When Amy Lamé became London’s first night czar last year, coverage of her appointment naturally focused on clubs and live music. At the time, the future of Fabric nightclub was in flux and, in 10 years, London has lost 35% of its small music venues. That was the most pressing concern.
In recent interviews, however, Lamé (who, last month, addressed the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers), has stressed that her work encompasses everything that happens after the sun goes down. She is not just a clubs’ czar, but a champion of the capital’s entire night-time economy, which includes bars, pubs, restaurants and takeaways.
Lamé’s role seems to be one of mediation, lobbying and strategic planning, rather than outright campaigning. It is not her job to build a vocal coalition of late-night businesses. But her broad view of the inter-relatedness of the night-time economy, and the implicit idea that late-night businesses share common issues, is one that all UK bars and restaurants would do well to acknowledge. And act on, collectively.
Put simply: the problems that clubs and music venues now face may soon impact on you.
Take noise complaints. Nightclubs are at the sharp end here, but many pubs and bars face similar issues as new apartments are built around them. City living is growing frantically with little thought given to the obvious tension between residents and nightlife (or noisy, early morning deliveries and glass collections, etc).
It is only a matter of time before restaurants come under greater scrutiny. That is one example, but Britain’s late-night purveyors of pleasure share a long, varied list of common challenges: soaring business rates; greedy landlords; compulsory purchase orders and regeneration; restrictive licensing; alcohol duty; inadequate local transport. Not to mention a fairly hostile public atmosphere.
From curtain-twitching Daily Mail readers to the health campaigners now focusing (post-smoking) on alcohol and obesity, there is a growing spectrum of people out there – Killjoy Britain – who regard all late-night revelry as inherently problematic.
Yet, the broader night-time economy fails to agitate and fight its corner in an organised way. Personally, I sense that ‘respectable’ bar and restaurant owners are reluctant to forge a public alliance with ‘dodgy, drug-fuelled’ nightclubs. That is unfair and unwise. Like hospitality, the nightclub industry is far more professional these days and, frankly, if you own a late bar or restaurant and think that, unlike nightclubs, no one is using drugs on your premises, you are deluded.
How drug use is handled – as society’s issue, rather than a bar losing its licence – is, again, one of those things that if night-time businesses acted on proactively to make their voices heard, they could seek to have addressed in an adult manner. Not as a moral panic.
Be in no doubt though, from drunken city-centre violence to calorie counting on menus, such topics exist and , if venues do not fight back, may be resolved in draconian ways.
The battle is far from over but illiberal Britain – those forces that want leisure to be bland, wipe-clean, easily managed – is in the ascendancy.
Bars, pubs, restaurants, takeaways and clubs, are all threatened by that. It is time for such venues to band together – in organisations such as the Night Time Industries Association – to make a case for the value that a messy, noisy, vibrant nightlife brings to a city. Not just in terms of jobs and the economy, but by emphasising the benefits of happiness, cultural growth and social wellbeing that nightlife confers.
The hospitality industry needs to help make that case vocally, before it too finds itself isolated and under attack.