It used to be that we could confidently say the nightlife scene in London was miles ahead of what anyone else was doing. And though we still lead the way today, the gap is beginning to close between the English capital and other cities such as Bangkok, Barcelona, and Montreal. So what exactly is killing London nightlife?
The answer depends on whom you ask. Some say the biggest problem are overzealous police and licencing authorities; others say it is urban cleansing being conducted by the rich. The truth is that it is probably a combination of the two. At any rate, the nightlife of 2015 is not what it once was. Something needs to change if London is to remain the place to be for nightlife.
Limits and Restrictions
Vibe Bar owner Alan Miller recently made the case in City A.M. that policing and licencing is essentially engaged in a war on London nightlife that is ruining the party atmosphere and economy. One of his examples is that of the typical curry house on Brick Lane. The owner may be permitted to remain open until 1am, but licencing will not allow him to serve alcohol after midnight. The restriction all but guarantees a slow final hour of the business day and no a reason to try to stay open any later.
Miller also points out the need for local bars and nightclubs to take advantage of Temporary Event Notices (TENs) to stay open until the small hours of the morning. Nevertheless, the word ‘temporary’ is telling here. No nightclub, restaurant, or café can establish a sound business model based on temporary circumstances that offer a little shot in the arm every once in a while. A business built on London nightlife needs to take advantage of as many of the overnight hours as possible.
For their part, police and licencing authorities say they do what they do in order to keep London safe and secure for everyone. They reference the nightlife scene of a decade ago that was very heavily influenced by organised crime. Moreover, in an attempt not to repeat the mistakes of the past, they believe the best solution is tight control. Nightlife business owners would disagree. They say it is stifling economic activity.
The Telegraph‘s Alex Proud wrote in April 2014 about how London was no longer a cool place to be. He wrote about how cool it was back in the 1990s, when London was cheap enough for just about anyone. Back then the city was divided into different areas that were home to equally different kinds of people. He wrote that those areas have now been largely cleansed and are dominated by the rich.
Proud made the case that the rich prefer a certain kind of clean and up-scale environment that caters specifically to their needs and tastes. And because London is now a place that only the rich can afford, they are using their money and influence to remove the more edgy aspects of the London of 10 and 15 years ago. In place of the nightlife venues of the past, we now have trendy and up-scale restaurants next door to the boutiques and shops where the rich spend their money.
Whether or not you agree with Proud’s assessment, it is impossible to argue that London has become a very pricey city. You cannot buy a house or a flat in the city centre unless you are a celebrity, politician or someone involved in finance. Everyone else is pushed out to zones two and three, according to their own level of wealth. And when that happens, where do those people go to enjoy the nightlife? They will spend most of their time and money in the areas in which they live.
Get out of the Way
One can make the case that both Miller and Proud have very legitimate points that need to be addressed. If the London nightlife scene is to remain out front, rules and restrictions need to be eased and London needs to be transformed into a more affordable city. The best way to accomplish both is for the government to get out of the way. Let business owners do what they do best to attract the nightlife.
If things do not change within the next few years, Proud says the London city centre will evolve into the same kind of environment now common in Paris and Geneva. Not only will the night time economy be devastated, but London will no longer be the cool place to be. And that would be a shame. Part of what has driven the nightlife scene in the capital is its reputation for being the centre of cool in Europe. It would be a shame to see policing, licencing, and urban cleansing take that away.