The idea of an art bar is an appealing concept. Let us take a quick pub crawl through modern art history: to the bars of Montmartre where Toulouse-Lautrec drank, to the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, to the cafés of Paris where the Surrealists drank, to the Cedar Bar in New York where the Abstract Expressionists drank, to the Colony Room in London where Francis Bacon drank. Any bar will do. It is not the atmosphere, nor the type, nor the quantity of alcohol that matters but the quality company with which it is consumed. What is important is the culture of the drinkers and the culture of drinking.
Lord Ivy Art Lounge has a good location amongst the art galleries of Flinders Lane and full-page adverts in Art Almanac. However when I visited the art was too bland for my taste. Fad Gallery Bar also advertises an art connection but it has never been open when I’ve been in the area. There are plenty of bars in the city with a more artistic atmosphere. And there are plenty of pubs and bars in Melbourne that have had the occasional art exhibition.
There are many pubs and bars that have contributed to Melbourne’s music scene (not just rock or jazz but many kinds of music, even experimental music). They have also contributed to Melbourne’s live comedy scene, theatre scene and other vibrant aspects of our culture. Victoria’s liquor licensing laws have not helped Melbourne’s once world famous live music scene. There are only a few places left that I once played with my band still have live music – they have all closed or become ‘Irish’ pubs. Thousands of words have been written about the closure of the Tote in January 2010 in both newspapers, like The Age, and blogs, like Man About Town.
The changes in Victoria that have allowed more liquor licences in the city have had an impact on the culture, some artist run spaces and small galleries partially subsidize their operation with the licensed sale of alcohol. I don’t know if the argument of increased availability leading to increased consumption is anything more than a simplistic analysis of complex behaviour. Certainly prohibition has never worked to decrease consumption. The 2 am lockout did not change anything. The old restricted drinking hours and premises of the old Australian 5 o’clock swill did not create a positive drinking culture.
I prefer the liquor licence standards of Europe rather that Australia. Current Victorian legislation reminds me of the prohibition in 1915 of the most famous artistic drink, absinthe, by the United States and most European countries. It is simply moral panic and lacks supporting evidence. The re-introduction of absinthe to the world market has not had any measurable negative impact, nor will changes to the current laws. (I find that a metal tea strainer is an adequate substitute for the ornate absinthe spoons to suspend a sugar cube on.)