This is not what a vibrant city looks like.
How lockouts turned Kings Cross into a ghost town
February 24 marks two years of Sydney’s lockout laws and it’s getting hard to count the casualties.
Venues like Backroom, Soho, Hugo’s, The Flinders, Trademark, The Bourbon and Q-Bar have all shut their doors, the number of late night punters in the CBD has dropped by 80% and from the parties that never happened to the producers losing club royalties, the cultural damage left behind is impossible to quantify.
While the lockout legislation has impacted all of Sydney, one area has been especially hard hit. In a piece shared widely on social media last week, Freelancer CEO and unlikely champion of the clubs Matt Barrie wrote that “Kings Cross, in particular, has been decimated so badly that it will never, ever, come back as an entertainment precinct”.
But exactly what does that devastation look like? To find out, we sent photographer SAM WHITESIDE to the Cross at midnight on a Friday to see what shape Sydney’s former party spots are in now. In 2016, the “Golden Mile” that used to be Sydney’s buzzing, 24-hour precinct is almost unrecognisable – hardly a “vibrant city”, Mike Baird.
Then: SohoNow: Soho
Soho first opened over two decades ago, operating as YU for eight years before relaunching under its original name in 2009. Club nights like The Usual Suspects, Ping Pong, The Sydney Social, Electric Disco and After Hours were all hosted by the Victoria St venue over the years, with internationals like Hardwell, Avicii, Laidback Luke, Paul Van Dyk and many more passing through its doors.
In June 2015 it shut for the last time, with owner Andrew Lazarus citing the lockouts as the reason for the club’s end. “The lockout laws have destroyed an entertainment precinct making us the latest victim,” he said. “These laws have seen patronage to the Kings Cross area decline significantly and when combined with the increased cost of compliance, it has made the business of providing entertainment no longer viable.”
Known as one of Sydney’s go-to spots on a Sunday, Hugo’s Lounge opened in 2000 and ran for 15 years as a successful bar, club and restaurant.
Seventy staff lost their jobs when Hugo’s was forced to shut in July 2015, after the venue suffered a 60% loss in revenue following the introduction of the lockout laws. “I didn’t want to be proven right, but I have been,” owner Dave Evans said in a press release. “We always said these laws would work against the good operators as well as the bad ones, and result in people simply voting with their feet and going to other, less prepared parts of Sydney. And here we are.”
The venue’s staff launched a class action lawsuit against the NSW State Government shortly after Hugo’s shut, seeking compensation for the “bad policy” that unfairly targeted Kings Cross.
The regular haunt of off-duty DJs and international superstars like Calvin Harris and Brodinski, Backroom opened in 2011 and celebrated its third birthday only one month before ceasing trade.
“Things haven’t been working for a while. Plain and simple, it is the lockout laws that have definitely affected our closing,” venue owner Raul Gonzales said. “When you have a business model that relies on late night trading and you’re not getting it, then its just not feasible to keep it running. The foot traffic in the Cross has dropped significantly.”
The birthplace of notorious, scene-changing club nights like Bang Gang, Starfvckers, Trashbags, Tweekin and fetish night Hellfire, 77 William St quietly stopped hosting parties in 2014, but thankfully it’s not all bad news.
This year 77 will make a comeback in a new form, promising to relaunch as a spot “cocktails, food, fine wine, dancing” soon. But sadly, 77’s days as an educational rave den, where fledgling punters could rage all night before emerging onto William St with the rising sun, are probably behind it.
Then: Darlinghurst Rd
Now: Darlinghurst Rd
For anyone visiting the Golden Mile or Oxford Street on a weekend, the difference is clear – the once bustling all-night party strips are now relatively tame, with boarded up shopfronts the legacy of lockout laws and Liquor Authority crackdowns. Kings Cross alone has lost 13 venues since lockouts started, according to their Liquor Accord chief Doug Grand – pubs and clubs that are now being turned into luxury apartments.
Last week the City of Sydney reported that Kings Cross and Oxford St have seen a drop of over 80% in late night punters since 2012. The plan, City of Sydney says, is to transform the city by 2030 from a party zone for young people into a place for late night shopping and visitors over 40 years old.
This is part one in a series of articles exploring the impact of the lockouts two years on.
Katie Cunningham is one of the Editors of inthemix. She is on Twitter.