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Police asking a wine bar about serving by the glass has tapped more anger about Sydney's strict nightlife laws

The 10 William St wine bar. Source: Giovanni Paradiso/Instagram

Police have told a Sydney wine bar that a blackboard listing wines by the glass could promote anti-social behaviour and heavy drinking, infuriating Sydney’s hospitality industry.

Giovanni Paradiso is one of Sydney’s most successful and loved restaurateurs, having run Fratelli Paradiso in Potts Point for 15 years and six years ago, opening the small wine bar 10 William Street, Paddington, where a range of around 16 mostly imported wines cost between $14 and $19 by the glass.

The trendy, Italian-styled spot was named the city’s wine bar of the year in 2013, but on Saturday night, police paid the venue a visit as a part of a citywide compliance crackdown on licensed venues and antisocial behaviour over the weekend.

Police inspected 155 venues between Kings Cross and Newtown and say they found 12 licensing breaches.

Paradiso was at 10 William Street on Saturday as the city filled with revellers after games of rugby 7s nearby. He stayed out of the discussion as officers spoke to the duty manager about a number of concerns, including a tongue-in-cheek sign in the window that said “free wine” – a reference to the “natural” (additive free) wine movement.

The large blackboard which fills half of one wall along the petite shopfront, listing around 10 wines by the glass also bothered them because it was seen as being too close to the front of the shop, and did not explain that the venue also served food, which meant it could be seen as promoting heavy drinking.

For Paradiso, it was the last straw. He took to Instagram, posting a photo of the offending item, saying: “So according to. NSW POLICE FORCE our blackboard with what we are pouring by the glass is promoting unsavoury antisocial behaviour SYDNEY WHAT THE F**K IS HAPPENING.”

And for an industry already feeling besieged by the city’s lockout laws, many are viewing the police action as heavy-handed and a threat to the small bar culture that emerged in recent years and damaging to the city’s cosmopolitan vibe.

TV presenter Magdalena Roze, who now lives in Byron Bay with her partner, chef Darren Robertson of Three Blue Ducks fame, commented “Unbelievable that an establishment that in fact promotes social behaviour around drinking wine- through enjoyment of interesting varietals, good food and conversation- can be targeted in this way. So sad to see this happening in Sydney”.

Mike Bennie, a former lawyer turned wine judge, journalist and educator, told Business Insider he hoped the police intervention was isolated or an aberration, and an attempt to appear even-handed after they visited the busy pub across the road. But he fears there was a growing “causative link” between the NSW government’s conservative, anti-alcohol policies and police action.

“If wine bars are being targeted, it will be very difficult to continue to operate venues like that, he said

Bennie’s concerned about the damage to Sydney’s reputation and its tourism prospects, as well as the fear it sends through the industry, discouraging small new players who are worried they will inadvertently fall foul of the law.

“The licensing laws are vague and punitive rather than encouraging an evolution, and it does feel like we’re on a downward spiral,” he said.

“Small wine bars have been one of the most vibrant and successful parts of Sydney’s night life, and an alternative to pubs, but the current actions appear counterproductive to that and it feels like this is now an era where the opposite is going to happen.

“People will be turned away from what has been one of the most exciting places to eat and drink in the world if this continues.”

There’s growing concern about the future of the city’s night life, with Freelancer CEO Matt Barrie posting an epic, 8000-word diatribe on LinkedIn last week against Sydney’s lockout laws.

“Sydney has not just regressed into a ghost town, but there is an undercurrent of something much more sinister in the way the city is being run,” he argued.

The post subsequently went viral.

And support is coalescing around a group of live music fans called Keep Sydney Open, which is fighting to keep music venues open after the 1.30am lockout comes into place. Already nearly 34,000 people have signed a petition calling on NSW premier Mike Baird to review the laws arguing “the music community and law-abiding citizens are not the right people to punish for assaults on the street. Well-run venues are safe and they make a large contribution to our reputation as one of the world’s great entertainment cities.”

There’s also growing concern that the political focus on Sydney’s night life will also damage the central focus Tourism Australia has placed on the hospitality industry as part of the appeal for international tourists.

Business Insider has reached out to Giovanni Paradiso and business parter Marco Ambrosino for comment and we’ll let you know if we hear back.

Yesterday, Ambrosino told the online magazine Broadsheet Sydney that “There’s an undercurrent of disappointment amongst venue owners. There seems to be a real confusion of drinking and dining [and] when you can trade. We’re very, very frustrated. None of us have had any trouble. The police are painting us all with one brush.”

Ambrosino was puzzled as to why it was a problem now, after six years.

Restaurateur Neil Perry, who runs several Sydney venues serving alcohol, from fine dining at Rockpool to hamburger bars, took to Twitter yesterday to say “we need to do something about this world gone mad situation”.

He’s hoping to raise the issue personally with the government soon, and says the problem with the laws is that every venue is treated as the same.

“The small bar scene is really being hurt by lockout laws and they’re the opposite of being antisocial. They’re making sure the city has some congeniality,” he said.

Perry has a range of concerns about licensing laws in NSW, arguing there’s a lack of focus on personal responsibility for your actions.

“Everyone else has responsibility for this except the idiot getting pissed and causing trouble. If you end up in a brawl, the police are more interested in the place where you were having a drink than the fact that you couldn’t control yourself,” Perry said.

He also believes the lockout laws make a mockery of the 24/7 economy in the nation’s biggest city.

“The law assumes everyone works Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm. It’s noy fair to so many people, including in hospitality, who work outside those hours. All these people are being penalised too,” he said.

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