Only a few days out from the New South Wales State election, one of the major issues facing Sydney-siders is the future of the city’s infamous lockout laws.
Keep Sydney Open Party’s Summer Hill candidate, Andrea Makris, argues that while lower house seats may prove beyond their reach, the social-turned-political movement is focused on championing a policy shift in the State’s highest chamber.
“There’s only a few seats left once the major parties, including the Greens, have taken up the seats in the Upper House,” she says.
“We want a seat at the table to represent culture and small business, and unlock our night-time economy.”
Since their introduction in 2014, the laws have led to an overall reduction in the number of assaults within the lockout area, but artists and businesses alike have suffered through the loss of public space and revenue. Additionally, alcohol induced violence has increased in surrounding suburbs, including The Star casino, which is ten times more violent than NSW’s most violent pub yet remains exempt from the lockout restrictions.
“You can’t flick a switch and bring it all back overnight,” Makris says.
“It’s going to take some time, but the main thing is to lay down the framework for businesses to have the confidence to open up again.”
Last week, Time Out Worldwide ranked Sydney a lowly 39th in its survey of the 48 best cities in the world in 2019. Unsurprisingly, Melbourne ranked second-best, ahead of London and Los Angeles and only just behind New York at the top of the list.
Paul Ioakimidis, owner of Newtown’s Steki restaurant for almost two decades, is focused on maintaining his business’ reputation and admits the lockout laws are “not a big issue for us anymore”.
“It’s changed the demographics, the nightlife of Newtown a little bit,” he says.
“We’ve stuck to what we were doing before.”
Mr Ioakimidis does feel that local councils in the area have recently upped the ante in promoting the night economy and expects things to improve.
“If it’s not a drinking, pub culture, and a restaurant culture,” he says, “then I think it will be better for everybody.”
A few suburbs across, Leichhardt hosts another recently-formed hub of Greek restaurants and nightlife. One of the restaurants, Filema plays live
Greek music for functions and on Saturday nights.
Owner Nick Kapeleris is anxious to point out that the acoustics are there primarily to enrich diners’ experience.
“The primary business is a Greek restaurant, it’s not a live music venue,” he asserts. “That’s the way it is.”
Outside of Sydney’s lockout zone, Filema and its Greek neighbours aren’t subject to many of the laws and restrictions that forced some venues to close and others to evolve. But there’s still plenty of challenges in what Mr Kapeleris feels is a saturated restaurant market.
“People aren’t going to go out on a Wednesday, Thursday night to hear live Greek music,” Mr Kapeleris argues.
“My crowd on Wednesday, Thursday is not a crowd that comes in to hear live music; they come here for a quiet dinner.”
Against the backdrop of restrictions and lockout laws in force along Oxford Street, promoter Billy Billiris heralds last Friday’s launch of his ‘Made in Athens’ club night as a success.
Approximately 500 guests experienced a “European vibe” at the Universal nightclub, with 8 DJs playing until 4am and live entertainment which included a bouzouki, clarinet and pyrotechnics.
“We had somebody celebrating their 21st in one booth and somebody celebrating their 40th birthday in another; no fights, no problems,” Billiris says.
“The lockouts affect all of Oxford Street, so maintaining a vibe and keeping people satisfied is key.”
In the current circumstances, however, he accepts that events like ‘Made in Athens’ can work in Sydney “every six weeks”.
“The problem is a lot of people are copy-pasting each other, there’s no originality.”
For Ms Makris and Keep Sydney Open, shifting the direction of State government policy into Sydney’s lockout laws is a matter of both cultural and economic sense.
“If we unlock the night-time economy, there are more jobs and growth,” she says. “$16 billion worth of potential in our night-time economy that would help people who are finding it hard to pay the rent.”