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When Sydney was the most happening city in WORLD until Nanny State lockout laws killed 176 venues

Some 20 years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Sydney was world-famous for its 24-hour bars, thriving band scene and epic dance parties.

Darlinghurst’s Oxford Street, a stone’s throw away from the city’s CBD, had grown from being a gay-dominated nightclub strip to a thriving mecca for fun-hungry revellers from all walks of life.

Yes, there was a time when people actually queued, in long snaking lines, to get into DCM, Byblos, Kinsellas, Q-Bar, ARQ and Midnight Shift.

 

‘You never wanted to leave’: When Sydney was the most lively city in the WORLD and people queued for 24/7 for clubs and bars … before Nanny State laws closed 176 venues and destroyed its nightlife forever

Vanishing points: Some 20 years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Sydney was world-famous for its 24-hour bars, thriving band scene and epic dance parties... Not now

Vanishing points: Some 20 years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Sydney was world-famous for its 24-hour bars, thriving band scene and epic dance parties… Not now

The huge DCM site, located at the lower end of Oxford Street, was renowned for its superior sound system, professional lighting and acres of space for uninhibited dancing. 

Despite properly working air con, male gym bunnies still felt the need to cruise the rooms shirtless in the hopes of landing a spot in the ‘social week’ photos of the free street papers.

Nightclub entrepreneur and ‘Boss of the Cross’ John Ibrahim told KIIS FM in 2017: ‘The stuff we got away with – back in the DCM (club) days. You open at 11 at night and keep pumping until 11 the next day. You can never do that again’.

Back in the 2000s, if you were too amped to call it a night at, say, 6am, there was always the Albury Hotel, Taxi Club or The Beresford at Bourke Street in Darlinghurst to find your groove again among Sydney’s most outrageous drag queens.

The enthusiastic clientele at The Beresford would inevitably spill out on to Marys Place lane for a street party as the sun came up, leaving the road strewn with broken lipstick cases, feather boas and rogue sequins.

Change of tune: If the  kaleidoscope colours of Sydney's rainbow centre became too much, Club 77 offered relief just a few blocks away on William Street.

Change of tune: If the kaleidoscope colours of Sydney’s rainbow centre became too much, Club 77 offered relief just a few blocks away on William Street.

Nothing so-so about it: Soho was at one time stuffed to the brim with people having fun

Nothing so-so about it: Soho was at one time stuffed to the brim with people having fun

Stairway to mayhem: Hugo's Lounge (pictured), considered by many to be the place to be on Bayswater Road, was voted Australia's best nightclub for five years running

Stairway to mayhem: Hugo's Lounge (pictured), considered by many to be the place to be on Bayswater Road, was voted Australia's best nightclub for five years running

Stairway to mayhem: Hugo’s Lounge (pictured), considered by many to be the place to be on Bayswater Road, was voted Australia’s best nightclub for five years running

Only then would you find yourself checking your pockets for enough spare change to buy a pair of $10 sunglasses from the chemist for the journey home.

The Beresford was given a Merivale makeover a few years ago and has come up well after the spit and polish, even if it has lost some of its street edge. 

Revellers old and new enjoy its spacious rooms which are perfect for communal dinners feasting on Italian food. The massive beer garden is the star attraction, at least in summer, along the bar’s extensive wine list.

When the relentless doof-doof soundtrack and kaleidoscope colours of Sydney’s rainbow centre became too much, Club 77 offered relief just a few blocks away on William Street. 

Those not in the know could have easily missed it as it had no street signage advertising its existence, just ‘Club 77’ written in small letters above a nondescript door 

In the late ’90s, Club 77 was dark and dingy enough for visitors to melt into the background while they pieced together their fragmenting psyches on corner lounges.

The city’s goth and fetish community found it particularly suited to their tastes before it was taken over by gurning young clubbies bored of Oxford Street techno. 

Club 77 has been reborn as a swish underground bar, with kitsch interiors, booths and nightly DJ sets.

The legendary Sublime, a club in the basement of the old Brashs building opposite The Hilton on Pitt Street, dished up a house, trance and techno soundtrack by DJs Nik Fish and Peewee Ferris. 

Sublime veterans might recall the cargo netting, industrially themed decorations and surreal video footage of the cosmos beamed onto screens around the venue. 

Cold comfort: Kings Cross' Ice Box, renamed the Sapphire Suite, gained notoriety in 2008 when a 50-year-man was shot outside the venue by a hooded gunman in a drive-by shooting. Pictured: Sapphire Suite on Kellett Street, Kings Cross

Cold comfort: Kings Cross' Ice Box, renamed the Sapphire Suite, gained notoriety in 2008 when a 50-year-man was shot outside the venue by a hooded gunman in a drive-by shooting. Pictured: Sapphire Suite on Kellett Street, Kings Cross

Cold comfort: Kings Cross’ Ice Box, renamed the Sapphire Suite, gained notoriety in 2008 when a 50-year-old man was shot outside the venue by a hooded gunman in a drive-by shooting. Pictured: Sapphire Suite on Kellett Street, Kings Cross

Earth shaking: World Bar was the star of Sydney's electro and house scene, sending young people deaf for years in their dungeon dance floors

Earth shaking: World Bar was the star of Sydney’s electro and house scene, sending young people deaf for years in their dungeon dance floors

A bar apart: When the relentless doof-doof soundtrack and kaleidoscope colours of Sydney's rainbow centre became too much, Club 77 offered relief just a few blocks away on William Street. In the late '90s, Club 77 was dark and dingy enough for visitors to melt into the background

A bar apart: When the relentless doof-doof soundtrack and kaleidoscope colours of Sydney’s rainbow centre became too much, Club 77 offered relief just a few blocks away on William Street. In the late ’90s, Club 77 was dark and dingy enough for visitors to melt into the background

After the death of 22-year-old Michael Overton in 1999 from a suspected reaction to drugs inside the club, Sublime built the Water Park, a separate room where clubbers could go to cool down and rehydrate.

The rainforest wallpaper, low temperatures and water fountains after all meant a better refuge than a dirty cubicle in a men’s room flooded with toilet water.

King of the Cross: Nightclub entrepreneur John Ibrahim (pictured) told KIIS FM in 2017: 'The stuff we got away with - back in the DCM (club) days. You open at 11 at night and keep pumping until 11 the next day. You can never do that again'

King of the Cross: Nightclub entrepreneur John Ibrahim (pictured) told KIIS FM in 2017: ‘The stuff we got away with – back in the DCM (club) days. You open at 11 at night and keep pumping until 11 the next day. You can never do that again’

If you turn up at the site now you’ll probably find your night is over before it even began – a convenience store is now there to lure visitors with its sugary treats and FM radio ‘hot hits’ musak. 

For something a little more low key, The Globe at The Observatory Hotel on nearby Elizabeth Street boasted views over Hyde Park, the perfect accompaniment to the cozy and intimate space inside.

Punters mingled in two rooms to breakbeats and house music by the likes of DJ Kid Kenobi, until the club’s closure in 2003.

You can still go to The Globe, as long as you’re prepared to get your hair done – it is now a Tony & Guy hair salon. 

Staff there might be able to recount their time spent at The Globe while they give you a cut and colour. 

Tank nightclub, in the basement of Establishment on George Street towards the Circular Quay end of town, satisfied the cash-up punters’ appetite for glamour. 

The opulent Merivale-owned space was split across two underground levels, and had three different bars. 

Hitting the right notes: For something a little more sedate, The Piano Room (pictured), located smack bang under the famous Coke sign, gave people over the age of 30 a space to relax over drinks and music but without the doof-doof around the corner on Bayswater Road

Hitting the right notes: For something a little more sedate, The Piano Room (pictured), located smack bang under the famous Coke sign, gave people over the age of 30 a space to relax over drinks and music but without the doof-doof around the corner on Bayswater Road

Your shout: But it's not all doom and gloom - in fact, despite killjoy lockout laws, the Emerald City has steadfastly refused to die. Pictured: The Winery in Surry Hills

Your shout: But it’s not all doom and gloom – in fact, despite killjoy lockout laws, the Emerald City has steadfastly refused to die. Pictured: The Winery in Surry Hills

The space’s extravagant sculptures, exposed timber columns and basalt footings made the average suit feel just hip enough among the in-crowd while also appealing to their penchant for ostentatious spending.

In the VIP room, things got a little looser in a Studio 54 kind of way, with giant mirror balls, silver-coloured beanbags and even a bed for a communal cuddle if the urge arised.

The garish finishing touches weren’t enough to keep the champagne flowing however, and the venue closed in 2011 to make room for Mr Wongs Chinese restaurant. 

Slightly further afield in Chippendale, fringe dwellers joined the glassy eyed fetishists at the infamous Blackmarket Cafe nightclub. 

For business and pleasure: Tank nightclub, in the basement of Establishment on George Street towards the Circular Quay end of town, satisfied the cash-up punters' appetite for glamour. Pictured: Bessie Bardot with Sir Richard Branson at Tank nightclub 

For business and pleasure: Tank nightclub, in the basement of Establishment on George Street towards the Circular Quay end of town, satisfied the cash-up punters’ appetite for glamour. Pictured: Bessie Bardot with Sir Richard Branson at Tank nightclub 

Located in a washed-out Gothic style building, its infamous Hellfire Club played host to bondage nights where leather clad S&M fans of both genders could run riot with whips, ropes, hot wax and riding crops.

In November 1997, three members of the Bandidos bikie gang were shot dead in the club’s basement, which cast a pall over the venue. 

With the venue’s feng shui ruined, the club was closed, and eventually moved its Hellfire nights to the old Rogues site in Darlinghurst.

The Chippendale venue sat vacant for years before an application was made for it to be turned into a brothel in 2006. 

After residents opposed the idea, landlords settled for a cafe and a clutch of other small businesses, no doubt keen to forget about ‘that incident’ in the basement in 1997.

Let there be disco lights! Darlinghurst's Oxford Street, a stone's throw away from the city's CBD, had grown from being a gay-dominated nightclub strip to a thriving mecca for fun-hungry punters from all walks of life

Let there be disco lights! Darlinghurst’s Oxford Street, a stone’s throw away from the city’s CBD, had grown from being a gay-dominated nightclub strip to a thriving mecca for fun-hungry punters from all walks of life

If straight-up drinking was more your thing in the late ’90s and early 2000s, you’d find yourself standing shoulder-to-shoulder at one of the city’s many crowded all-night bars.

The Flinders Bar, Exchange Hotel and The Oxford back in Darlinghurst were only too happy to serve thirsty patrons frothy beer, colourful cocktails and throat-searing shots. 

They’d even sell you a pack of ciggies for under $10 and let you smoke them inside – who would’ve thought? 

In those pre-lockout days, time meant nothing as the clock struck 2, 3, 4 or whatever, especially if you found yourself drawn to the city’s notorious red light district of Kings Cross.

All-night drinking hole Baron’s, which was located on Roslyn Street opposite the Les Girls site which made Carlotta famous, had no dress regulations or cover charge. 

And no pokies.

Taking it to the streets: The enthusiastic clientele at The Beresford would inevitably spill out onto Marys Place lane for a street party as the sun came up, leaving the road strewn with broken lipstick cases, feather boas and rogue sequins

Taking it to the streets: The enthusiastic clientele at The Beresford would inevitably spill out onto Marys Place lane for a street party as the sun came up, leaving the road strewn with broken lipstick cases, feather boas and rogue sequins

Colour me bad: The Beresford was given a Merivale makeover a few years ago and has come up well after the spit and polish, even if it has lost some of its street edge

Colour me bad: The Beresford was given a Merivale makeover a few years ago and has come up well after the spit and polish, even if it has lost some of its street edge

Punters walked up a flight of springy carpeted stairs and into a space not unlike the lounge room of a large and seedy inner city terrace house, complete with old sofas scarred with cigarette burns, and a working fireplace. 

With a CD jukebox constantly fed gold coins by drunk patrons, wait staff collected and delivered drink orders if you were too lazy or unable to crawl out of your sunken armchair. 

For those tired of hearing The Proclaimers I’m Gonna Be or Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, there were free backgammon games to be had in the row of booths in an adjoining room downstairs.

Being the last to leave when doors closed at 6am became a badge of honour, affording bragging rights at your share house, at least until next weekend. 

Night life: Some 20 years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Sydney was world-famous for its 24-hour bars, thriving band scene and epic dance parties. Pictured: Kings Cross

Night life: Some 20 years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Sydney was world-famous for its 24-hour bars, thriving band scene and epic dance parties. Pictured: Kings Cross

The site was later demolished and redeveloped by its new owners, despite protests from locals – including Jill McKay, who was bar manager on Baron’s opening night back when black and white TVs were considered high tech.  

Nestled among the glowing neon of the strip clubs on Darlinghurst Road – places such as Porkys, DreamGirls, Bada Bing, and Playbirds International – bars and clubs including Soho, Bootleg, The Colosseum and The Ice Box were at one time stuffed to the brim with people having fun.

Yes, often drinking to excess, but having fun nonetheless. 

City beat: The legendary Sublime, a club in the basement of the old Brashs building opposite The Hilton on Pitt Street, dished up a house, trance and techno soundtrack by DJs Nik Fish and Peewee Ferris

City beat: The legendary Sublime, a club in the basement of the old Brashs building opposite The Hilton on Pitt Street, dished up a house, trance and techno soundtrack by DJs Nik Fish and Peewee Ferris

Indeed on Friday and Saturday nights Bayswater Road, just around the corner from the iconic Coke sign, was jam-packed with people desperate to get into the clubs housed in rows of terrace houses along the wide street.

Candy’s Apartment and World Bar, shining lights of Sydney’s electro and house scene, had been sending young people deaf for years in their dungeon dance floors.

Hugo’s Lounge, considered by many to be the place to be on Bayswater Road, was voted Australia’s best nightclub for five years running. 

Ice Box, opened in 1996, was a small, cramped and loud club on nearby Kellett Street that attracted punters who couldn’t face going home at 5am when the nearby clubs started to close.

Electric rainbows: Arq nightclub (pictured) on Flinders Street in Darlinghurst promises a thrilling assault on the senses with its full-boar sound system and pumping dance floor

Electric rainbows: Arq nightclub (pictured) on Flinders Street in Darlinghurst promises a thrilling assault on the senses with its full-boar sound system and pumping dance floor

Hard trance and other hard stuff help keep revellers awake while they stared at the red walls inside.

Renamed the Sapphire Suite, the spot gained notoriety in 2008 when a 50-year-old man was shot outside the venue by a hooded gunman in a drive-by shooting.

Locals would argue that danger was all part of the fun during a night out at Kings Cross.

It wasn’t all about coked-up aggression, though. Tunnel Nightclub, open in the late ’80s by Ibrahim, was accessible from a laneway and championed a ‘female majority’ policy – a breath of fresh air for women in the pre #MeToo era. 

Party people: There was something much more satisfying about walking home past the iconic Coco Cola sign as the sun started to come up, especially after Mardi Gras

Party people: There was something much more satisfying about walking home past the iconic Coco Cola sign as the sun started to come up, especially after Mardi Gras

Party people: There was something much more satisfying about walking home past the iconic Coco Cola sign as the sun started to come up, especially after Mardi Gras

It was rebranded EP1 in the late nineties and early noughties, then Dragonfly from 2004-2010, before becoming Tunnel again and then closing for good as the owners threw up their hands in frustration.

For something a little more sedate, The Piano Room, located smack bang under the famous Coke sign, gave people over the age of 30 a space to relax over drinks and music but without the doof-doof around the corner.

It is now mini golf putt-putt course Holey Moley. 

Two decades ago, hardcore partyers went underground at one of the inner west’s off-market raves for a more visceral experience.

Love-ins: Two decades ago, hardcore partyers went underground at one of the inner west's off-market raves for a more visceral experience. With names like Space Cadet, Outer Space, Inner Space, and Noddy Has A Party, these were 'phone on the night to find the location' events. Pictured: Protesters take to Oxford Street, Darlinghurst

Love-ins: Two decades ago, hardcore partyers went underground at one of the inner west’s off-market raves for a more visceral experience. With names like Space Cadet, Outer Space, Inner Space, and Noddy Has A Party, these were ‘phone on the night to find the location’ events. Pictured: Protesters take to Oxford Street, Darlinghurst

With venues kept secret until the very last moment, they sneaked into dodgy warehouses in Alexandria or St Peters for a night of uninhibited dancing and risk taking. 

With the massive Hordern Pavilion and RAT of the late ’80s a distant memory (if in memory at all), the gloriously rough and ready raves felt both exciting and accessible to people who perhaps didn’t fit in to the grown-ups in the Cross or inner city.

With names like Space Cadet, Outer Space, Inner Space, and Noddy Has A Party, these were ‘phone on the night to find the location’ events. 

Ravers Playground recovery parties at the Graffiti Hall of Fame, a wholesale meatworks on Botany Road in Alexandria, gained legendary status.  

Punters chewed on their candy bracelets and lollipops in a space surrounded by 15-metre-high walls of graffiti. 

Never ones to go home when the sun came up – who wants to spoil a good party – ravers crammed into one of the many other dayclubs then going strong.

As reported by the Star Observer at the time, Up Dayclub at The Exchange Hotel at the bottom of Oxford Street, billed itself as a ‘weekly morning recovery club where everything is uplifting’ for ‘open-minded boys and girls who want to have a hassle free mingle and dance’. 

Up was forced to temporarily shut its doors in January 2015 after pressure from police.

The 2000s was also perhaps the last decade when you could pub crawl through Sydney and catch bands such as The Vines, Wolfmother and Gerling at The Cricketer’s Arms, Annandale Hotel, and The Sandringham in Newtown.

For a long time, the inner west flew the flag for live bands playing real music – music with real guitars, real bass and real drums – before the soul-sapping poker machines nudged the amplifiers off the stage for good.

It seems that pausing Netflix to order a pizza via Uber Eats is the closest many of us get to ‘going out’ these days, at least in Sydney.

On the money: For something a little less hectic, Waywards bar upstairs at The Bank Hotel (pictured) plays host to musicians doing their album launches, along with DJs and comedians

On the money: For something a little less hectic, Waywards bar upstairs at The Bank Hotel (pictured) plays host to musicians doing their album launches, along with DJs and comedians

But there was something much more satisfying about walking home as the sun started to come up, with empty pockets and your ears ringing and a head full of good memories.

It was another night out in Sydney, after all.

So who is to blame for the sorry state of Sydney’s nightlife now?

The lockout laws were introduced by NSW Government in five years ago with the objective to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence. 

Under legislation, nightclubs and bars in the city, Kings Cross and Darlinghurst areas are required to deny entry to punters after 1.30am and cease serving alcohol at 3am. 

Since then, there has been a net loss of 176 licensed venues in Sydney. 

Pub power: For something a little more sedate, The Winery in Crown Street Surry Hills is a leafy watering hole with class, and The Unicorn Hotel (pictured) at Oxford Street on the fringes of Paddington is an art deco delight

Pub power: For something a little more sedate, The Winery in Crown Street Surry Hills is a leafy watering hole with class, and The Unicorn Hotel (pictured) at Oxford Street on the fringes of Paddington is an art deco delight

But it’s not all doom and gloom – in fact, despite killjoy lockout laws, the Emerald City has steadfastly refused to die.

There are plenty of places for punters keen to blow off some steam, even if it means being tucked up in bed well before dawn to listen to a Serial podcast. Again.

Darlinghurst has managed to claw back some of its vibrancy with the Oxford Art Factory, where you can catch live bands in an intimate space – a rarity in Sydney.

If dancing to mashed-up Britney is more your thing, Palms on Oxford will appeal to those who don’t take things too seriously. It’s a bit further up the road from the Oxford Art Factory, accessible via a small metallic door. 

Just around the corner on Flinders Street, Arq nightclub promises a thrilling assault on the senses with its full-boar sound system and pumping dance floor.

For when life's a drag: Fans of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, will recognise The Imperial Hotel (pictured) in nearby Erskineville

For when life’s a drag: Fans of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, will recognise The Imperial Hotel (pictured) in nearby Erskineville

It’s mega-gay and often mega sleazy, just what the doctor ordered after years of the government-enforced chastity belt. 

For something a little more sedate, The Winery in Crown Street Surry Hills is a leafy watering hole with class, and The Unicorn Hotel at Oxford Street on the fringes of Paddington is an art deco delight.

If you haven’t already done so, you can join the barbarian hordes who have made the exodus to Newtown for its King Street kingdom.

While ancient, yellow-tiled pubs such as the Hotel Marlborough (that’s ‘Marly’ for the kids), Coopers Hotel, Bank Hotel and The Courthouse will slake any thirst, Tokyo Sing Song should lure the most jaded punters out of their shells.

The late-night basement bar-nightclub-live-venue-performance space on King Street – conveniently located downstairs from the Marly – prides itself its offbeat entertainment, or what bogans might call ‘weird stuff’.

The Marly and me: If you haven't already done so, you can join the barbarian hordes who have made the exodus to Newtown for its King Street kingdom. Pictured: The Marlborough Hotel, Newtown

The Marly and me: If you haven’t already done so, you can join the barbarian hordes who have made the exodus to Newtown for its King Street kingdom. Pictured: The Marlborough Hotel, Newtown

If you imagine a New York speak easy decorated by a young Japanese girl high on cream dispenser bulbs, you’re close to imagining the decor.

Performers clad in lurid fluorescent clothing, alfoil and glitter will make a spectacle and you can even chew on edamame beans should you run out of conversation.

For something a little less hectic, Waywards bar upstairs at The Bank Hotel plays host to musicians doing their album launches, along with DJs and comedians. 

Fans of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, will recognise The Imperial Hotel in nearby Erskineville.

As the inner west’s answer to Darlinghurst drag since 1983, there are shows at the venue every night, a pub bistro out the back and a basement bar for drinks and dancing, darls.

Don’t hate Darling Harbour just because The Star casino was miraculously exempt from the inner city’s lockout laws.

The precinct, situated on western outskirts of the CBD, can be a good alternative stomping ground to the somewhat flaccid offerings of the east and the self-conscious hipster vibe of the inner west.

The three-storey Home ‘super club’ (their words) at Cockle Bay boasts eight rooms plus all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a grand-scale nightclub raking in lots of tourist dollars.

You can marvel at the digital surround sound, conceptual lighting and the fact you don’t have to order your last drinks 1.59am while taking in the harbour views. 

Too many gins? Take all your emotional baggage to the Chinese Laundry under the Slip Inn on Sussex Street. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, given some of the garish decor, but it does attract international DJs and has garden courtyard for when the dance floor gets too much.

So the city of Sydney still does have a pulse, you just might have to look a bit harder to find it.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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