by ALEC SMART
The Rio cocktail bar in Summer Hill, in Sydney’s inner west, was shut down On Tues 24 March by licensing police for running a home-delivery drinks service. This closure came despite the owner explaining to the police officers that home-delivery was permitted by the Federal Government in the rules announced by the Prime Minister the previous day.
The bar owner showed the licensing enforcement police the ruling by the NSW Liquor & Gaming authority that permitted home-delivery, which was published on the latter’s website, but the police ignored it.
NSW Govt’s Customer Service Minister, Victor Dominello, signed an order on Monday afternoon modifying licensing laws. These permitted licensed venues throughout the state, closed to the public through new coronavirus legislation restricting social gatherings, to provide home delivery services. Diners, from restaurants to cafes, are also allowed to serve take-away food, with pubs and bars converted to off-license sales.
Rio bar predicted the new restrictions and owner Tess Robens adapted by preparing a delivery menu of cocktails, made from fresh ingredients. The bar promised “Our bottled cocktails are made to order and delivered within half an hour, depending on where you live, or pick up on the spot.”
In a Facebook post shortly after Dominello’s announcement, Rio declared: “Tomorrow we will kick off home deliveries of the finer stuff. We are bottling our cocktails, pouring growlers of draught beer, and emptying our shelves of wine so you can get the best, fresh on your doorstep. Drop us a line and we will keep you somewhat sane.”
The bar was also featured on the front page of Tuesday’s Sydney Morning Herald, with Robens and bar manager Fabrizio Culici pictured blending ingredients and capping bottles for the forthcoming foray into their neighbourhood.
This was what likely drew their attention to the licensing police, intent on preventing Rio adapting to the new normal.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday morning, Rio announced: “Home deliveries and takeaways available from 4pm this afternoon!”
Sadly, they only managed a few hours, because around 7.30pm two police licensing officers arrived and demanded they immediately cease operating.
Ms Robens showed one female officer the Statement of Regulatory Intent that authorised Rio’s changing from in-venue sales to home delivery. However, the authorisation, which was published on the office of Liquor and Gaming NSW’s website, was dismissed. “Her colleague stated that it was just a fact sheet and not legally binding,” Robens told the Herald.
A Liquor and Gaming NSW spokesperson admitted that NSW Police were inhibiting the new home-delivery legislation and Rio were not the only bar the licensing officers visited and forcibly closed.
“Liquor & Gaming NSW is aware that a number of small bars and restaurants were last night prevented from selling alcohol takeaway and deliveries… Liquor & Gaming understands it may take time to operationalise the new arrangements and is in communication with NSW Police in response to industry concerns.”
Rio reopened Wednesday night and began their home-delivered cocktails without police interference.