Lane Culture in Our Nation’s Capital?

by TheEA


Source: Canberra Times

A recent story in The Canberra Times ( has given us some hope for the state of our future bar scene.  While there can be little doubt recent additions have complimented fine local institutions, the state of Canberra’s liquor licensing and building requirements do very little to encourage a boutique bar scene similar to that in Melbourne or Sydney so keenly envied by long term residents of our town.

In fact, it was only fifteen years ago the wowsers’ law preventing adults from enjoying a glass of wine at a cafe – without also ordering a full size meal – was repealed.  The ludicrous nature of this requirement at the same time the legendary Private Bin (the most extraordinary 24hr booze barn this city has ever seen) meant Liquor Licensing in the ACT deserved the ridicule bestowed upon it.
While The Canberran is excited by the prospect of ‘Loading Zone’, one must wonder if this bar (or others to follow) are viable given the requirements for toilet facilities in order to open a bar.
A unisex toilet (or toilets) will not cut it despite being satisfactory in some of the fanciest joints in NSW and Victoria. To open a new bar with a new license (not taking over an existing venue), owners must construct separate male and female toilet spaces and a unisex disabled toilet with sinks, hand dryers, bins and mirrors.
Note that these facilities cannot be shared between the patrons, so three mirrors, three hand dryers, three bins and three sinks will be required – and this is for a venue for less than 50 people – think half the size of either Playground, Hippo or The Phoenix.  The cost of opening a cool little venue with an independent vibe – so as not to need the economies of scale employed by Mooseheads –  don’t add up.  There’s simply too much capital sunk into plumbing and building to make it viable.
Next:  If the bar’s toilets are located in an area common to other tenants and outside venue itself, the Liquor Act requires the path to the bathrooms covered and no more than twenty metres from the exit.  If someone wanted to build a cute little bar out of the pillbox in the middle of Odger’s Lane and share the bathrooms of, say, Soju Girl this would simply be out of the question. Why this is the case is anybody’s guess.
Compare this situation with other venues.  If you can make it from the far reaches of the Kingo’s beer garden to the loo in less than twenty paces we can only assume you could also dunk on Lauren Jackson – however this has never caused a problem for anyone.
At some point it has to be realised customers do not want to be moly-coddled, they just want places to go that are interesting, thanks to a social scene that isn’t hobbled by the paternal attitude espoused by local government.  Perhaps Mssrs Corbell and Barr could do with a trip down to Melbourne’s Pony Island and see for himself what can be achieved when you trust punters with a little leeway to chose what’s right for themselves.
So, what do you think? Will ‘Loading Zone’ lead to other laneway bars, or would you have better luck building a nightclub on Capital Hill?