At 6pm on Friday March 22, bars across the city will stop service, turn up the lights and turn off the music to draw attention to the future of Sydney’s night-time economy.
Forty bars have signed on to take part in the protest, which is timed for the busiest period of trading – Friday-night knock-offs – and on eve of the NSW state election, happening this Saturday March 23.
The list of participating venues is impressive. It includes This Must Be The Place, Oxford Arts Factory, PS 40, Lobo Plantation, Earl's Juke Joint Bulletin Place, Bistecca, the Duke of Clarence and many more.
During Unhappy Hour, venue owners will grab a mic and start a conversation with patrons and chat for 10 minutes or so, asking them to consider the ramifications of over-regulation and legislation such as the lockout laws. The goal is to encourage conversation among patrons about the state of Sydney’s night-time economy.
Pasan Wijesena, who owns Earl's Duke Joint and Jacoby’s, two bars taking part, says it's important to draw attention to the challenges facing night-time industries. "I had the luxury of growing up in Sydney when it was a lot more free and diverse, and I'd love that for my kid too. Sydney was heading in such a great direction before it was cut off at the knees. It goes beyond bars, it extends to better transport, more live music, less pokies."
The exact issues new political party Keep Sydney Open is arguing about in Saturday's election.
"Sydney was once a city that didn’t sleep. A buzzing hub of activity on par with (or close to) New York and London, where tourists flocked, small businesses thrived and locals lived their best lives all day and all night. Then, in February 2014, the lockout laws were introduced," it told Broadsheet.
The chair of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Michael Rodrigues says Unhappy Hour is a chance to do something positive with the election and start reviving Sydney’s nightlife.
“Festivals restrictions and lockout laws have framed the debate so far, but it’s more than that; we’re looking at a $16 billion dollar opportunity and potential bigger vision for the night time of this city,” he said in a statement.
Unhappy Hour is an initiative led by the NTIA, a consortium of bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants, festivals, retail operators, arts and culture organisations – any commercial business that wants to unite to have a say about the future of Sydney’s night-time economy.
The event comes after news a Surry Hills restaurant might face extra restrictions because it has a disco ball.
Unhappy Hour happens at 6pm on Friday March 22 in some Sydney pubs.