Ten years ago it was dire straits for thirsty revellers in the CBD. You had pokie-powered pubs and cocktail caverns or nothing, until the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, decided that it was high time Sydney established a nightlife we could be proud of. Without Moore’s reforms there would be no laneway voodoo bars or hidden gin palaces, no food trucks, and a weekly party inside the Australian Museum would have never gotten off the ground. And that's why we awarded her the 2016 Legend Award at the Time Out Sydney Bar Awards.
But tackling our big booze barn drinking culture was no small task. “The city was boring in late ’90s and people tended not to stay on – they would go straight home. I decided I was tired of the government saying they’re going to do something on reforming licensing laws so I introduced a private member’s bill with proposed changes to allow small bars,” says the Lord Mayor. “And the world went ballistic.” But help arrived from unexpected quarters. “My biggest opponent at the time was the head of the Australian Hotels Association, John Thorpe. He made a statement saying no one in Sydney wants to sit in a bar and drink Chardonnay and read a history book. And people put up their hands and said, ‘actually, we do want that.’ It was really funny – he was my greatest assistant.
Now there are 100 small bars in the city and that was what we wanted. I love a city to be alive with people.” In spite of the introduction of sweeping lockout laws in 2014, the Lord Mayor is optimistic about the future of Sydney’s nightlife, and the next battle to be won. “We’re putting our energy into the transformation of George Street, and the laneways off it. There’ll be people flowing out to the street and there’ll be outdoor dining and new bars, and activities to go with that. I think the transformation of George Street and those adjoining lanes will be a game-changer, in the same way the small bars revolution was.” So let’s all raise a glass to our small bars champion, without whom we’d surely be thirsty.
This has been the year Sydney’s bar scene got classy. People who not so long ago wouldn’t have touched a straight liquor cocktail with a bargepole are now ordering up Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs without a second thought, and they’re loving it.