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.

9 comments on “Should Cities Limit Their Nightlife?”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    This is an ongoing matter of concern here as well. An establishment’s food license and its liquor license are two different things. You can open as early or late as you like and close likewise as long as you’re not serving liquor. The Firemen’s Club up the way was open for breakfast for the World Cup games but the sign warned that there would be no beer till 11am, that being the law for drinking establishments. The Liquor Control Board sets the hours but a municipality can request extensions for a zone – usually an “entertainment district”. It’s been argued here that Vancouver’s district should be extended to something like 3 or 4 am, something like that, but people who live there say they’d like to get some sleep away from yelling and sirens. And then there’s the problem of getting home when you’re half, perhaps totally, sloshed. Many of the people drinking there are in from distant suburbs and the cabs are not happy going all that way with a drunken passenger, nor are the few buses that run late and Skytrain shuts down at midnight. (The not wanting to go out to the suburbs is another issue entirely.)

  2. Ken Mann says:

    One side-effect of drink culture in London is that it is virtually impossible to find a coffee shop open late. In Manchester I’ve drunk coffee after 11pm. Whether that is a good idea is of course a different question.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Coffee shops do close early everywhere – except Manchester, it seems. Some friends and I were looking for coffee after an author evening (Timothy Findley) and there was nothing open – and it wasn’t even 9:30. Talk about rolling up the sidewalks! Perhaps that’s the answer to rowdies – more late coffee! or latte coffee.

  4. Brooke says:

    Doesn’t it depend on what one means by nightlight? Generally speaking in Spain (Andalusia) I enjoyed being out very late –midnight plus–but the atmosphere wasn’t about drinking. Families, couples, some tourists –but quiet dining music conversation. It’s the urban bar culture that is objectionable.
    And there is a hidden cost to urban areas for that–i.e. police, clean-up etc. And I’ve recently discovered, most bars in our city pay minimal taxes, if any. They also punish the working class residents who can’t live anywhere else and have to put up with the noise, behaviors etc. Begone!

  5. Roger says:

    If a coffee shop’s open late it must be selling decaff!
    The problem with open-all-hours drinking is it’s much less fun. In the old days finding a members-only club in the afternoon – usually a place so dire it gave up when pubs did open in the afternoon – or a squalid cellar on weekend evenings were thrills in themselves so there was no need to bother with the quality of what they sold. On the other hand, my favourite end to a night shift was to cycle to Smithfield for a full English and a couple of pints of bitter,

  6. Denise Treadwell says:

    I think it would be unpleasant to live next door to night club; all the rowdy noise and vomiting!

  7. admin says:

    Living next to the Fridge in Brixton wasn’t too bad, surprisingly. Nightlife in say, Jordan is very different to Magaluf but everyone’s out and about after midnight and the parks are all open!

  8. Helen Martin says:

    How do you close a park? Oh, those gates there are in some places? Wouldn’t stop serious park users. Most of ours don’t have fences so the only thing a gate stops is vehicles.
    On a totally different subject: I was just reading about mulberry trees and discovered that the Conservation Society (I think) along with the Museum of Walking were doing a walkabout on the weekend to note down the existence of these trees and their specific locations. A photo accompanied the item, a man’s hand coloured blood red by the fruit, which has a high colorific value. Since the fruit is very good, paper can be made from its stems and its sap is poisonous and/or mildly halucinogenic, as well as the leaves of one type being the sole food of silk worms surely this fascinating plant, which the article claimed has been grown in London since Roman times, could feature in a B&M story.
    Your books are having a strange effect on me when murder etc. is the first thing I think of when I think of London.

  9. Peter Tromans says:

    Brexit gold? What gold; when were we near any? If we had the spirit of enterprise of the film, we might make a success of something, but we don’t.

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