If you have lived in Sydney for four or more decades, you would have witnessed cycles of urban change that have an almost depressing predictability. Suburbs slip in and out of fashion as once prosperous areas fall into decline and others are reborn with an almost feverish vitality. This is illustrated no more graphically than with the entertainment precincts of Kings Cross and Newtown, the most recent ‘victims’ of change.
The rapid decline of Kings Cross following the new lockout laws has been well documented as has the rise of Newtown as the new weekend haunt for the binging brigade. Whilst the Cross has seen a considerable drop in alcohol fuelled violence and anti social behaviour, Newtown is just coming to grips with the influx of the weekend party people.
Flashback to the 70s and 80s and things were quite a bit different. The Cross was booming with numerous live music clubs and nite spots and given its popularity, a relatively low level of street violence. Newtown on the other hand, whilst beginning to feel the onslaught of gentrification, still retained many of the vestiges of its rough and tumble working class past. There was a certain sense of foreboding about the place highlighted by incidents such as the infamous double fatal stabbing at the notorious Three Roses Steakhouse. The prevailing view was that you were more likely to get your head kicked in on King Street than on Darlinghurst Road.
The Cross might still have been regarded as naughty with its strip clubs, sex shops and street girls but Newtown at the corresponding time was just downright ‘seedy’. At the Hub Theatre, predominantly middle aged patrons could enjoy a lazy afternoon of porno flicks interspersed with ‘erotic live performers’, rotated by taxi from the Oxford Street Sinema. Audience participation was very much on the agenda and it was not uncommon for punters to drop the drawers and join in the on stage pantomime.
Newtown’s pubs at the time were more of the bloodhouse variety – a far cry from today’s groovy hipster hangouts. There was little to attract younger folk, although venues such as the Sandringham Hotel and Feedback reflected the burgeoning local music scene. They were however few and far between given the proliferation of live music venues elsewhere.
So where are we now and when can we expect the cycle to rotate once again? The Cross looks set for an indefinite period of decay as more and more night clubs call it quits, shops become vacant and the area drained of its vivacity. Newtown on the other hand looks certain to assume the mantle of party HQ, especially on weekends. Not surprisingly the pubs there have learned from the KC experience and recently began a trial period of self imposed 3am lockouts as well as banning ‘doubles’ and shots after midnight. Whether Newtown can avoid the kind of drunken violence that beset the Cross remains to be seen.
History tends to suggest that the suburb’s current night life boom will eventually end in bust, although, hopefully not as a result of increased drunkenness and violence. It’s more than likely that a combination of factors, economic, cultural and just plain fickleness will eventually see a migration to a new entertainment strip. That’s unlikely to be a reborn version of Kings Cross, or even Oxford Street but who would be so bold as to predict the future, allowing for the increasing bureaucratization of the way we have fun.
with Coffin Ed, Jay Katz and Miss Death