Time for sobering thoughts

Youths fear changes could cause more trouble

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 14:14 11/06/2014
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ANNA WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
LONG WAIT: People line up outside Fairweathers Bar on ScottthSt in Blenheim about 1.25am on Sunday.
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ANNA WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
SIX OF ONE: Nicole Logan, left, and Jaime Fuller, say they wouldn’t mind if bars stopped serving at 2am, but it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

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Marlborough District Council's draft local alcohol policy could see bars stop serving at 2am, an hour earlier than the current time. Express reporter Anna Williams takes a closer look at Blenheim nightlife and asks young people what they think about the proposed change.

It's 1.15am in Blenheim. More than 50 people are lined up outside one of the town's busiest bars. Some look young enough to be in high school; others look like they've been doing this for decades.

If you close your eyes and listen, you could be outside a bar down a side street in Wellington or Christchurch. The clack of high heels on the concrete footpath; raucous laughter and too-loud conversations coming from a group of guys huddled on the corner of Kinross and Scott streets; booming words tossed across the street to friends and strangers; a bass-laden song escaping from Fairweathers bar - a burst of volume every time the door opens to welcome the next customer.

A police officer walks down Scott St in a hi-vis vest towards a parked police car. Two more cops stand beside their car opposite The Loft bar at Kinross St.

A guy walking along Scott St away from the convergence of people answers a call: "Where are you? OK, I'll come down." He turns back and heads towards Fairweathers.

A car pulls up in front of the bar and eases into a spot just vacated by a taxi carrying two girls, one leaning on the other as she is helped inside. Four guys in their early 20s jump out of the idling car, heading to the back of the queue.

Girls dressed in short skirts wrap their arms around their bodies for warmth in the fresh June night as they peer ahead to gauge how much longer the wait will be. Guys in T-shirts are jostling each other, exchanging witty barbs for the benefit of the young women in front of them.

The line only formed in the past hour. At midnight, people walked straight through the doors after a perfunctory ID check. But just before 1am, throngs of people came from every direction, making a beeline for Fairweathers, one of the few bars in town guaranteed to stay open till 3am. With just under two hours before the drinks stop coming, they seem OK to wait.

A rule change could see bar staff forced to stop serving at 2am, an hour earlier than the current cut off. After last drinks, everyone has 30 minutes to get out of the bar, meaning if the law is passed, everyone has to be out by 2.30am.

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The proposed local draft alcohol policy had its first round of hearings last month. Nineteen people made spoken submissions to the District Licensing Committee at Marlborough District Council chambers.

Along with the earlier closing time, the draft policy would see supermarkets and off-licences stop selling at 9pm instead of 10pm, restaurants stop serving alcohol at midnight as opposed to 1am, and single bottle sales of beer and ready to mix drinks banned.

Police said they supported the 2am close as it would help get drunk people off the streets earlier and reduce the number of alcohol-related crime in town. Pub owners said it would impact their trade and mean people who wanted to drink responsibly would miss out.

The people who go out in Blenheim had varying opinions.

Blenheim woman Loren Coffey, 22, has worked in hospitality on and off since she was 15. She goes to town with friends about twice a month.

Closing town an hour earlier would just cause more trouble, she says.

"It's silly - it's going to cause more after-parties.

"No-one's ready to go home at 2am. It will just cause more ruckus on the streets instead of in a controlled bar."

She reckoned she'd still go to town at the same time, but would head somewhere else to drink when the bar shut.

"Closing at two isn't going to make anyone less sober," she says.

"Whether it's two o'clock or three o'clock, someone's going to be smashed at 12."

It was irrelevant when last drinks were served, she believes.

"It is solely the bar's responsibility to not serve people who are intoxicated. If they're too drunk, don't serve them."

But Nicole Logan, 24, wouldn't mind if the bars shut sooner. She goes into town about once every six weeks and says a 2am close would mean she'd be home earlier.

She says she'd probably go to town a bit earlier if the proposed policy was passed, and if everyone started doing it, the earlier time would soon catch on.

"Everyone knows people go at 12, but if they knew it was 10pm or 11, they'd go then," she says.

People went to town later so they could drink more at home and spend less money at the bar. But even if people did go in earlier, younger people would probably still get "hammered" at home, she says.

Jaime Fuller, 22, says an earlier close wouldn't worry her either as she hardly goes to town anymore.

"Before this year I used to go out every weekend, mainly because there was nothing else to do really. This year I kind of got over it. I'd rather be working."

While she wouldn't mind the change, she thought people who did drink responsibly would lose out.

"It's not fair taking away an hour for the people who do actually like to go out and not get wasted," she says. "I don't see what the point is."

She didn't think anything would change if town closed at 2am.

"People get wasted at home because no-one has that much money to drink in town," she says.

"Because it's so expensive and you wait so long to get a drink, people prefer to drink at home before coming out. People will still do that before they come out, regardless of the time town closes."

Brad Palatchie, 19, and Anita Vincent, 18, go to town most weekends, but they say they wouldn't mind a 2am close.

The teenagers normally start drinking about 10pm at home or at a friend's house before heading to the CBD about midnight.

Palatchie says he'd have seven or eight bourbons before going out, while Vincent would be "feeling it" after five drinks at home.

Once in town, they'd have about six shots of something, usually Jagermeister or tequila, to keep them going.

"Enough so we're on that buzz, that party buzz," Vincent says.

Palatchie says he only needs two hours out.

"I get bored pretty quick in town. We'd normally leave by 2am anyway."

A good night would be getting home safely, he says.

"What's not a good night is winding up in the toilet naked not knowing where you are. That's definitely not a good night."

Vincent says it wouldn't bother her either, but a lot of her friends would mind because they liked staying out late and 2am just wasn't late enough.

A lot of their mates stayed out to keep drinking and to socialise, while single people stayed out to try and find someone, they said.

"That's what my mates do," Palatchie says. "They try and get a girl, so they'd stay till the end of the night."

A former Fairweathers bouncer has mixed feelings about what the earlier close could mean.

He used to start work at 10pm or 11pm, but the door wouldn't get busy until midnight. On a hectic night, up to 60 people would be lining up to get inside.

"Some are totally wasted and you turn them away," he says.

"You watch them walk over from Paddy's or the Loft. You see girls rolling their ankles in their high heels, guys not seeing the gutter and just kicking it and falling over.

"You'd see them standing in a doorway gathering themselves before they try and come in."

Fights would start to break out about 2am or 3am, but not always, he says.

"I reckon 2am could make a difference," he says.

"If they came and started drinking at the same time as now, they wouldn't get to that tipping point."

The drunkest patrons turned up later, about midnight or 1am, when they'd had enough of drinking at home or left another bar in town to come to a busier one.

The people who got into fights were always the same ones, he says.

"The bar staff know who they are. Eventually they'll push their luck and get barred and can't come back for six months."

He reckoned people went to town for the social experience. They didn't go just to drink because drinking in bars was expensive, he says.

"Whether they turn up at 1am or turn up at 11, it wouldn't really matter.

"They have a few shots and the ones that can't handle their alcohol get in to fights. It'll only really affect the bars, because it's an hour less sales."

Submissions on the draft policy are being considered by the licensing committee. It planned on awaiting the results of appeals by the Tasman and Waimakariri district councils in August before releasing its decision.

A final draft would be put out for further consultation with those who made a submission on the draft policy allowed to appeal any provisional policy. A policy was expected to be finalised near the end of the year.

- Marlborough

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