Boutique or Behemoth?

August 14, 2007 at 5:05 am (Uncategorized)

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has plans to turn Sydney into a city of smaller, hole-in-the-wall bars, and I for one could not be happier about it. I hate all the huge, mega-pubs in Sydney. I think they’re filthy, I think they encourage binge drinking in large numbers, and I think they’re basically poker machine safe havens. Yuck. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re being herded into a crowded stadium on a night out. You can feel the rumble in the jungle, and not in a good way. The monolithic pubs in my own area are the one thing I can’t stand about living here – I really despise them and avoid the entire pub strip at all costs – and I know others feel the same way.

Really, it’s all about choice. When John Thorpe, the NSW President of the Australian Hotel Association (AHA) said, in response to Clover Moore’s proposal, that Sydneysiders don’t want small bars, he was categorically mistaken. We do. We really, really do. One need only look at the runaway success of the Bambini Wine Room, recently voted Australia’s best bar by one magazine poll, to see that when the option is made available to us, we embrace it wholeheartedly.

What I can’t stand about the AHA’s response is that it’s so absolutely not about the consumer. It’s about revenue. If you make sure smaller places can’t compete with the big boys, then the smaller places will in most cases fold. If you ensure that there’s nowhere else to go, people will eventually end up patronising the mega pubs. That doesn’t say good things about those pubs, it just means that eventually people give in. The relentless search for the perfect little hole in the wall bar in my own neighbourhood has been exhausting and disappointing. In fact, there’s a proposal being considered by the council at the moment for a 24 hour super pub and casino. If they pass it, we’ll seriously consider selling up and getting out of here. The council is too enchanted by the poker machine tax dollar signs and other potential perks to its bottom line to think about the community it is supposed to serve. It would be a disaster for those of us who actually have to live here.

But the AHA is basically like America’s National Rifle Association. Really, really powerful. Australians feel like they have the right to buy rounds the way Americans feel they have the right to bear arms. Alcohol consumption is part of our national psyche. And the AHA is an enormously influential lobby group. It has the ear of the government because it so generously helps pad the government’s nest. We know alcohol kills. We know the effect it has on people. Antisocial, sexually aggressive, violent, and reckless behaviour – is there any other single drug that causes so many people to behave so badly?

And yet up they go, all around Sydney, these huge temples to one of our city’s biggest health and social problems. We’re all pretty rampant boozers, myself included, and part of the genesis of that kind of hardened imbibing rests with the environment in which we first learned to drink. Maybe if we had more intimate little wine bars, we’d have a more balanced relationship to the good juice instead of one that so often turns bad.

POSTSCRIPT: I hope everyone, including my local council and the AHA’s John Thorpe, read Matthew Evans’s article on this same topic in The Sydney Morning Herald weekend edition August 18-19. It was the topic of conversation everywhere I went last weekend, and we were all in agreement: Evans was speaking for us all. I’m going to send my copy of the article and a letter to my council to tell them so.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: