Eat & Drink

A 6 month trial to help rejuvenate the Newcastle CBD night time economy set to start soon

On Friday 1st October small bars within the Newcastle CBD will be prepping themselves for a slightly longer night ahead with a 6 month trial for extending trading hours officially kicking in.

Since 2008 those now-famous laws have been in place with licensing restrictions introduced to help curb the alcohol-fuelled issues taking place within the city - twelve years on the NSW government are looking to review these laws, much to the relief of small bar owners, and their patrons, across the city.

Championing the extended trading hours has been Prudence Farquhar, owner of Blue Kahunas cocktail bar in the Hunter St Mall, together with MP Tim Crakanthorp and a collective of small bar operators. Keen to know a little more we sat down with Prudence and Tim at the Blue Kahunas bar.

newcastle small bars and restaurants extended trading hours trial
Some of the small bar & restaurant owners set to be impacted by the extended trading hours

From L to R - Sean (Coal & Cedar), Corey (The Grain Store), Jordan & Ali (The Basement), Brendan (The Falcon), Chris (The Koutetsu) & Byron & Prudence (Blue Kahunas)

Prudence, you’ve been one of the driving forces behind this push to extend trading hours, how long has it taken to get to this point?

I reached out to Tim (Crakanthorp) early in 2020 as I was interested in seeing what the next step was in improving Newcastle’s nightlife, specifically for small bars, not only as an owner but as a patron. When I spoke to Tim he said he had already been working on this and it grew momentum from there.

Tim, what prompted you to assist in getting the extended trading hours amended?

I had noticed a few small bars in the Newcastle CBD had begun closing which was really concerning. As a big city that wants to project ourselves as an international city, we need to make it easier for people to come and have a good time and enjoy themselves, in an environment that facilitates that. That’s why we’re looking at small bars and restaurants rather than anything else.

It’s not about encouraging the rapid consumption of alcohol, it’s about creating a more sophisticated and diverse night-time offering that brings with it a different demographic into the city. Currently, you can’t go out to get a cocktail after 10 pm which I think is appalling, we are the second-largest city in the state, we should be able to do these things, so when Prudence contacted me with her concerns things started to move from there.

The lockout laws have been in place for a long time, what has enabled you to get this trial over the line?

Tim: The lockout laws were introduced twelve years ago when Hunter Street and Newcastle was a very different place. Since then the government has invested a billion dollars in the CBD and the council will be investing a whole lot more in the mall, so a billion in private and 2 billion in public investment, so we think that we should be changing and moving with the times. Legislations are usually reviewed every 5 years and these rules have been in place for 12 years so it’s well overdue and time we were brought in line with the rest of the state.

Do you think the lockout laws have in anyway impacted Newcastle’s image as being a desirable destination to come and visit?

Prudence: Yes I often hear things like Newcastle is boring, and why would you visit Newcastle? Our friends in Sydney thought we were crazy for moving here to open a bar, and it was really scary opening the business given the restrictions around licensing. I don’t think Byron and I fully immersed ourselves in what was involved, we just thought let’s do it and take a gamble, it’s worked out for us but we want to have the same rights as other small bars in the state.

Tim: The easing of a few restrictions will also help to distance us from the questions around ‘is it safe to go out in Newcastle’ and help change the perceptions that people outside of Newcastle have about the city.

Prudence what will the changing of these laws mean for you and other small bar operators?

Being able to trade until 2 am is a game-changer, obviously, as a business owner it’s profitable, but also as someone living in Newcastle, I want to be able to go out and eat late and experience a vibrant nightlife. It would be great to have an alternative to a kebab (laughs), currently that’s about all you can get after midnight.

How confident are you that once the trial is finished that the trading hours will remain?

Prudence: I don’t see why it won’t, at the committee panels we’ve had so far which have involved stakeholders from all areas of the community, everyone’s been on the same page.

The Central Coast, which is even more regional then Newcastle, their small bars can be open until 2 am, the Coast has a similar culture to Newcastle and they make it work so I don’t see why we can’t.

Tim: The Minister is very clear that he wants measurable indices before this can be changed permanently that’s why we want to bring everyone with us on this. We have the council and police on this committee, the liquor, and gaming authority and we all want to go together and get a positive outcome.

Aside from being able to stay open later what benefits do you see for Newcastle with these extended trading hours?

Tim: I see Newcastle’s night scene becoming more sophisticated and provide an offering that’s quite Melbourne-esque. By offering better-licensing conditions this will invite more people to open small bars and restaurants in Newcastle, under the current licensing there’s not a lot of incentive to do so. As a part of this, you will see increased employment opportunities for young people and support for small businesses through COVID-19. We want to see a sophisticated, vibrant culture that offers something different in a safe environment. 

Prudence: If you look at Sydney small bars have worked a treat there, the cocktail culture is world-class and we want Newcastle to be able to provide a similar offering and small bars are a really great place to start that if we encourage this because we have better-licensing conditions it can only get better.

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