The world might be up all night trying to get lucky, but they certainly aren’t doing it in London.
Today’s major cities no longer exist in the nine to five world, and less and less of us are making our living that way. London is flooded with professionals for whom the regular week changes by rota, from hospitality workers to hospital workers, and even those who function on New York time to those on Melbourne time.
Yet, try finding a decent drink past 1am in London. Try ordering good food, a plate of cheese, some thick cuts of bread and cold meats. Try finding a venue where you can dance to live music and watch the sun peak over the river. We live in one of the biggest, richest, most diverse cities in the world and yet still have a mandated bedtime.
So why isn’t London the 24-hour city it should be?
In part British drinking culture is very different to our European counterparts, where in Paris it’s normal to have late dinners and head to bars around 11pm, in England you’re pretty much done and dusted by midnight. We go full throttle early on and quickly downhill as a consequence. Of course, despite the stereotypes, Europeans do binge drink - they just seem to start later. But what they have access to post-midnight is options; the choice to drink ice-cold Martinis in an intimate cocktail bar, red wine sat on tables spilling out onto the pavement or spirit mixers in nightclubs. The night doesn’t have to end at 1am so there’s no rush.
“New York and Tokyo are the classic examples of a city that doesn't sleep, but when you consider how often London is mentioned in the same breath as those cities, dear god the comparison pales after 1am,” says Iain Griffiths of Mr Lyan (White Lyan and Dandelyan). “Amsterdam is a city that has shown to be very proactive, having long held the position Mayor Khan has suggested implementing a Night Time Mayor. My beloved Melbourne also does a brilliant job I think, going so far last year as to make owners in a new building that was going in above an iconic music venue sign a waiver that they couldn’t complain once moving in as the venue was there first.”
Drinks at ECC in Chinatown
Of the few choices we do have late at night in London, ECC in Chinatown and Joyeux Bordel in Shoreditch are two of the best. Both part of the global ECC group, which spans from Paris to New York and Ibiza, these classically French bars are always open late without diminishing their offering. Both London venues are open until 3am, a factor which was essential to the owners before they opened the doors.
“In terms of our business plan, this was very important. In Soho with Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown this was part of the charm and attraction of the place - where to go for a decent drink, late and in Chinatown/central London. It’s sometimes quite challenging to find a good bar that can serve good drinks till 3am in the West End so this was important for us to be able to trade till late. In Joyeux Bordel it’s even more important, being a basement bar somehow this attracts guests later than earlier, hence why it is vital to have a late licence on that location,” says Xavier Padovani.
When asked about increased drunkenness and disorderly behaviour, it turns out that Londoners aren’t as bad as the Daily Mail would have you believe. And as Xavier points out, you will always get intoxicated people at the door, it’s then the manager and door staff’s job to refuse them entrance according to the law.
“Guests, knowing there is no bell ringing at midnight, don’t need to rush and drink fast, so I feel with the late licence the guests are actually way more chilled and can appreciate the night further and actually be relaxed about drinking since they know it will be a late one,” says Xavier.
Joyeux Bordel in Shoreditch
One issue London faces is licensing, a lot of the councils are entrenched in the old ways – even stretching back to the idea of the Sabbath as a rest day. Allowing bars to have the same opening hours seven days a week would be an ideal start, says Iain, as well as more operators serving good food post 10.30pm. “And then we need to protect what we have, the shuttering of club and live music venue one after another has been appalling in the last few years and we're at a real tipping point of becoming bland beyond repair,” says Iain.
It’s a challenge Xavier has had to face time and again, currently he’s trying to get the right operating hours for a new site. “I feel sometimes the councils should be a bit more open and judge operators on their records rather than say right way NO you wont get a licence past 1am. London claim’s to have a vibrant social scene but often local residents and local councils do not promote the city - or do the city justice - by refusing late licences and I find it it’s a shame… Not everyone wants to get drunk after 1am and it actually creates more jobs and builds up the economy and every one could be a winner if the councils would sometimes be a bit more relaxed on opening hours… in a perfect world that is,” says Xavier.
White Lyan in Hoxton
Even established venues around the city would like to be, as Iain puts it, ‘later and louder’ but “you don't have one landlord, every tenant with in ear shot has the power to complain to such a degree they could bring your entire business under scrutiny.” In a move that is echoing some of Sydney’s biggest issues in used-to-be vibrant places like Kings Cross, young residents are moving into up and coming areas and finding after a few years they don’t like the noisy bars anymore. Cue the complaints.
However, the future isn’t entirely bleak and London’s new mayor has already made some indications he is ready to open the city up again.
“In the end,” says Iain, “the law is there to govern and regulate, not restrict. Such a notion is clearly open to interpretation but it's definitely time for all parties to sit down and discuss the consequences of the current approach. Not everyone wants to be fed and in bed before midnight, and the sooner the powers that be wake up and realise this, the sooner we can start making London a truly international city once again.”