The Tote closes: Licensing over-regulation kills another iconic venue

Melbourne's iconic Tote Hotel is shutting due to liquor licensing over-regulation. Source: Mess and Noise.

It had to happen. The moral panic over street violence in Australian cities has resulted in a indiscriminate crack-down by liquor licensing regulators.

Now that crack-down is destroying live music and arts venues, despite the fact that these venues are in almost all cases non-violent and low-risk. Last year, it was Sydney’s Houptoun Hotel, one of the city’s most important small venues for independent bands. The Hopetoun was merely the latest of many long-dead Sydney music venues. Today, Melbourne’s iconic Tote Hotel has gone the same way, pushed under by high fees and over-zealous licensing regulations meant to stem crime in large nightclubs and hotels.

The Tote is a special piece of Melbourne’s rock music scene (chronicled in low-budget documentary Sticky Carpet). I was there watching Toxic Lipstick on Monday night. A small room run on a low cost, low profit basis, the venue has seen many famous bands get their first opportunity. Just as importantly, it also incubates a significant audience for experimental and innovative new music. I’ll be there on Sunday night for last drinks.

As the Tote’s Bruce Milne sadly records in his last press release, the venue is very safe but is still being levied a huge fee by the Victorian liquor licensing authorities as a supposedly “high risk” venue:

I can’t afford to keep fighting Liquor Licensing.  The “high risk” conditions they have placed on the Tote’s license make it impossible to trade profitably.  I can’t afford the new “high risk” fees they have imposed. I can’t afford to keep fighting them at VCAT.  I can’t renegotiate a lease in this environment.

So, come into the Tote this weekend to say farewell to the sad staff and to feel the sticky carpet for the last time.

I don’t believe the Tote is a “high risk” venue, in the same category as the nightclubs that make the news for all the wrong reasons.  Despite being on a rough little corner of Collingwood, the Tote has had very, very few incidents.  As a local police officer once said, “The Tote’s the quietest pub in the area.” (!).

It’s not dumb luck that the Tote has escaped serious violence.  I believe the business has been run responsibly.  People don’t come to the Tote to fight.  They come because they have a passion for music and love to be in an historic venue that reeks of that same passion.

Vale The Tote.

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