Welcome, Brisbane, to your brave new world. Last night, Queensland started rolling out tough new lockout laws. 2am last drinks. No takeaway booze after 10pm. No “rapid intoxication drinks” after midnight.
That’s the shorthand, anyway. But the bill the LNP opposition labelled as “confusing” when it was first passed is not made easier to understand by the fact it doesn’t kick in fully until February next year. The laws are being introduced in two stages, and the first of which has just come in to effect.
So, heading out on the weekend? Here’s what you need to know.
What time is last drinks?
Last drinks is now 2am across Queensland for venues outside of the entertainment precincts. This is not a massive change for a lot of the smaller venues that exist away from the city, Valley or Caxton Street. The big change is 3am last drinks inside the entertainment, or “safe night”, precincts.
So where are the safe night precincts?
Fifteen safe night precincts were prescribed throughout the State in October of 2014. In Brisbane there are three: the CBD, inner west Brisbane, including Caxton Street, and Fortitude Valley. In case there’s still any confusion about this: no, West End is not a safe night precinct.
Am I being locked out at 1am?
Not yet. That happens in February 2017, and only in the entertainment precincts. To be clear: bars outside the precinct won’t have a 1am lockout — but they still have to close at 2am. For those inside the precincts, they can opt in; it’s either close at 2am or apply to sell booze until 3am, in which case they will have to lock out new patrons between 1am and 3am. So, when the clock strikes 3am you’ll be able to enter a club, but they won’t be able to sell you any booze. Make sense? Yes? No? Great!
In short: if you enjoy dancing the night away in nightclubs, prepare to cash in some leave and make the most of the next six months.
What about this “no takeaway after 10pm” business? Like any enlightened person, sometimes I purchase a bottle of beaujolais and enjoy it at home in the cherished company of family and friends.
This only applies to new approvals. So, yes, the Paddington Tavern and the Sportsman Hotel can still see you right until midnight.
No “rapid intoxication” drinks. That means a snifter of my favourite whisk(e)y is banned after midnight, right?
No. Thankfully, a bunch of bar owners and bartenders were in parliament when the legislation was being finalised and managed to convince the government to add some fidelity to their definition of a “rapid intoxication drink”.
“With the new laws, it’s simply anything that’s designed to be shot, like a shooter glass or a test tube. Anything that promotes rapid consumption,” says Cobbler owner, Martin Lange, one of the barkeeps who consulted with the government. “We don’t have any of that. We just have whisky balloons and the like.”
So you can still go to Cobbler and enjoy a couple of late night drams? “Yes,” Lange says. “It’s quite clear we’re not that kind of venue. The new laws will hardly affect us.”
What’s going on in the safe night precincts, then?
If it’s a nightclub, it stops serving alcohol at 3am, although the option is there to stay open longer (which isn’t likely, unless they have a thriving gaming operation). The 1am lockouts won’t start until February.
For venues that don’t operate on a club license but stay open until 3am, they’ll have a choice to make: keep their hours and introduce a 1am lockout in February. Or just wind back their closing time to 2am.
“It’s not really going to affect us too much,” says Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall owner, Jamie Webb. “Instead of shutting at 3am we’re shutting at 2am, which is probably not a bad call because that crowd can be hard work at times.”
So is all this doom and gloom for nothing?
For some, yes. These laws aren’t quite as debilitating as those forced upon Sydney. If you simply enjoy hitting the small bars on the weekend, it might not make much of a difference to your night out.
But for most, still, no. The days of nightclubs staying open until 5am are over. That’s a massive blow for a town that likes to call itself Australia’s “new world city”.
“I don’t think it’s good for Brisbane nightlife in general,” Webb says. “Brisbane in the last five or ten years really caught up. Now, it’s going backwards again. That doesn’t tell me it’s a modern city.”
“There was a protest on Sunday of about 300 people,” Lange adds. “But most of them looked like they’d been out since the night before. It wasn’t a great look.
“But it’s a fair thing to complain about,” he continues. “And that whole industry of workers knocking off on a weekend brings in a lot of money for bars and clubs.”
And then there’s the elephant in the room of any discussion about lockout laws: the casinos, which remain exempt. Webb is frank: “That really pisses me off,” he says. “It tells me that the government thinks gambling is a social behaviour and drinking is not.”