choose to party in the city and it is a little rainy, make sure you’re on the last train out of Sydney. You’ll be using your sick leave to watch Netflix’s Voltron reboot and feel sorry for yourself in the coming days.