WARRNAMBOOL publicans have vented their frustration over liquor licensing approval of a pop-up laneway bar in the CBD, saying it seems to have received preferential treatment.
While they said they were not against the concept of the pop-up bar, managers and owners from the Seanchai, Hotel Warrnambool and The Loft queried the lack of consultation with nearby businesses and the city’s liquor accord group.
They also questioned the ease with which the bar was able to gain an extension of the licence of the neighbouring Emperor’s House restaurant.
Hotel Warrnambool manager Steve Philpot said he attempted to extend his premise’s licence earlier this year for an Australia Day event but was rejected by the authorities.
“We just wanted a licence for a little bit of footpath and our own laneway just to create a thoroughfare to (our rear car park) downstairs and we were knocked back,” Mr Philpot said. “What about security? When we applied for ours we were told we would have to have security in the area.”
Police confirmed yesterday that there was no mention of security in the pop-up bar’s application.
“If this was approved, there is no reason in the world why we shouldn’t be able to apply for a 20m or 30m section of footpath,” Mr Philpot said.
“Liquor licensing, the council and the police have been making it very difficult to get a licence extension on an existing venue and then suddenly someone can get one in a laneway?
“I’m not against the whole concept, but there’s not been due process.
“If it’s that easy to take over a footpath and sell grog and raise a bit of money for charity, I’d be out there doing it tomorrow.”
Seanchai manager and co-owner Josh O’Dowd noted the bar was partly for a good cause — 20 per cent of profits goes to Peter’s Project — but said his venue was prevented from setting up a small tent or stall on the footpath and car parks in front of the venue for St Patrick’s Day.
“We have so many restrictions on our licence as a business,” Mr O’Dowd said. “I’m worried that if it doesn’t go right it will cause problems down the track with our local licensing accord.
“If they don’t have security, they don’t know the locals who are on the barred patrons’ list, they don’t know the people that are trouble.”
He also questioned the lack of consultation.
“Other businesses have struggled through the winter and pay rates all year round and rely on the summer trade,” he said.
“It’s not fair that (law student Edward Mahony) can come in from Melbourne — and I know he’s from Allansford originally — and take other people’s trade off them and then leave town.
“They should have given someone else the chance (to run a pop-up bar like this).”
Sergeant Chris Moloney, of Warrnambool police, said Mr Mahony had worked with police to fix problems in his licence application.
Inspector Kevin Archer said police were eventually satisfied that the application “ticked all the boxes” and passed it on to Warrnambool City Council and the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.
The Loft owner Jarrod Hawker said he liked the idea and was pleased council was getting involved.
“It’s a great thing for bringing life and vitality to the CBD,” Mr Hawker said, adding that he could see flow-on benefits for his live music venue.
“But I would be very surprised and disappointed if council says no to other similar applications for licences.
“It took me over 12 months to get an extension of our (licence area) red line to include our footpath.
“That is annoying and it would be frustrating if there (are) two sets of rules here.”