By MARK KRIEDEMANN
From March 8, Kings Cross will return to opening hours and service last seen 6 years ago when the lockout laws came into effect.
Under the lockout laws venues serving alcohol had to close their doors to patrons at 1:30 am, and last drinks at bars were 3am. With the lifting of these laws, patrons can be accepted after 1:30 am, and the last drinks cut-off will be moved to 3:30 am.
At the time of their implementation, Kings Cross had been recently marred by the deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie in one-punch attacks. The laws were set in place by the O’Farrell NSW government with the aim to “make a significant difference in tackling drug-and alcohol-fuelled violence on our streets.”
Memories of what was
The manager of the Bourbon Hotel (one of the businesses that survived the lockout), Nick Porter told City Hub his memory of those times.
“I remember being early 20’s, and The Cross was just on fire. 7 Days a week, hustling and bustling.”
Another veteran of business in Kings Cross, former DJ John Carroll, had similar impressions.
“I spent 6 years doing what we had, called car-wash disco, at a club that eventually became The Tunnel. And we had the backpacker market, and we absolutely smashed it”.
However, In the time since the lockout laws were introduced, there has been a noticeable shift in the culture and fortunes of Kings Cross.
Much of this shift is connected to the types of development that’s taken place in response to, “different demographics”, as Mr. Carroll explains. “The people who are going to move in, they’ll have different interests because they’re an older age-group”.
Development has occurred on multiple levels, as a result of the interconnectedness of the businesses and property lot owners that were joined in catering to the previous interests in Kings Cross.
A domino effect
Khae Aoun, owner of the Kings Cross Distillery, one of the newer businesses, told City Hub a “domino effect” has forced old property owners and businesses out of the area while making way for new ones.
“The business owner wasn’t making the money, the landlord wasn’t getting the rent as well. So that was a domino effect,” he said.
“And that’s when my wife and I purchased the property, but with the view that there was always going to be potential growth in the area, and that the lockout was going to be open again”
This kind of impact has been felt very broadly. As Mr. Carroll explained, it affected “everyone from delivery people. It wasn’t just the pubs and clubs, it was also all the takeaway places, all the tiny cafes, transport, taxis, you name it. Everyone got hit”.
The period of transition has come with a lot of pain. Adding to the pain is a sense of unfairness.
As Nick Porter from the Bourbon Hotel put it, “the implementation of the lockout laws, it was a head-scratch. Kings Cross was smashed with lockout laws… We’ve done our time in purgatory”.
This feeling is compounded by the feeling the people and businesses of Kings Cross were not the ones who were responsible for the culture that led to the events that motivated the lockout laws, as Mr. Carroll explains.
“A lot of trouble that was in the cross was coming from outside. Okay, both of those murders, those boys were from the western suburbs. They were the ones that came in with the attitude”.
Moving on has been difficult, even for businesses such as the Kings Cross Distillery that have sought to capitalise on the shifted culture in Kings Cross.
Nonetheless, there is optimism about the Cross’s future. Mr. Porter said the developments have been “very welcome for a lot of business owners… there’s been focusing on fine-dining… all the riff-raff have moved out into more suburban areas”.
Therefore, there is reason for Kings Cross businesses to agree with the statement from NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, “the precinct is now well positioned to continue to evolve into a vibrant lifestyle and cultural destination with a diverse mix of small bars, live music venues and restaurants”.
Katherine O’Regan, Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, also celebrated the lifting of the lockdown laws in a changed Kings Cross, explaining “this is a great opportunity to realise the full potential of Kings Cross as a diverse, inclusive and economically valuable addition to the city as a place not simply centred around late night drinking”.
With the movement away from this “late night drinking”, the lifting of the lockout restrictions has a degree of irrelevancy. The culture of The Cross has shifted in a way that’s attracting people to daytime venues rather than catering for a vibrant nightlife.
As Mr. Aoun says, “I don’t see much nightlife. Yes, you’ve got the Potts Point Hotel. But besides that really, all the nightclubs, they’ve all disappeared”.
However, owners and managers like Mr. Aoun and Mr. Porter still see a future for Kings Cross with a lot of promise.
Looking into the next five years, Mr. Porter is confident that there will be many fine things for Kings Cross, and he doesn’t “see it coming back to what it was. The developers and politicians won’t let that happen again”.