Alcohol and Architecture: “It’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it”

The perception of Northbridge was particularly grim 10 years ago. Large drinking barns (pubs) were the establishment of choice, their focus was revenue and in the process alcohol-fuelled violence between young males became a normality for most Northbridge streets after midnight(1). The increase in crime could also be linked to the various strip clubs and brothels that were scattered throughout Northbridge, and the character’s that these organisations appeal to. Overall the area was suffering from unsafe and unpleasant vibes for “normal” individuals. Many Heritage listed buildings became dormant, businesses suffered, and people chose to party elsewhere(2). It was a precinct within Perth that my parents even warned me about, with stories aimed at deterring me from venturing to on a weekend, purely out of concern. Some of these things still exist today to a lesser extent, however in the last decade the precinct has undergone a transformation on its urban fabric which thus far has had a positive effect on such anti-social behaviour(3).

Image source: Mustang Bar- Remnants of the old Northbridge (Own Image)

Image source: No Mafia – Visual connection to the street (

In late 2006 the State Government issued a major liquor licensing reform that aimed to allow small bars to operate under its own set of restrictions. Its focus was to provide greater choice and diversity for the consumer, push innovation within the liquor and hospitality industry, create more employment opportunities, and assist in tourism for the state(4). Those applying for a small bar licence had to demonstrate that their application has the public interest at heart, having regard to the likely health and social impacts on the community(5). The new concept was conceived on the preconception that Australia’s drinking culture too could emulate that of cities in Europe. The license of the small bar was simple, the bar mustn’t hold more than 120 people (including staff), it must sell some form of food although patrons are not legally obliged to buy it and cannot sell takeaway alcohol(6). It was no surprise that Northbridge adopted this liquor license strategy, the city had had enough, the police had had enough, the people had had enough, and the urban fabric had suffered through all the tensions.

Image source: Northbridge drop in Crime (

Since 2006 more than 118 small bars have been successful in their applications throughout Perth(7), with Northbridge being a prime example of how increasing the number of boutique style bars instead of the traditional drinking barn can reduce anti-social behaviour. The Small bar’s that have now evolved the Northbridge night scene are focusing on a more sophisticated drinker. People are encouraged to socialise and eat, with alcohol accompanying the food; rather than alcohol being the objective. The Spaces themselves are intimate, they encourage a casual drink and chat, in a setting makes individuals feel as though they need to behave more sensibly. Another positive of increasing the amount of boutique style bars in Northbridge is Jane Jacobs idea of having more eyes on the street, so that if a certain individual is misbehaving it is brought to the attention of authorities and therefore makes for a safer environment(8).

Image source: Frisk Bar (

Image source: Alabama Song (

Image source: Wolf Lane (

Image source: Ezra Pound (

Image source: Lot Twenty (

Image source: Sneaky Tonys (



  1. Clair Krol, The long process for a small undertaking, ABC, Aril 12, 2010, accessed March 21 2018,
  2. Gail Williams, Meet the entrepreneurs polishing up Northbridge’s tarnished reputation, Perth Now, June 22, 2014, accessed March 20, 2018,
  3. Liam Phillips, Rebecca Turner, Nathanael Scott, Perth Homocide Hotspot: Data reveals the crime profile of every suburb, February 17 2018, accessed March 19 2018,
  4. Murfett Legal, The growing trend of suburban small bars, 2017, accessed March 19 2018,
  5. Murfett Legal, The growing trend of suburban small bars, 2017, accessed March 19 2018,
  6. Dan Mossenson, The Introduction of the small bar license, Lavan, November 6, 2009, accessed March 20 2018,
  7. Daniel Emmerson, Mark McGowan wants liquor wants liquor law reforms to make perth the hipster capital of Australia, The West Australian, Feb 14 2018, accessed March 18 2018,
  8. Jane Jacobs, The death and life of great American cities, 2016, New York, Vintage books

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