9 o’clock swill

Schooner of beer - not so humble thesedays

Schooner of beer - not so humble thesedays

“The Six o’clock swill was the last-minute rush to buy drinks at a hotel bar before it closed. During a significant part of the 20th century, Australian and New Zealand hotels shut their public bars at 6 p.m.; between finishing work (5 p.m.) and this early closing hour, men drank heavily. Six o’clock closing time was introduced partly in an attempt to improve public morals and get men home to their wives earlier. Instead, it often fuelled an hour-long speed-drinking session, as men raced to get as drunk as possible in the limited time available. An unintended consequence was that glasses were saved during the hour after quitting time until the last call came for drinks. Then the emptied glasses could be refilled. “The bartender didn’t carry your glass to the tap. He carried a pistol-shaped spigot hitched to a long tube and squirted your glass full where you stood.” From Wikipedia

The famous ‘six o’clock swill’ was caused by pubs closing early. There’s a new version of it which I call the ‘nine o’clock swill’ at Sydney’s infamous Midnight Shift in Oxford Street.

Does anyone remember the days when the price of a beer was the last thing you’d think about when going out? You’d think about taxi fares home, costs for eating out etc. But the humble schooner of beer was always reasonably priced. Having a ‘night out on the turps’ in Sydney didn’t have to be an extravagance. At one time I could have a good Saturday night out in Oxford Street for $10. Thesedays $10 won’t even get you two beers at the Midnight Shift.

The Shift downstairs has a very unusual pricing regime. All day up to 9pm, the price of a beer is quite reasonable. In fact, it is often cheaper than a normal suburban pub. But then at 9pm, the prices suddenly go up – to virtually double the price. A schooner of bog-standard beer is suddenly over $5. It’s an outrageous price hike that always shocks me.

I thought I might be the only one to worry about this 2100 rip off but on Friday night I found out I wasn’t the only one. I spoke to a couple of Shift customers I’d never met before. As the time got to about 8.45pm, I noticed they were looking at their watches and mobile phones. I mentioned this and found it was because they were well aware that it was approaching 9pm and the drink prices would amost double. They wanted to make sure they got a couple in before the price hike. I’ve felt exactly the same thing for quite a while now.

This phenomenon I now dub as the ‘9 O’Clock Swill’: the race to get as many in before 9pm at the Midnight Shift! Some weeks when money is very tight I’ve found myself only going to the Shift up to ‘swill’ time because I just haven’t been able to afford a long night at $5+ for a beer. After all, I’m just a suburban boy with suburban expectations and resources – I’ve never been one to pay $12 for an alcopop (or similar) just to be seen in the right place at the right time. Give me a low key friendly atmosphere and reasonable beer prices and I’m there!

I’ve noticed over the last couple of years that standard beer prices have risen dramatically in most places. It’s now $4.50 for a schooner of beer at our Wednesday night drinking haunt – and that place is the scummiest place you’ll find around the inner west of Sydney. I just don’t think that price is justified. Particularly in this economic environment.

In the UK, pub prices have become so expensive that many people simply go to their local Tesco or Sainsbury supermarket, but a 6 or 12 pack and go home and drink. Many pubs are doing it tough over there and it’s no wonder with the prices they charge. From the little research I’ve done, it seems that Sydney might be trending the same way. I’ve seen a number of people that used to drink at our local pub now just get ‘takeaway’ instead. They go into the pub’s bottleshop, grab a ‘slab’ and head off home. Sometimes with a couple of their mates.

I’ve got no interest in drinking at home – it bores me frankly. To me drinking is a social function – something that’s done with your mates in a social setting. Perhaps I’m just an old fashioned Aussie boy, but I believe that’s the way it was meant to be. A drink, a chat and a shared laugh – that’s what going to the pub should be about.

In the last twelve months I’ve really had to weigh up going out to pubs and places like the Midnight Shift. It isn’t a ‘no brainer’ any more. Wages haven’t gone up that much – the increase in the price of a beer has far exceeded CPI and pay increases. It’s heading towards being a luxury that quite a few people can’t afford. At least not on a regular basis.

As the global economic crisis bites even deeper, I wonder what impact pubs and places like the Midnight Shift downstairs will feel. The average punter has a multitude of bills they’re juggling at any one time and discretionary expenditure like a night out is often one of the first things to get dumped. Particularly when people are concerned about their job security.

Downstairs at the Midnight Shift

Downstairs at the Midnight Shift

Friday night for me was a bloody expensive night. I stayed until around midnight and spent a crapload of cash and then there was the taxifare home. All in all, a ‘few drinks after work’ became a very expensive exercise that’ll have me watching the pennies closely until my next payday.

I guess the ‘9 o’clock swill’ is set to become more of a reality for more Shift punters as time goes on. Downstairs is usually a low-key fun place to be with music that doesn’t destroy your senses – but it’s also somewhere that’s unfortunately turning into a luxury for the ‘average joe.’

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1 Comment

  1. Perhaps you should check the beer prices at your local bowling club. Your friend judge_g says he watches the lawn bowls on TV. Why not get together at the bowling club and have much cheaper drinks.


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