Is It Too Late To Save Sydney, Even With The Lockouts Gone?

Sydney's nightlife community is "ecstatic" at the surprise rollback of the lockout laws, but say it could take years to restore the city's former glory.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Sunday that her government would look to repeal the lockout laws that govern the city's CBD, but retain the same rules in the Kings Cross district.

Sydney nightlife identities are predicting a new era for the city, one perhaps marked by more boutique drinking options like small bars with music and cocktails or craft beers, rather than huge drinking halls encouraging heavy alcohol consumption.

Introduced in 2014 to reduce alcohol-fuelled assaults, after the one-punch deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie in Kings Cross, the laws have been credited with greatly reducing violence in the red light district; but have also been blamed for the closure of many clubs and music venues, and vast reduction in business for restaurants and shops.

Keep Sydney Open demonstrators at a protest in 2016. Photo: Getty

The laws directly led to a loss of $1.4 billion in turnover and a decrease of some 2.5 million young tourists to Sydney between 2014 and 2018, the city council claimed in a submission in July. Mark Gerber, boss of the popular Oxford Art Factory venue, said the city resembled "a ghost town".

"I agree it's time to enhance Sydney's nightlife," Berejiklian said on Sunday.

"Sydney is Australia's only global city and we need our nightlife to reflect that."

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While there is little chance that shuttered iconic venues like World Bar, Hugo's or Flinders Hotel will suddenly spring back into life, many members of Sydney's nightlife community are praising an "outstanding" result.

Nightlife fans are raising a toast after it was announced the lockouts would be rolled back. Photo: Getty

Bar owners say it is not too late for Sydney to reinvigorate itself and shake off the 'boring' tag it has been lumped with in recent years, saying it could be a new dawn for the city to reinvent its night-time offerings.

"I'm hearing people on social media saying it's too little too late, but it's not too late to change things for the better now," Steven Speed, chair of the City North Liquor Accord, told 10 daily.

"What's done is done, all we can do is look to the future."

Speed called the lockout law changes "an outstanding result". While the old venues are gone, he said Sydney may enter a new era of small bars, pop-ups and more boutique offerings.

Sydney becomes a "ghost town" late at night, club boss claims. Photo: Getty

"We're in a rebuilding stage, over the next few years... I know there is an appetite for those options," Speed said.

"Something had to change, we're falling behind cities overseas. It'll take six to 12 months for people to find where they fit again. There's still a bit of work to be done."

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After the lockouts, many people  began migrating to the more alternative offerings of Newtown, in the city's inner-west, outside the lockout zone. With more diverse bars and a progressive history, numbers swelled and cosy clubs suddenly became packed.

Richard Adamson, co-ordinator of the Newtown Liquor Accord and a founder of the Young Henrys brewery, said he anticipated some easing of the popularity of the area, as people gradually rediscover the city instead.

Sydney's nightclub scene might change to a more small bar and cocktail vibe, identities say. Photo: Getty

"Without a doubt, we've been stretched, but we managed it well," he told 10 daily.

"Now that people will have options to do more things, maybe more people will come out. Honestly, our biggest competition has been Uber Eats and Netflix, simply getting people out is a challenge."

Adamson said it was "never too late" to reinvigorate the city's nightlife, and said he hoped new opportunities for bars, music venues and restaurants would be realised.

Stephen Pavlovic is a Sydney music icon, having been a booker for several flagship venues, running the successful Modular record label, curating the Vivid Live festival, and touring legendary bands including Nirvana and Beastie Boys. A veteran of the club scene, he told 10 daily the lockouts had been "extreme" and that he welcomed their repeal.

Photo: Getty

"It's a shame that people have lost their livelihoods, lost a lot of money and business, but there are younger people who will now get more opportunities to move their careers forward," he said.

Thinking pragmatically about how to move forward, Pavlovic mused that "what's gone is gone, but the nightlife in cities has always been cyclical." He has been part of Sydney's recent late-night revival, part of a new Saturday night dance party at the iconic Lansdowne Hotel, celebrating the venue's newly-extended licence to operate until 5am.

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"Venues come and go, things can reestablish. The lockouts forced a lot of people to be more creative about how they put on events, and they're doing interesting things DIY or underground," Pavlovic said.

"Now, they will be able to do a bit more. When they lift the restriction, you open a doorway to things happening. The lockouts were a clamp on that. It might take six months, 12 months, two years, but if you don't give the opportunity, nothing will happen."

Tyson Koh, the director of Keep Sydney Open -- the protest and advocacy group that recently turned into a political party -- said he was "tremendously ecstatic" on hearing the lockout news, a reform his organisation has been working toward for years.

He welcomed the change, but was also realistic about what effect they would have on the city.

Image: AAP

"It will be a process. The laws took a while to have their devastating effect, and in reverse, the removal will take some time to have an effect," he told 10 daily.

"It will be the changes to people's behaviour. People often don't come into the city anymore, so it will take a while for people to rewire habits, and some time for business owners to invest in the night time sector again as well."

He predicted it would take "a good few years for Sydney to get its mojo back" but had confidence for the future -- like Speed, Koh said he thought there may be a new focus on small bars and more upmarket offerings.

"It's not too little too late, definitely not. Sydney's best days could be ahead of us," Koh said.

"We can't return to those pre-lockout days, so the future of Sydney will be something new. It will look different, but potentially better."