New Zealand's worst bars can now be revealed with police figures showing where people drank before being reached by the long arm of the law.
It had the makings of a good night in New Zealand's most notorious bar. "Down from Aux just for the night, free drinks, a gazillion new friends & tooooo many hilarious/weird/amazing moments," writes Jackie on Instagram. Quoting US hip-hopper Fetty Wap, she boasts: "17 shots".
It was just another night out at The Hood, Hamilton. Last year, 69 punters left the bar to reel into the arms of the law. By that measure, The Hood on Victoria St, Hamilton is New Zealand's most notorious bar.
Police urge some caution about the figures, which were obtained under the Official Information Act. They point out the names of the bars are supplied when they apprehend people for offences like drink-driving, drunken disorder and violence. They are reliant on the slurred word of drunks as to where they've been drinking; for every one who was getting boozed in a bar, another seven consumed their final, unfortunate drink at home or in a public place.
Despite this, the information is valuable, argues Andrew Smith, the police national coordinator of alcohol harm reduction. It could never be used in court, nor taken to a liquor licensing authority, but if one bar keeps appearing it is somewhere police will take a closer look at.
Hamilton Police Inspector Karen Henrikson, who oversees safety in the inner city, says most alcohol disorder happens outside, when patrons spill out onto the streets. The Hood was a dim lit bar, attracting a certain demographic that tended to come into contact with police staff, she adds. "We spend a lot of time policing that area because of the potential for things to happen – but to be fair we also go through the Outback, Bar 101 and Furnace." The wrong look or a nudge and things can turn nasty, she says. "That's the geographical problem in Hamilton, you can walk a few metres from one bar to another and that creates the issues – everyone piles out of the bars at the same time and there ends up being a scrap."
Drunk people are not allowed on licensed premises, they are not allowed to remain there, and they can not be served. But the test of intoxication remains subjective, albeit one helped with a new Intoxication Assessment Tool. For example, allow them in if they appear sensible, even a little relaxed – they are likely sober. Intervene if they are overly-friendly, withdrawn, inappropriate, and annoying – they are probably under the influence. If they are "severely inappropriate", aggressive, and belligerent , then the advise to bar staff is emphatic: Deny service and remove.
THE DIRTY DOZEN
Using the figures obtained under the OIA, a list of the worst bars in New Zealand has been compiled – with some myth-busting results. The cities of Hamilton and Tauranga are over-represented; yet the student Mecca that is Dunedin didn't come close to making the list with its worst-behaved bar's punters eliciting just eight arrests.
Smaller Marlborough, better known for wine tasting at some of the country's best vineyards, shows an uglier face at some pubs. The Yard Bar in Blenheim took fifth spot on the national roll of shame, and records from Blenheim District Court paint a grim picture. In April this year, local woman Teresa Denise Siggelkow, 38, was being kicked out of The Yard Bar when she punched a staff member in the mouth. When police arrived, a constable was bitten, kicked, and hit for his troubles. Christine Tynan, 29, admitted two charges of assault after she was found her lying drunk on The Yard Bar's floor. Police were called after she attacked an ambulance paramedic trying to help her. When a police officer tried to get identifying details from her, Tynan spat at her.
In Auckland City, police district prevention manager Inspector Gary Davey says the records of apprehensions provide police an "indicator" of whether a bars is likely to be a problem, though the data could not be relied upon as evidence in a liquor licensing hearing. "You're asking sometimes intoxicated people to tell us where they've been drinking," he says. "The most difficult thing is they may or may not tell you the truth. "It's a nice to know and it's a sort of interesting thing. Personally we would rely more on our knowledge of our bars."
Auckland's worst bar, with 33 arrests, is owned by a liquor licensing trust that "exists to sell alcohol responsibly". The Trusts, comprised of the Portage and Waitakere Licensing trusts, runs The Hangar in Henderson. Records details some of its hijinks from times past. There was that mass early morning brawl that erupted outside in 2012, with two men stabbed during the ruckus. A trawl through the reviews on the bar's Facebook page also raises some concerns, with several people commenting on the levels of intoxication and atmosphere. "DJs all good," Brendon Johnston wrote. "I like the music but there is way too many fights!!!"
The Trusts would not be interviewed on the high number of apprehensions as their management said police had not raised the issue with them. A statement from marketing manager Angela Hurst said The Trusts had six weekly meetings with police, Auckland Council and the District Health Board to ensure any problems with their bars were identified early. "Now that the matter has been brought to our attention we will raise it will the police at our next meeting scheduled for next week."
The Hangar was one of the few Auckland venues that used an ID scanner on entry, she said, plus provided free non-alcoholic drinks for drivers and employed highly-trained duty managers. It hadn't failed a police controlled purchase operation in the past four years.
There's no question, bar managers spoken to are frustrated. They feel they are being unfairly singled out and blamed for a far bigger problem.
THE MEDICS WHO CLEAN UP THE MESS
It's true, problem pubs are not the whole picture. Paul Quigley, a senior doctor in Wellington's emergency department, has figures that paint a worrying picture of drinkers pre-loading on cheap drinks before hitting the bars.
At the end of nights gone awry, and well before hangovers have set in, it is emergency departments that feel the effects. Of those arriving at the emergency department intoxicated, nine out of 10 had injured themselves while drunk. Most of the alcohol had been drunk prior to going into town. While 45 percent had their last drink in a licensed premises, for most, the majority of the alcohol that night was drunk at home, at a mate's house or somewhere public. But it points to the liquor licensing paradox: bars may not serve intoxicated people but they are serving a product that intoxicates.
Quigley sees other solutions than tightening the screws further on bars. What he would like to see is off-licence liquor prices increase. Compare the $20 you would pay for a dozen beer at the local supermarket to the roughly two ales you would get out in a city bar and the maths is easy. The nights that truly go off the rails are the the ones spurred by impulse, Quigley says. A few quiet wines at home ends with a late-evening dash to the late-opening bottle store and, too often, hospital is the final call of the night. Off-licences should stop selling at 8 to 9pm and areas around the city with a lot of bars should have no off licenses. While this would inconvenience those living in the city, it would reduce the number of people ducking out of expensive bars to load up on cheap off-licence booze. "Some people have got to take a hit for the greater good."
Auckland Hospital's emergency department clinical director Anil Nair agrees with Quigley, believing a lot of the problem stems from off-license sales. Intoxicated patients arrived on all days of the week, but it was on Friday and Saturday when things peaked and a security plan was in place with additional resources needed to cope with the problems.
FOX AND RABBIT
At Wellington bar Ruby Rabbit, police have cracked down hard and it recently lost its licence. But police figures show just six Ruby Rabbit punters got arrested after nights out there in 2015. Owner Neill Andrews is adamant – despite police claims the data is only used as a guide – that officers used the list of apprehensions in his liquor licensing hearing. What's more, he claims police use the data to influence bar owners before Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority hearings. In his case, that meant telling him they had the arrest numbers in an effort to get him to voluntarily reduce opening hours before going to a hearing, he says. "It's not a far-fetched thing or some conspiracy. It is what they do."
Certainly, there were stacks of evidence of drunk punters in the bar, even one who leapt out the window of the bar and stood on the roof, leapt on to a bus stop roof, and down to Courtenay Place before being nabbed. There were also the surreal exchanges when police came into the bar, such as the night Andrews apparently got on the loud speaker and told officers, "go collect some glasses for me" and asked, "why are three cops standing in my bar?". But there is other evidence which police brought that has no provable link to Ruby Rabbit.There is the case of the drunk, semi-conscious, vomit-stained man found in December 2015 in a bus stop opposite the bar. Police said they had no way of knowing where he had been drinking but, "the most that could be said is that this is evidence of the type of environment that the premises operates in".
Wellington's Police harm prevention officer Sergeant Damian Rapira-Davies said the bar names reported to police showed where the last drink served, but not where "drinks one to nine" were consumed before that.
'THE ONLY PARTY BAR'
We visited Tauranga's Bahama Hut – number two on the police list – on Thursday. It is 11pm and the clientele consists of two young guys playing pool and a nosey reporter. Apparently it picks up after midnight, but Friday and Saturday night are the big nights.
The Bahama Hut, beach themed with surfboards, two swings and a giant palm tree in the middle of the dance floor, is one of only two late-trading venues in Tauranga and the only traditional nightclub. "We're the only party bar," says the barmaid.
Outside, co-owner Jade Nelson chats to the bouncer. It's not surprising his venue shows up on the police last drinks survey when they are the only club in town, he says. "We work pretty closely with the police, we see them three, four, maybe five times every night. "When you're drinking in here you're in a pretty controlled environment, our guys are constantly looking for intoxication or any signs of it." He is suspicious of the police relying on what drunks tell them. "We turn a lot of people away but they stand out here and make a mess of themselves to the point where they ... get arrested and often the police will say they were in our bar." A lot of people arrive at the club already "tanked up", he adds. "That's the problem I've always had with this last drinks survey, is that it doesn't ask the question of where did you get your first drink?"
The bigger issues is how we're drinking, Nelson says. "I can go to supermarket, buy two boxes of beer at below cost ... go home and drink all night long until I'm legless, beat my wife up, kick holes in the wall and there's no-one who controls it – that's the broader conversation I think needs to be had."
7 August 2016
TOM HUNT, SHANE COWLISHAW AND TONY WALL
Photo: MARK TAYLOR / FAIRFAX NZ
Source: Sunday Star Times
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