I’ve lost count of the evenings in Sydney which started out fabulously but have ended hideously. There’s the vomit on the footpath and the screaming on the streets. Girls young enough to be my daughter hurling expletive-riddled abuse at each other. Drunken boys mindlessly running into oncoming traffic in some kind of stupid dare.
I’ve witnessed it all.
The problem with Sydney’s night life is far deeper than the legislation which was designed to curb violence on the streets.
While I love this city, one only needs to spend a few days in Melbourne to realise just how much better our southern cousins have it when it comes to going out, meeting people and letting one’s hair down beyond the age of 35.
Last Sunday afternoon I found myself getting steamed up – in a good way – inside a tiny St Kilda bar.
I had been taken to this quaint little hole in the wall by my friend and colleague Wendy Squires who moved to Melbourne a decade ago and writes one of the best social commentary columns in the country.
We had been out to a smart lunch with Australia’s largest independent public relations supremo, Judi Hausmann. Over Bloody Marys we discussed how dire Sydney’s entertainment options were for people of a certain vintage after Wendy had been enthusiastically telling us about her many favourite “locals”.
Before long text messages were exchanged and we soon found ourselves with another Sydney interloper, a hoofer of national note, Kerri-Anne Kennerley. She was keen to join us on our merry expedition.
We had no idea what we were in for when we arrived at Claypots, which one lady sitting next to me said she endearingly called “Crackpots”.
The joint was packed. It was an eclectic crowd – young, old, hipster, nerdy, polished and eccentrically dishevelled. Just the way I like it, with nary an Instagram influencer, burly boofhead or screaming banshee in sight.
They were mostly locals who welcomed us with open arms as bums jostled along to squeeze us on stools.
It soon became apparent why people were jammed in there like sardines, and it wasn’t just for the pub-priced drinks. Hell, they don’t even charge corkage if you BYO (unheard of in Sydney).
Nor were they there because of the excellent and affordable food (how can pasta for two and drinks be worth $300 plus in Sydney?). Or the “all-welcome” door policy (my life is too short to spend it queueing for Justin Hemmes’ ivy).
Indeed it was all those things and more that was the appeal of Claypots, which is something of an institution in St Kilda. But the venue is far from unique in Melbourne, a city which is brimming with live music joints, small bars, live comedy and theatre. Indeed there were half a dozen bars – mostly tiny places – around us offering equally entertaining fare.
As I settled in, an elegant lady – who I later learned was well into her 70s and had once been a ballerina in Poland – twirled about beaming a broad smile from ear to ear. She was blissfully doing her own interpretive dance to the live jazz being belted out.
The adoring crowed watched on in awe, and it was clear the admiration was also shared by the saxophonist, pianist, bassist and drummer who made up the band, The Shuffle Club.
Another couple did a mean foxtrot/tango, obviously well versed in negotiating the challenging conditions, dexterously moving about the drum kit and managing to miss the half dozen tables laden with drinks.
It was The Shuffle Club’s regular Sunday afternoon gig. Apparently this happens every Sunday, and then there are the other acts that get the place jumping during the week. This wasn’t about making money, but rather having a good time.
The pianist’s playing was so impassioned that the vibrations threatened to knock my beer off the adjoining bar. I steadied my glass and hung on for dear life as he reached his fabulous crescendo.
Wendy shouted out across the room to me: “You don’t get this in Sydney!”
Indeed we don’t Wendy – and I wonder if we ever will?
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.