Sydney’s nightlife venue operators are in two minds about the latest round of restrictions imposed by the NSW government on Friday. On the one hand, they make sense and were not a surprise. On the other, they’re yet another devastating blow from which some may not recover.
While venues were not expressly ordered to shut under the latest change, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet banned dancing and singing until January 27 – effectively forcing nightclubs to close, and other venues to cancel upcoming events in which the dance floor is central.
The changes come into effect from Saturday, but by Friday afternoon there were casualties. The Tamworth Country Music Festival, due to start in a week, was postponed until April. The Metro Theatre cancelled a Taylor Swift party – the scene of an early Omicron super-spreading event – hours before it was due to open. Darlinghurst basement nightclub The Cliff Dive announced via Instagram its doors would be shut until January 27.
But for Craig Petersen, the stress of running a small live music venue amid Sydney’s raging Omicron outbreak had already peaked before Mr Perrottet announced the changes. Hours before the press conference, he announced via social media that Marrickville’s Lazy Bones Lounge – which he co-owns with wife Alexandra Heffernan – would be closing for the rest of January.
He’s exhausted, and angry, after weeks of dealing with half his scheduled bands cancelling due to contracting COVID-19 or being close contacts, and patrons no-showing or demanding refunds when shows couldn’t go ahead.
“We’ve got a couple of bands tonight and tomorrow, and that’s it for us,” he said. Mr Petersen said venues like his have been treated as “non-essential” and “collateral damage”, with the state expecting them to stay open and keep employing people, while at the same time encouraging patrons to stay away.
“Why would any business say: I’m open now, but by the way, I’ve got no staff. I’m open, but no one’s coming … Why would you be in business?”
Other venues are facing similar struggles. Mary’s Group co-owner Jake Smyth said the Lansdowne and Mary’s Underground had shows booked throughout the Christmas period – but in the last two weeks, “not a small number [were] cancelled” by artists and promoters for “a variety of reasons” which were all “completely fair enough”.