Still enjoying my Sydney sabbatical — especially now the heat has eased somewhat — I’ve been reconfirmed in a small thought about small bars, of which this town has increasingly-many, thanks (apparently)1 to a relatively-recent law change. I had a bit of a ramble recently on the podcast about licensing laws and will need to return to the topic properly now that New Zealand’s “reforms” are in effect, but for present purposes my concern is that our current (and former) rules were applied almost entirely uniformly, whatever they are. There’s always a certain facile attraction in blanket legislation, but my recent wanderings have reinforced a simple point perhaps too-often overlooked: you are insane if you treat all licensed venues alike.
There is a lot wrong with the prevailing Antipodean drinking culture, and I’m not remotely suggesting that “small bars” are flawless2 or the complete answer to anything. But you have to applaud Sydney for its neat little ecosystem of different-sized places doing different-styled things, giving varied ideas and formats an airing and seeing what works. Treating every venue as if they were heaving, recklessly-discounting, neighbour-nuisancing boozers just because that seems an easier way to tackle genuinely-existing3 problems will wind up causing a tonne of needless collateral cultural damage. A lot of New Zealand’s new rules seem unfortunately destined to make life harder for exactly the kinds of operations that represent (on their good days) a more-enlightened approach to things-with-booze-in.4
From my bartender-training days, I remember “test-tube shots” being specifically called-out and demonised in the materials as if they were somehow inherently a sign of ill-advised drinking. But here one was at Stitch — a supercute basement bar in downtown Sydney, decked-out with a suprisingly-successful sewing machine aesthetic (including dozens of vintage Singer machines, and treadle-equipped tables to sit and drink at) — and it’s hard to imagine that an eighteen-dollar Boilermaker5 of a mini-Old-Fashioned and a dependable American import6 is ultimately implicated in many worrying and/or unhealthy nights out. Instead, it was a thoughtful and delicious little addition to their overall offering, perfectly capable of being Enjoyed Responsibly. If you can’t handle even the small amount of nuance needed to allow for just those kinds of possibilities,7 you need to get out of the policy-making business. All drinks are not created, or served, equally.
1: I’m a Foreigner; forgive me if I get the details and/or the history wrong. And by all means — and as always — corrections, clarifications and continuations are more than welcome. ↑
2: This post’s title, to head off any observant but poorly-read pedants, is an irresistible little English cliché (of weirdly-uncertain origin, apparently) more than anything else. ↑
3: Although almost-always overblown. We do love a good Moral Panic, as a species, it seems. But that’s another post for another time — and will require a lot more references (though Pete Brown does a damn-admirable job in pulling a bunch together for semi-regular and enjoyably-sharp rants thereon). Meanwhile, just have a look at the scaremongering quote from the Hotel Association rep. in the above-linked Time Out article. Battle lines in the policy debate aren’t as simple as regulators versus retailers; the huge operators will happily slag off the small to try and lobby against losing their advantages. ↑
4: Indeed, recalling the spectacular tin ear I complained about the other day in regard to Wellington’s advertising, our Council’s first draft of changes for the local area included the creation of a ghetto — styled as an “entertainment precinct” — which would’ve hugely favoured the City’s obviously-problematic operators and seriously hampered further evolution of the increasingly civilised fringe. I remember being outraged by the incredible wrong-headedness of the idea around podcast-recording time; fortunately, it was abandoned. ↑
5: See also Whisky + Alement, next time you’re in Melbourne, for a really excellent range of deftly-matched [Craft] Beer + Whisk[e]y combinations. ↑
6: Albeit one with a bit of an identity crisis, to be fair; the brewery bleats on nonsensically about how “traditional” and “small” it is while a) committing the classic Big Business sin of trademarking a style term and b) producing 20ML already and planning under c) it’s new mega-corporate owners to d) quadruple capacity. ↑
7: And then, once your imagination’s nice and warmed-up, to contemplate rules, conditions, and fees that differ appropriately in response to the character of the place in question… But again; details another time. ↑