Bar-goers roll with 'new normal'

Posted 08 Jul 2012 by MediaStuff Popular
Posted in Events , Health/Wellbeing , Media
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Christchurch's temporary bars lack creature comforts and patrons are even given hot water bottles.
Fairfax NZ
BRAVING IT: Christchurch's temporary bars lack creature comforts and patrons are even given hot water bottles.

Christchurch's earthquakes have sent tremors through the city's bar scene, with new hotspots entertaining patrons and creating new problems for police.

In some ways, Christchurch bars are not that different from the rest of the country. The beer is cold, the music loud, and people are still enjoying themselves.

However, a second inspection quickly reveals the impact of the city's devastating earthquakes.

Tents and shipping containers stand where brick buildings once were, forming makeshift watering holes in between vacant sites.

Most drinking now takes place in suburban areas rather than the central city, much of which is still off-limits while demolition work continues.

It's a brave new world, and some bar owners are working hard to make the most of it.

Revival Bar co-owner Sam Heaps is among those trying to create a silver lining for the city's residents.

Heaps and business partner Brett Gibbons set up their container bar near Christchurch Casino last November in an attempt to address the shortage of bars in the city.

The temporary structure can be easily moved to a new location if necessary – a welcome advantage, given the amount of uncertainty in the ever-changing city.

"We don't know what's going to happen around the corner, so you have to be creative to conform to a new environment," Heaps says.

He believes the earthquakes have forced different demographics to mix more freely than in the past, given the limited number of bars for people to attend.

"People stuck to their own bars in the past, but now you're getting a good mix of different types, you've got 20-year-olds having conversations with 40-year-olds."

The remaining bars have become important social spaces for people to gather and unwind from all their stresses, quake-related and otherwise.

"People want to come together and socialise, get together and talk about their problems," Heaps says.

The earthquakes have also freed up some bars from their contracts with brewing companies, allowing them to stock craft beers instead.

Craig Bowen, owner of craft beer distributors BeerNZ, says he knows of several bars taking the opportunity to branch out into more unique brews.

"They might have felt tied into something for too long or they didn't want to go down that path again. Now, if they're moving to a new premise, a new location, a lot of them might want to try something new."

The temporary nature of Revival means it, along with many other Christchurch bars, lacks the creature comforts that drinkers elsewhere in the country are accustomed to.But the post-quake environment is not without its drawbacks.

Outdoor heaters are scattered about, while the new Smash Palace hands out hot water bottles.

That is often not enough to mask the bitter chill of a Canterbury night, but people still turn out in their droves – a sign that the earthquakes may be breeding a hardier species of bar-goer.

"It surprised me for a long time how tough people were to the elements, but of course you just learn to deal with it," Heaps says.

The packed bars can also make it difficult for bar staff to keep customers under control.

Heaps has quadrupled the number of security staff at Revival "just to keep a better eye on things", while popular bars in the upmarket suburb of Merivale have also boosted their security levels.

Christchurch police have also had to change the way they monitor the city's drinkers.

Alcohol strategy and enforcement team leader Sergeant Al Lawn says the displacement of bars from within the city centre has forced police to spread their resources. "We can't concentrate a lot of staff in one area, we've got to move around a lot more."

Previously quiet residential areas can quickly become popular watering holes, creating unforeseen issues for those who live in the area.

The increasing number of construction workers arriving for the rebuild has also created a unique set of problems, Lawn says.

Many of the workers are young, single and at a loose end come the end of the week, allowing them to "work hard and play hard".

"A few are going home at the weekends, but the others are staying round and getting stuck into it," Lawn says.

In response, police were sending out preventative teams to look at potential problem areas, speaking to bar owners and ensuring they kept things under control.

"They just need to be more vigilant, because they're the ones making a lot of money out of it," Lawn says.

Another challenge for bar owners would come when the rebuild kicked into gear.

The temporary bars would eventually have to give way to more permanent structures, forcing them to find another vacant site or consider settling down at a permanent location.

Heaps was confident that residents would be able to cope with more change, given everything they had already been through in the quake-ravaged city.

"We talk a lot about the new normal in Christchurch. Our people are really quite adaptable, so they'll just roll with the punches."

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