July 19, 2011

Perth : Small Bars Approved in 2011 = GTFO

"There hasn't been a single small bar license approved for the Perth CBD or Northbridge area in 2011."

When the Western Australian liquor laws were modified in 2007, to enable budding entrepreneurs an easier path to opening a "small bar", I didn't expect the reality of the 2011 outcome. What was promised was the potential for a landscape of smaller premises, with lower capacities, sharing the growing number of patrons that were beginning to choke the often problematic large capacity beer-barns that Perth has known for decades. There was even an advertising campaign. I'm pretty sure it mentioned Melbourne. The gist was that lane-ways would be "activated", and a number of "funky" small bars would be allowed to open, finally giving Perth residents a genuine choice of where to meet for a "sophisticated" experience with quality wines, spirits, beers, and food options. Did you fall for it? Call me an optimist, a glass half full kind of guy, but I fell for the promises hook, line, and sinker.

Clearly the plan has failed. Even with such high profile proponents of the idea, including Lord Mayor Lisa "vibrant" Scaffidi, the applications are just not being approved. There are a multitude of unrealistically high hurdles for applicants to overcome, including local councils, neighbour complaints, vested interests, police, and the terrible reality that getting a liquor license approved remains a costly bureaucratic process where you only get one shot to get it across the line. If you're denied, don't come back. Western Australia, always a land of extremes, has now moved decisively towards the prohibition end of the alcohol availability spectrum. There hasn't been a single small bar license approved for the Perth CBD or Northbridge area in 2011, and there has, remarkably, been rumblings of decreasing in the number of existing licensed premises.

Ironically, there has been two large Tavern licenses approved for the CBD this year. This is utterly in conflict with the entire small bar concept, where smaller, more intimate locations were deemed to be a better solution for the "public interest", when larger capacity taverns were not. The sheer numbers of patrons that will be required for the new Taverns to be financially viable, is the complete opposite of the small bar ethos. A small bar is, by its very nature, an altogether more friendly and personal experience. By many measures, and based upon conversations I have had with various small bar applicants, it appears that getting a small bar license is more difficult now than it was before the 2007 liquor reforms.

Competition reduces prices, or so my economics teacher told me. Perth faces some of the most expensive food and beverage prices, on earth. It is clear that despite factors such as high wages and low unemployment, Perth punters are paying handsomely for the lack of competition in the food and beverage arena. Restrictions on opening hours, whether you can stand whilst drinking, lack of amplified music, no "happy hours" or discounts, and other non-sensical state-initiatives mean that we really are not getting either the value, nor the experiences that residents in other cities take for granted. Of course there are exceptions, there are multiple venues in Perth that offer reasonable value in an interesting environment, but a bit of competition to keep them on their toes wouldn't hurt, would it?

This war on alcohol needs to stop. Now. It's been ineffectual. It's ridiculous, and outdated. Prohibition has been tried, a long time ago, and it doesn't work. With a smaller number of bars and pubs servicing the Perth population, than in decades gone by, have alcohol related incidents reduced? Do people feel safer in Perth, now there are less pubs to go around? The hypocrisy of the law makers and government is palpable. There will be a large number of people who disagree with my viewpoint, people that would prefer that most pubs and bars close down. I would hazard a guess and say that these people live in the vicinity of a pub, or have been personally negatively affected by alcohol, or are just generic nimbys. Guess what? My grandfather died early as a result of alcohol abuse. I live within 100 meters of a license premises. I have had people pissing in my front yard, threatening to shit on my hedge, and asking permission (how courteous!) to snort lines in my foyer, before returning to the venue. So, I have been personally affected by alcohol as well.

However, this isn't about me, or for that matter, about you. It's about living in a city where the majority suffer due to the actions of the minority. Yes, I'm sick to fuck about it. Yes, there are bigger issues to be wasting my time writing about. However, given the feedback I had on the last post I made regarding small bar licenses in Perth, I thought a follow-up would be a good idea. People in Perth like to drink. Not all people in Perth want to drink in a huge tavern. Would just a few more small bar approvals be the downfall of society as we know it?

Is there something I am missing?

I would appreciate, that if you agree with the sentiment of this post, to spread the word, and positively contribute in any way you can to the comments.

Let's not just roll-over and accept this as a given.


Kieron said...

I have been thinking and talking about this alot lately with quite a few people around the city, and i totally agree with you. the lack of small bars in perth / northbridge sucks the culture out of our nightlife and forces drunk people out into the streets when the only bar they enjoy closes. people don't fight in bars like they do on the street, with the bouncers and security around. People seem to think that having more bars equals more alcohol related problems, where as it seems to me the opposite is true. When people have the oppurtunity to drink and mingle in an environment they have chosen and are comfortable in they seem to me less likely to beat each other into bloody pulps, especially if they're in a place occupied by their peers and not every person drinking in northbridge at that given time.

craigo said...

So... despite not all being his own initiatives, Barnett's pursuing the Northbridge Link, the Waterfront development. Perth Arena will open soon. There'll be a new stadium over the pond at Burswood. Knock me dead but there're some key pieces here to revitalising Perth.

You've got to expect another term out of Barnett - WA does after all love mines, gas developments and Canberra-bashing.

We've got to appeal to the side of Barnett that sees himself as a pragmatic, sensible man.

Surely these Northbridge/Perth developments won't move forward without at least a few liquor licenses?

The legislation for these small liquor licenses needs rewriting pronto.

Kamu said...

Should you ever cross me, I will shit on your hedge.

Anonymous said...

I own a wine wholesale business and am benefitting greatly from the proliferation of new bars. I agree in principle that the small bar restrictions are prohibitive, undermined by local council by-laws, and designed to keep the liquor licensing department gainfully employed. However, I think we are in a period where the best positioned sites have been utilised, the initial swag of bars have opened and the timeline for a business owner to get all their funding and organisation together means we are seeing a natural slowing of both applications, and resulting approvals. This article is looking at one angle only, that of approved applications. There are numerous small bar licenses awaiting approval, plus several owners yet to apply until their various planning approvals and finances are sorted. By the end 2011 there will be several more bars opening, so the net result will see several new bars being approved in this calendar year. Small bars are limited to 120 patrons (before any local council adjusts downwards) That in itself is the main sticking point for anyone wanting to open a venue- the numbers just don't add up, it's pretty hard to make it work financially with limited turnover.
As for the Tavern approvals, unfortunately the scope of licensing is so limited that anything that is not a restaurant license, or small bar automatically falls under this category, whether it be a beer barn or a mixed retail/ bar/restaurant space.
There is no question that the difficulties imposed upon prospective small bar owners is onerous, BUT the smart operators will work through those issues and I believe we'll see better, and more sustainable small bar concepts get off the ground.

N. said...

"anonymous" thanks for your comments. Yes, the angle of this article is about approved applications. That's the point - zero approved. You can put any spin on that you want, as can I, but what it boils down to, is there have been zero small bar approvals in 2011.

Regarding the "numbers" - of course the numbers add up, as evidenced by the HUNDREDS (thousands?) of small bars in other cities around Australia.

Smart operators have tried and failed to get licenses. They have come up with sustainable concepts, had the blessing of the Lord Mayor, and the local council, have had years of successful experience in the industry, and still can't get a license.

As for the "best positioned sites" having already been taken, this is clearly not true. A quick stroll around the CBD or Northbridge will show you this.

If there are licenses approved later in 2011, that would be a great outcome. Fingers crossed, as you have a vested interest in this industry.

I don't have a vested interest, I'm just a regular patron who expects MORE from the politicians, authorities, and small bars that are in Perth.

Anonymous said...

Hey there,

I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy reading your articles and appreciate that there is someone such as yourself in the community who isn’t afraid of voicing their opinion.

As a 3rd year student of Urban Planning at uni and a Local Government Town Planning employee, I find what you write stimulating, informative and incredibly relevant. Of particular interest to me are these articles relating to Perth's dismal liquor licensing laws which in my personal opinion are just another aspect of which lends Perth it's Dullsville tagline.

We, the residents of Perth, are constantly promised an exciting future. Case in point; The Swan River Waterfront. The Northbridge Link. The Football Stadium. But to be honest, this promise of a vibrant future Perth wears thin after a while. And when I say “a while” I mean the better part of my entire life! One of the many reason’s I chose to study Town Planning was due to the possibility of creating engaging places for social interaction into the future. Yet how will this ever be achieved when political debate and bureaucracy have Perth falling behind the rest? I don’t think a large scale project goes through its advertising phase these days without the token “This development will attract highly skilled and young workers are to Western Australia” sentence located somewhere within its opening paragraph.

I didn’t intend to rant here, apologies. What I wanted to say was that there are people such as yourself within the community who share your views, and want to make a change. I do my best to distribute your articles to my friends, family and co-workers and attempt to spread your word.

All the best mate, keep it up!

N. said...

Thanks, some great compliments in there. Also, cheers for spreading the word. Good luck with your studies, I hope you get into a position where you can make a positive contribution to the type of lifestyle Perth offers.

Elliotstan said...

I agree with craigo. How can all these developments go ahead and new licences not be approved. I fear that an issue in a few years will be that once the rail line is sunk and the new stadium built in Burswood there will simply be no new bars around them to support the areas. Perth will remain exactly the same.

barry said...

your assumption that zero approved automatically infers that small bars are getting knocked back is patently false. how many are going through the process as we speak? And as for smart operators that have tried and failed? who? I'm unaware of any small bar license that has been rejected?
Conversely, several high-profile tavern licenses have failed and have had to re-issue or failed the public interest assessment. I get the tone of what you're saying, I want a diverse choice of small venues as much as anyone, but the facts are there are not small bar applications being rejected and by year's end you will see several : note Lunar Bar in wellington St and The Duchess in Claremont are both conditionally approved, with the duchess set to open in a couple of months.
as for the "numbers"- my point is you have to have a really sound concept that encompasses food and wine/ drinks to ensure you can make a living from less than 120 heads. Plenty of new venues, like Bivouac, have chosen to apply for a restaurant license first with the intention of expanding/adapting to a small bar license down the track, because at the moment that just suits them better.
There's no harm in wishing for a more diverse choice of small, intimate venues, but let it take it's course, it will happen.

N. said...

Bazza, Lunar Bar was approved in 2009. Conditionally, they may have had a problem as work was due to be completed by September 2010 (as a condition of the license). This bar is not open. There does not appear to be approval for The Duchess, can you show me where this exists? This bar is also, not open. Over the last few years, small bar applications have been knocked back. Some have been quite high profile, given that you work in the industry, I'm surprised you don't know about them. See: http://www.6000times.com/2011/02/perth-so-you-want-to-open-bar-lol.html Bivouac is not a bar. Using that as an example, as well as two bars that haven't actually opened (possibly one does not even have conditional approval), and informing my readers that it is "patently false" that small bars have been knocked back, just shows how dire the situation is. Your optimism of "let it take it's course" is what we were promised four years ago with the change of the licensing regulations. Here we are, four years later, are things better, or worse?

It's time for change. I hope that common sense prevails, and some licenses are issued in the later half of this year.

J said...

The point, Barry, is that it should not be this difficult for an operator to open up a small bar that is clearly catering to the publics insatiable demand for smaller, quieter intimate venues. There is no reason for the operator to prove that it is in the 'public interest', let alone having to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars having lawyers prepare the assessment.
The reason we do not have the variety of venues the other cities enjoy, as well as the reason we pay far more than patrons in other cities is because it is far to difficult and expensive to attain a license.
The policy RGL is operating on is clearly at odds with the work of other sections of the government including the EPRA and at odds with the words of the Premier himself.

Anonymous said...

Yes Mate. Very True words.
I aspire to open a venue one day but I'm still fresh in the game (turned 20 on Monday)
Lets hope we can turn things around eventually.

mass respect, You have my support.

Anonymous said...

Someone should do a comparison of the costs of aquiring a small bar licence across all major australian cities.

Anonymous said...

Coke Zero is a gateway drink that begats Coke, which begats Redbull, which begats Redbull and vodka... which is where you start wanting pot badly(which, incidentally is a gateway drug for crack, incest and folkdancing). Can't you see why a small bar would be frowned upon?

Paul said...

I have nothing against applicants having their application rejected, when the application is poor (e.g. Louve). If an applicant hasn't done their reserch, looked at the legislation properly etc and their application is weak because of this, well tough luck for them.

What I take issue with is that for starters, the legislation itself is not that basic. It should be easy for a layperson to understand, however the fact is that most applicants do need a lawyer to help them understand what the legislation is all about. The ''public interest'' proviso for example is anything but clear. Like many have discussed on here, how does an applicant prove that their application is in ''the public interest''. Doing proper research, it would still be quite apparent that this is not an easy thing to prove, and that more often than not, it's the biggest hurdle in getting an application successfuly approved (note I am not just talking about small bars, but tavern licenses as well).

1907, not allowed to trade until 1 pm on weekends because it's not in the public interest, the Latin, not allowed to ever exist because it would not be in the public interest. Certainly for the Latin, the application would have been prepared with the assistance of some very experienced and able liquor licensing lawyers. Just because an applicant can see what has occured with prior applicants, does not mean that it's easier for them to avoid the inherent difficulty of the legislation.

An applicant could get the support of people in the area, petition those walking by for a week, get signatures from tennants of nearby residents, retailers and offices etc yet still, do you honestly think this would satisfy the requirement that the application be in the public interest. All the Police Commissioner, or any other objector needs to do is to pull out a report, no matter how shaky it may be, showing that alcohol = violence etc and that negates all the work of the applicant. It is akin to holiding someone accused of murder guilty until proven innocent. No matter what the area of law, there is always a huge, difficult burden placed on a party who has the burden of proof. For the issue of liquor licensing, it's simply not conducive to the original spirit of the legislation to put such a burden on an applicant.

If, despite this, an applicant does manage to have their application approved, then as we have seen, this often comes with a myriad of, quite frankly, nonsencical restrictions on trading hours, drinks served, size of drinks served, vessels drinks can be served in, seating arrangements etc. Often the place that one ends up being allowed to open, by the restrictions of the license, is different in many ways than the place that they are allowed to open.

Personally, I've always wanted to open my own little small bar/cafe but, being quite knowledgeable on both the legislation and the experiences of prior applicants, and current license holders, even with the capital, I'd not bother opening up something in Perth with the situation the way it currently is. Imagine all of the applications that never get rejected, because potential applicants have thought very much the same thing, therefore never even applying in the first place.

N. said...

Paul, thanks so much. Your last paragraph sums it up perfectly. I appreciate it a lot.

Anonymous said...

I popped into Bivouac yesterday - looks like they have a small bar area at the rear? Perhaps that was approved last year.

Also noted application for alcohol license posted to door a few doors down William St - know which one that was?

N. said...

Bivouac don't have a bar license. They have a single table where you can sit and order a drink without a meal.

The other one on William - is probably the Flipside burger people. Same concept as in North Fremantle, I believe, with a burger joint, and a small bar "next door".

I wish them luck, it would be a shame if such experienced operators were denied.

Bento said...

The points you raise are spot on, and incredibly frustrating. Why are the people of Perth so convinced that if something is not regulated within an inch of its life, we will spiral into some sort of nasty, brutish and short primal anarchy? I'd be interested to know whether the applications (I assume there were some) fell at the liquor licence or town planning stage? I've found the unrealistic parking requirements kill these sort of things off quite early in the piece, even before Rob Johnson and Karlo get the chance to nay-say.

(first sentence removed by N - cheers for the kind words)

N. said...

Bento - I personally know of serious operators giving up, or more likely, putting things on hold at this point, or looking for a new angle, *before* they have even begun the application process. These people aren't recorded in any statistical analysis. For this reason, I chose not to look into the hit-rate of approvals vs denials over the last few years.The reality is, there are a minimal number of new licenses approved, and that number it appears to be shrinking.
The very lack of applicants this year speaks volumes, and in my opinion is a culmination of a few years of questionable denials.

It is a combo of problems.

Again, always good to hear from you Bento.

1UP Microcinema said...

I would like to see some discussion on the exemptions to the act that were passed on July 16.

I currently have a small bar license pending for 1UP Microcinema. However with these new exemptions, it seems I will be able to serve up to 2 complimentary standard drinks with a movie ticket purchased. There is also the potential to run small occassional functions for up to 75 people for 4 hours until 10pm.

Do you think that RGL will look on my application more favorably with the knowledge that if they do not grant the small bar license, I am just going to do these things anyway?

Oh, and do you all know that RGL now has a Facebook page...

Anonymous said...

Whenever I walk around Northbridge (which I try not to because to be honest it scares the shit out of me), there are people everywhere. The bars are chocka-block and yet there are people everywhere on the street. If there were more bars there would be less people on the street. It is the dickheads on the streets who start the fights because when they are in a club the bouncers will sort them out if they are being dickheads. Once they are out though, all hell breaks loose. It is sad to see that the minority of people are ruining what should be a fun experience for everyone. We are a nation who likes to socialise over a drink. There is hardly anywhere to go where you can sit down for a drink without having other people sit on top of you just because there is literally no room at all.

Less bars is not going to mean less people in Northbridge either. There are just going to be more people wandering around because they can't get into a pub to drink.

Get your act together Perth. We are a city that boasts so much potential. We live in possibly the most beautiful capital city in Australia and yet it is possibly the most boring. Come on Perth.

Steve said...

This is a wonderful article. Sums up the situation beautifully.

It is sooooo frustrating as a resident of Perth that there is a lack of diverse small bars making Perth have a cosmopolitan feel. As someone that's been in the industry, and also flirted with the idea of jumping in and getting a small bar (as many above have done) only to work out that liquor application reward vs effort and expenditure to get there just isn't worth it.

Can't wait to showcase Perth to the world at CHOGM. Hopefully everyone realises how Dullsville we actually are sometime before the next decade. As for me, I'm out. I'm moving somewhere less regulated. Adelaide will even do.

Anonymous said...

Barry is a liar, that is all.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I AGREE. Plz forward your message to Council.

Anonymous said...

It's a subtle move to increase Perth gay numbers.
We are actively being herded to The Court wine bar where we will all be 'turned' from heterosexuals into homosexuals. This conversion will then lead Perth, kicking, mincing and screaming to join the ranks of Melbourne and Sydney. Perth will THEN and only then, be able to call itself, a FUN City with a vibrant night life. Clever eh!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever thought about going into political satire as a career? Very funny.

More seriously I am from Perth but now live in Milan. Here in Italy on every street corner every 'bar' sells coffee and goodness me, alcohol. Funnily enough I have never seen Italians staggering around drunk interfering with the public good and I have lived here for nearly 10 years. Perhaps those in charge just need to get out more and visit Europe to see how it is done.

Anonymous said...

What is it about Perth that you can't go into a place and have a drink - without food? Not even Perth but Australia. Over in the East outside the CBDs it is RSL clubs with pokie machines, here just chain bars with the same stupid and pointless interior as the next. I have only been out in Perth a handful of times since I moved here 2 months ago and i'm sick of it already. Being interrogated by power hungry bouncers, overpriced drink, lady gaga bouncing through the speakers and being refused entry over footwear?! who do these people think they are? if anyone can recommend a small bar that does NOT do food, with some decent music and some conversation please inform me.
The art of conversation in pubs is well and truly lost in this city. How do you meet new people here?

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Having gone on hiatus from the hospitality industry for some years and planning to make a come-back within the next 2 years in the form of a new small bar, this is frightening. I really hope that Karlo and the RGL get their act together soon. Perth NEEDS more competition in relation to small bars, lets face it, it's not exactly fun to head out to one of the many beer barns that we're so sick of...

Anonymous said...

Good all aussie's ! still living in old school life ... do you know why ? Because we are still & will be still living with redneck’s … Sum it up ... Hope that clear you thought’s

Anonymous said...

Not one person has mentioned Director of Liquor Licensing Barry Sargeant. He is the man responsible for all of the above, not the government.

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