Should Cities Limit Their Nightlife?
Parts of cities in the UK operate under ‘Controlled Drinking’ hours, with zones where you can’t walk about with bottles. A recent trip to Cardiff revealed two cities; one with rolling parkland, a beautiful castle, winding lanes and hip cafes, the other a booze-sodden avenue of bad cocktail bars and clubs pumping out competing sounds that becomes a no-go zone at night.
The same pattern unfolds from Brighton to Leamington. In the most unlikely spot for this phenomenon to occur, I was kept awake all night in leafy, elegant Harrogate while parties went through to dawn. The plan councils use now is to try and contain these areas. Of course, they shouldn’t have issued so many booze licenses, thus creating the problem in the first place.
Now Hackney Council has unanimously voted to ban all new venues from opening past 11pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends. In the Guardian, feature writer Sam Wolfson complains that the nightclub limits will harm creativity, as if being off your face on drugs in a thumpy basement at 4:00am will enhance your ability to think laterally. He also argues, somewhat thinly, that clubs are important because they’re the engine of the following week’s gossip.
Clearly there’s a gap between Sam’s world and mine, where the subject of clubbing hasn’t come up since it all got rather naff and old school. However, I’m with him on this one. The idea that Hackney simply shuts its doors to the world at 11:00pm is bizarre. As someone who was out and about in Hackney clubs last weekend, I can say that leaving was not a pleasant experience. But this is due in some respects to our island history, viz;
In the mid-18th century, gin became popular as it was cheaper to buy than beer. This became known as the ‘gin epidemic’. By 1740, six times more gin than beer was being produced, and of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London half were gin-shops. The Gin Act of 1736 imposed a prohibitively high duty on gin, but caused riots. The duty was abolished in 1742.
During the 19th century, licensing laws restricted opening hours of premises. After the outbreak of World War I the Defence of the Realm Act was passed as it was believed that alcohol consumption would interfere with the war effort. In the late 1980s the licensing laws became less restricted and nightclubs were allowed to stay open late. However, most pubs chose not to apply for licences past midnight.
Most English drinkers have grown up with the idea of having to choke down your drink before last orders are called. The continental method of drinking simply did not exist, with the result that UK drinkers, unused to the concept of sobrasada* got blind drunk instead of enjoying themselves at a leisurely pace.
We have not adapted to the European way of leisure, partly because of our shared past, partly because no two venues have the same hours. As someone who spent way too many nights clubbing, and someone who has lived next door to a nightclub, I can see both sides. Hackney has either accidentally or deliberately turned itself into a party town. It’s raucous and out-of-hand. I took some American tourists there and they were terrified. But simply curfewing the town is the wrong solution.
Generally, formally rowdy areas are becoming quieter, because for several years now the club scene has been dying out. Large venues are valuable real estate – oh great, more offices stuffed full of lanyard-wearing drones – but the young are also turning away from drugs and alcohol.
Degree is everything, and if Hackney can get itself rebalanced from lawless cowboy town to a place where people can come and have fun without wrecking the joint and each other, so much the better. But the present solution helps no-one.