City News

DJs and drag queens feel lockout squeeze

Drag queen Maxi Shield: "It is sad to see it come to this." Photo: Chris Peken

The state government’s lockout laws are being keenly felt in Sydney’s gay district, with one of Oxford Street’s oldest venues reducing its opening hours and the strip being plunged back into chaos and uncertainty.

The Midnight Shift will close its doors Mondays to Wednesdays, opening them again at 2pm on Thursdays.

The Shift’s venue promotion manager Leigh Harder said the decision was difficult but necessary during these challenging times.

“Due to recent changes in the NSW liquor legislation, along with the impact of a five-year freeze on the CBD entertainment precinct, the Midnight Shift hotel will soon only open four days a week,” Mr Harder explained.

“We apologise to the local patronage that this change will impact on, however, our usual spectacular entertainment and hospitality will be available Thursday to Sunday, with some exciting new additions.”

Maxi Shield, one of Oxford Street’s most celebrated drag queens, told City News she has had to source work elsewhere.

“I was actually working Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights and have had to negotiate opportunities outside of the Shift,” Maxi said.

“I started at the Shift in 1997, since I was a baby drag. It is sad to see it come to this.”

Maxi spoke of the ‘tidal effect’ within the gay community and the demise of the area’s nightlife since the new laws were introduced.

“We would watch the crowds go from Flinders, to the Oxford, to Stonewall and end up at the Midnight Shift,” she said.

“Now our security guards have to turn them away after the lockout. I never thought I would see an enforced closing time on hospitality.”

While the full extent of the lockout’s casualties on Oxford Street is for now unknown, it is already forcing venue operators to make drastic changes or risk closure.

Most of Sydney’s dedicated gay venues are situated along Oxford Street and are all covered under the new rules and lockout zones.

Stonewall, ARQ, the Oxford Hotel, the Beresford Hotel and Phoenix are among those in danger of losing vital revenue that allows them to open on quieter nights. ‘Gay Bar’ closed in early March after 12 months of operation.

Marcus Pastorelli from Harbour City Bears, a community group for bears and their admirers, shares concerns for the precinct’s future.

“It has been our experience that these venues work hard to ensure a safe environment for people to come together and enjoy a night out,” Mr Pastorelli told City News.

“It’s very disheartening to hear from venues that they are needing to reduce the number of days they are trading, or have to put off investments to upgrade facilities because they aren’t sure they’ll still have a viable business in a few months’ time under the new laws.

“Staff are having their hours cut, our DJs have less work – how is this good for our community?”

While the new laws have obvious effects for the gay community, other popular Oxford Street venues are feeling similar repercussions. The Standard, a live music venue above Kinselas, has temporarily closed its doors to rebrand.

“We are changing, in essence from a typical live music bar to a bar with music in it,” said the venue’s music and entertainment director, Matt Rule.

The venue has converted its large music staging area into a bowling alley, inspired by the famous Brooklyn Bowl in New York.

As Sydney succumbs to the pressure of these lockouts, Maxi Shields is afraid Oxford Street will lose its iconcic status as a party precinct.

“Sydney is – well, was – an international city,” she said.

“Now it is a ghost town by 3am.”

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