Sunday, August 26, 2012

COMMENTARY - Binge Drinking, Alcohol-Fuelled Violence and Small Wine Bars – an Alternate, Absurdist Reality?

The following interview took place at Kings Cross Police Station, 4:30AM one Sunday morning in an alternate reality.........
“I should have known when to stop drinking” James whispered to the police officers in the Kings Cross interview room, as he sat bent-over, head in his hands. “We were only out for a good time, but went to one wine bar too many”.
James and two of this three mates had been arrested an hour earlier for affray in Darlinghurst Road after spending the evening in Kings Cross. James was 15 minutes into his police interview, when he was quizzed on how much alcohol he and his friends had consumed on the night. James rattled off a list of bottles and glasses of wine from all wine regions and wine styles. The police officer interviewing looked over to the minute-taker in a knowing way – this was the third wine-related violent incident she had seen this weekend alone. The arrival of 4 new small wine bars in the Kings Cross area had led to considerably more instances of binge drinking and violent attacks in the last 18 months.

James groaned when he was asked what alcohol he had consumed on the night. “We started at a multi-level beer hall, but hated the ambient atmosphere and 2 for 1 shooters, so went to the first of many small wine bars” James recalled, before noting a $100 bottle of Champagne, a bottle of 10 year aged Semillon and a $180 bottle of Barolo had been shared between his mates at that bar alone  (while also listing several small mezze plates that were thoughtlessly consumed at the same time).

He spent the next ten minutes recounting his alcohol-fuelled binge at 3 other small wine bars, up until  the point the last bar shut at midnight (as per small bar licensing rules). “We should have taken the safer option and just gone to the Bourbon and Beefstake and done shots, or headed to a strip club” James lamented. “I knew hitting the wine bars was going to lead to trouble”.
With his face in his hands, and staring down the barrel of an assault charge and a criminal record, James continued answering questions.
The interview above is obviously fictional, though given some recent commentary regarding small Sydney inner city wine bars, you might have to pause for a moment before dismissing it as such. In light of some truly tragic violent crimes in the King Cross area, a public debate about alcohol-fuelled violence in the Sydney CBD has occured. Incredibly, part of this debate had focused on the recent proliferation of small wine bars as being one of the contributing factors behind the violence.
First there was former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who must hate natural wine and tasting plates, given his simplistic, reductionist slur on small (largely wine) bars, not to mention his personal attacks on Clover Moore. As a recent newspaper article notes:
Mr Keating also attacked Cr Moore's policy of encouraging small bars around Kings Cross, outside the area subject to a freeze on new liquor licences imposed by the Labor government in 2009.
''Small bars are still where people drink,'' Mr Keating said. ''Clover Moore says this is cosmopolitan but the reality is these are more places where people can get a drink.'' (Link)
Paul – sure, people drink in a wine bar, but the last time I checked, Tequila Slammers or B52’s have never been recommended to me by a sommelier or informed waiter in a wine bar (or a whisky speakeasy for that matter).  In an entertainment strip full of mega bars and strip clubs, to single out 4-5 small bars that sell a comparatively miniscule volume of relatively expensive, contemplative alcoholic beverages is simplistic and misleading.

The new boutique Kings Cross Wine bar "Hells Burgundy Angels" opened
to much fanfare, particularly among members of the criminal underworld

More worryingly, we have the current NSW Hospitality Minister, George Souris coming out and stating publically that the rules governing the establishment of small bars in Sydney will be reviewed by the NSW government, suggesting small bars are contributing to problems in areas such as Kings Cross (Link).
Given the vice-like grip the Hotel lobby has had on consecutive State governments and the glut of massive, classless, poker machine filled beer bars and clubs in the Sydney CDB (and beyond), comments like these are frustrating, simplistic and arguably misleading.
To disproportionately focus on small wine bars as a contributing factor to violent crimes in Kings Cross is astounding, and seemingly politically motivated (if not motivated by the urgings of powerful lobby groups trying to deflect attention away from other causes for the binge drinking).
It is as if the scenario played out in the opening ‘interview’ is the norm, and the violent thugs and undesirables are avoiding the alcohol-free and trouble-free strip clubs, Bars and multi-level nightclubs, instead zeroing-in on the dark intimate wine bars to binge drink and wipe themselves out.

Clover Moore polarises opinions, but her changes to licensing laws have helped reinvigorate the small bar scene in Sydney over the last 4 years. This has been mentioned by RedtoBrown and others in the past and is a wonderful development for anyone who loves fine wine. People who says otherwise must not have visited a wine bar over this period.
Seeking refuge from the violent wine bar customers,
the group fled to the safe confines of the Hotel's Poker Machine room.

In light of the power of certain lobby groups, talk of restricting the sale of all drinks above 5% abv after midnight had been mooted. Thankfully, it appears that the State Government is implementing some alcohol and glass bans that target the sale of spirits and shots, but not the ongoing operation of small bars themselves. (Link) How these laws may impact on the opening of additional small bars is yet to be seen.
Regardless of the positive or negative impact of these bans, the misleading commentary regarding small bars has cast them in an undeservedly negative light. It is as if the fictional police interview at the top is how certain politicians and commentators view the impact of small wine bars in Sydney, and this view is so far from the truth, it is absurd.

1 comment:

Cameron Bluett said...

Couldn't agree more. The focus on small wine bars represents a plain derangement of the scale of their impact (if any) on recent violence in the Cross. As you say, look to the strip clubs and larger venues with distressing carpet, that open until dawn, for the source of the problem.

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