Gong punters drawn to quiet, safer small bars

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It is perhaps the flipside to the issue of night-time violence - while the big clubs clean up their acts, there are new boys in town offering a welcome alternative to shots, sleaze and sweat.

Wollongong's small-bar scene has been well documented for the cultural and economic benefits it brings to the city's after-dark environment. But what about the safety benefits? With earlier closing times, smaller capacities, live music and a more refined atmosphere, these boutique drinking holes give more choice to punters looking for a quiet drink rather than squeezing onto a pumping dance floor.

"When you look at the stats, there have been hardly any incidents at small bars around the state," says Manny Mavridis, who operates the Howlin Wolf bar on Crown Street.

"We haven't had a single problem with violence, it's just not an issue for us."

Katie McKenzie, owner of the city's original small bar in Globe Lane, The Little Prince, says the bars simply give greater choice to a region formerly populated solely by big nightclubs or dingy pubs. In November, Wollongong City Council revealed it had received at least 20 liquor licence applications for small venues in the previous 18 months.

This has given birth to the likes of Howlin Wolf, His Boy Elroy in Globe Lane, Dagwood on Market Street, the soon-to-be-opened Three Chimneys cafe, and Red Square vodka bar on Keira Street.

"It's just a different vibe and culture. Sometimes people don't want to go to a big club, sometimes you just want to have a quiet drink," Ms McKenzie said.

"I grew up in Wollongong and these types of places weren't around a few years ago. But the culture is growing now."

Patrons seem to agree. On a Friday night at the Little Prince, many people out for an after-work tipple praised the gradual introduction of the smaller venues into the CBD.

"It's quieter, not as busy. You don't ever have to think about violence here, like you might in a nightclub setting," Peter Zeidler said.

"It's more attractive for someone our age. All our friends seem to prefer it," friend Jarrod McElroy agreed.

Karlie Donaldson said: "People want a drink, but these places weren't around before so they had to go to a nightclub.

"Now, quiet places like this disperse the crowds a bit. If you want a nightclub, you go there to dance.

"If you want a quiet drink, you can come here and not worry about any trouble."

Her friend Lindsey Byers agrees. "I've never seen a fight at a place like this," she said.

"It's the unspoken rules of these bars: you don't drink until you throw up or cause a scene. People know how to act, how to drink without getting into trouble."

Mr Mavridis also agrees but says a broader change is happening in Wollongong's nightlife culture. The nightclubs, as well as the small bars, are taking big steps to ensure safety.

"I feel there's been a cultural shift away from what we used to have, and it will keep on changing," he said.

"People are starting to realise you can have a drink without going over the top. We've got tighter controls and management plans. The violence of a few years ago is not here any more."

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