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Kings Cross: Sydney night-life dead

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Kings Cross, arguably Sydney’s most iconic nightclub hub, is calling last drinks – and a recently released photo has revealed why.

The photo, posted to Reddit, shows the once raucous Kings Cross Road, lit in red by its famous Coca-Cola sign and utterly deserted. A single surveillance camera hangs overhead, and there’s not a partygoer in sight. The caption: “Kings Cross on a Friday night in 2022.”

Users responding to the photo expressed their shock.

“Look at the surveillance camera so you don’t feel lonely,” one wrote.

Another: “Last person out of Sydney please turn off the lights.”

Others Redditors hinted at a conspiracy to push up local property prices so they’re on par with other inner-city suburbs.

“Just as planned … perfect,” one user mused. “All those apartments in the backstreet are worth a mint just as intended.”

“The average Kings Cross resident these days would baulk at the idea of a nightclub in their ‘quiet residential suburb’,” another user responded. “It’s become an extremely snooty area full of people that apparently don’t like fun.”

Finally, some reminisced about the Cross in its glory days.

“I remember when I first turned 18 and walked up and saw the Coca-Cola sign and then the Cross,” one said. “It was like a different world, people everywhere, everywhere packed and everyone generally having a good time!”

This year, a new redevelopment plan has promised to close the doors of some of the Cross’s most iconic surviving late night spots. Here’s everything embattled Kings Cross has had to face since the infamous lockout laws.

Developers shut the doors of The Bourbon, Frankie’s Pizza

A new redevelopment plan will see the curtains close on the 1880s-vintage Bourbon and Beefsteak pub and Les Girls nightclub, as the infamous joints are transformed into a $65 million up-market hotel and apartment block.

Developer Sam Arnaout’s Iris Capital bought the near 20,000sq m lot on Darlinghurst Road six years ago, and was recently given the green light to all but tear it down, enraging locals.

Charlie Matthews, a Cross resident of more than 15 years, told the suburb had “lost its soul” through redevelopment.

“It’s quite depressing, watching it become gentrified,” Mr Matthews said.

“This year in particular I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve had to move as rents go up. People who call the Cross home can’t afford to live their adult lives in the same place where they grew up.”

Under a rejected plan from 2017, Mr Arnaout attempted to bulldoze the Bourbon along with the rest of the block, but community backlash forced him back to the drawing board. Now, the Bourbon’s iconic facade will stay.

The old Australian rules club, once home to the Sydney Swans, however, is out. The Empire Hotel and Lowestoft house will be gutted, remodelled and raised in height.

Mr Arnaout insists the development is a rejuvenation, rather than a gutting.

“This is the beginning of a renaissance,” he told The Australian newspaper.

“The place is a ghost town in the evening … there’s no night-life, no buzz. This will bring reactivation, it’ll bring life, it’ll bring energy and reactivate dormant buildings that are not able to be economically viable.”

Meanwhile, a second redevelopment has promised to wipe out late-night slice joint Frankie’s Pizza, which shut its doors for the final time on Sunday.

Branding its final week “Frankie’s Pizza Goes to Hell”, the infamous eatery closed exactly 10 years after it opened. While there were early murmurings Frankie’s would be relocated, that plan has since been abandoned.

Insurers charge through the nose

Insurance companies are charging the remaining nightclubs extortionate premiums, or are pulling out of the market entirely.

Insurers have hiked public liability premiums by between 400 and 600 per cent, according to Australian Security Industry Association CEO Bryan de Caires. For industries in which more than 25 per cent of the business is crowd control – such as nightclubs, events and festivals – it’s nearly impossible to get insured, he told

“Clubs are beacons for everything that insurers deem hazardous – young people, alcohol and crowds,” Mr de Caires said.

“It’s a highly litigious market – people sue venues all the time. I remember one case in which someone tripped on a Chupa Chup and took the club to court. The seccies should have seen it and picked it up, apparently.”

With longstanding labour shortages, security guards are stretched thin, Mr de Caires added.

“Operators are stretching their workforce, asking for a lot of rostered overtime, getting bartenders and RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) marshalls to work security,” he said.

Lockout laws and lockdown collide

Ask what went wrong in the Cross, and many hands point towards the lockout laws – an infamous policy introduced in February 2014 that forced licenced venues to turn away new patrons after 1.30am.

Rates of drunken violence fell, but some said it was at the expense of the inner-city’s soul.

The heavily debated laws stuck around for more than six years before being lifted in Kings Cross in March 2021. By June, the entire city was in Covid-19-induced lockdown, hammering operators further.

Daniel Levie, who ran one of the 176 venues that shut down during the lockout law era – and was forced to close a second business mid-Covid – told the past decade had been “crippling”.

“I won’t return to hospitality,” he said.

“It’s unthinkable, the amount venues have had to adapt and overcome. I simply don’t have the stamina to try again – and I know a lot of people in the business who feel the same.”

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