Q&A: Potts Point Hotel on the ‘huge win’ of scrapping ID scanners

It’s a new year, a new decade. And from today, a fresh start for Sydney’s night economy.

The NSW Government last November announced a climbdown on its draconian lockout laws, which come into effect in Sydney’s CBD and Oxford Street from today, Jan. 14.

The Berejiklian Government softened its hardline stance by announcing several restrictions imposed on licensed sites in the city would be scaled back.

It wasn’t the end of the lockout, as some news titles enthusiastically announced. In truth, it was state-approved breathing room. And it was widely welcomed by advocates including Night Time Industries Association and Keep Sydney Open, which fought the plans ever since they rolled out in 2014.

Night owls now have somewhere to go.

With these u-turns, the 1:30am last entry for all licensed venues in the Sydney CBD are scrapped, and venues deemed to have “good records” will have their last drinks extended by 30 minutes to 3.30am.

Parties will ring in the changes in central Sydney tonight and this weekend, and police will reportedly be out in force to ensure crowds are well behaved.

These new rules, however, don’t strictly apply to venues in Kings Cross, with a review on the district due a year down the track.

One venue in Kings Cross that’s ready and waiting for the changes is Potts Point Hotel. No, the rules aren’t flushed out Woolloomooloo Bay. But in one positive result, authorities have wound back the onerous rules around capturing identification as punters enter licensed premises.

Potts Point Hotel

As a pub with an outdoor area, the hotel was previously required to scan-in guests after 9pm each and every night, even if they were sat outside drinking and wandered into the indoor area to buy another round.

Now, those ID scanners will only be in action from 10pm, on Friday and Saturday nights.

“It’s a huge win for us,” says the venue’s GM Jarrah Nelson. “To not have to treat people like criminals five nights a week and scan their ID every time they walk in and out of a venue and be able to function like a pub, or a restaurant, it’s a nice change. It’s very positive for us.”

The hotel, which also has a rooftop area Sweetheart’s, which hosts music and movie nights, has experienced the winds of change brought by the lockout laws. Numbers are down, the suburb is quiet. Business goes on.

TIO caught up with Nelson for a look at the landscape as the new rules come into effect.

How will these new rules affect your business?

There’s a lot of noise being made about the lockouts being wound back. They certainly haven’t wound back the 3am cease service.

The restrictions came in two parts: the 1.30am lockout and the 3am citywide cease of service. No one trades after 3am except the casino. That’s still in force. Except for people moving around after 1.30am between venues, there’s not any more opportunities.

One of the big points made by Keep Sydney Open, the lobby group, is that hospitality staff were effectively locked out from having drinks after work. That’s still the case. People finish work at 3am and they can’t get a drink anywhere.

In terms of our venue specifically and Kings Cross, the ID scanner operating hours are being wound back from 9pm Monday through Sunday to only Friday and Saturday from 10pm onwards.

We are primarily a pub. We’ve been known in the past as a raging nightclub. The sad reality for Kings Cross, but a great reality for the residents of Potts Point, is that it’s no longer the hub of late-night trade in Sydney. After midnight it’s pretty much a ghost town.

Now we can let people in for a 9pm meal, they can walk through our front doors, not have to be shuffled around to the side entrance where a burly security asks for their ID, no matter if they’re 18 or 55. And be forced to stand on the ‘X marks the spot’ and have their photo taken, compare it to their ID and let them in if they pass.

If someone comes in at 9pm, they went to the Apollo but it was booked out and they’re looking for an option, we’re now suddenly in that ballgame.

Potts Point Hotel

It’s early days, but are you confident this relaxation of the rules will allow you to get more done?

It will definitely increase our opportunities to maximise revenue.

There’s nothing more impactful then when 20 people come up to your front door at 9.30pm looking for somewhere to have a quiet drink after they’ve finished dinner and one of them doesn’t have ID so all 20 of them walk away, across the road and into a cocktail bar which has a small bars license and is exempt from having to have an ID scanner in Kings Cross. We’ve lost that revenue. It hurts.

What happens with the data in those machines?

(Laughs). It’s held under lock and key by a privacy act. It’s supposed to be used for tracking data against who’s coming in. Nothing is being done with it. The idea of the scanners was to allow the authorities and venues to effectively ban problem patrons. That’s not a bad thing at all.

How does that ban people from the area where they can’t get into our venue and it flags the police, but again they can walk across the road to the cocktail bar and drink cocktails all night and do whatever they were going to do anyway.

How was your venue hurt by the lockouts?

Hugely, beyond measure. In an average week in 2013, level two of the venue would have a patronage of 2,000-2,500 over five nights.

Now, it might see 120 people a week. With the changes today, the joint night time economy committee recommended the lockouts not be rolled back in Kings Cross because there were so many dormant licenses in the area which could have reasonably been converted back into venues, and they didn’t want Kings Cross to go back to being a hub.

My response to that is, there’s no way of that happening. In order to change the usage of what was The Tunnel, which is now a gym, back to The Tunnel or Dragonfly as it was beforehand, it would have to go through council development approval. Can you imagine that ever getting through 30-day public display?

NTIA Chair Mike Rodrigues has been cautiously optimistic about the changes, and said more needs to be done.

If what the government wants is a 24-hour city, a non-stop city, then yes. Having the city’s entertainment venues shut at 3am doesn’t really talk to that. They’re talking of food licenses to trade all night long, but there doesn’t seem to be any point if there’s no entertainment venues. They’re intrinsically linked to selling alcohol to support themselves.

We are no longer the hub of the entertainment district in Sydney. The NSW government has made considered efforts to make sure that Alexandria and the city centre is now regarded as where people go at night.

I don’t think if they wound back the lockout laws in Kings Cross tomorrow, that people would flood back in droves like we saw in the 2010s-2012s. We don’t have many venues left up here. Maybe five pubs, and a handful of nightclubs left. It’s not the density of venues to drag people back.

We’re a nice little part of the city, we’ve gentrified and diversified. Our venue is better off for it. We’re not making as much money as we did, certainly. We’re a more sustainable businesses. It’s lower risk, people are safer in the venue than they ever were. Our offerings are centred around food and drinks, as opposed to late night clubs. We’re a more sustainable, community-involved venue nowadays.

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