Remember the nineties? Concert square and Cream. Heebies and Le Bateau, Magnet and Crash FM. The city was ours for the taking. Heck, Janice Long and Justin Robertson used to drink in Baa Baa. Now it’s Rick Vaughn.

When did we lose control? When did our good bars turn bad? And when are we going to reclaim the city?

The fight is clear cut – it’s between us and a new strain of Liverpool punter. Over the past decade and a half, their DNA has become ever more virulent. Their grip on the city ever tighter. They’ve yet to be classified under any official taxonomy, but we think it’s time they were. Let’s call them the Lifestylers.

You know who we’re talking about. They’re currently to be found lionised in the pages of the city’s free glossy mags. And their bars have set the tone for the city’s snarky, steriod-fuelled nights out from Dale Street to the top of the town.

Like some implanted cell or strain, the Lifestylers are corroding the character of the city we love.

With their desperate hagiography of the shallow, their self-aggrandizement, their hunger for exposure at all costs (Mersey Shore and Desperate Scousewives here we come…), and the trial of Section 161 orders they leave in their wake, they’re devaluing the city currency we’ve all invested in so heavily.

When Mo*Niques was ordered to close the other week, following a stabbing outside its glittery doors, SevenStreets wasn’t particularly surprised. But we were disappointed. We ran a piece about its plans to offer a left-of-centre diet of review, satire and stand up.

Maybe we were naive in hoping that anything promising Weimar republic-inspired cabaret, witty vaudeville and Tom Waits would ever stand a chance alongside the Morse code vomit of Mathew Street. In the end, they sacked their creative director, and took the easy route of Scouse House and shooters.

But when Heebies was forced into introducing its clubscan ID scanner after a spate of thefts (and violence,- SevenStreets accepts that the ID scanner was introduced only after thefts) we shuddered. Heebies was one of ours, and the event was yet another depressing wake up call to our nighttime economy. Another reminder that we’re losing a battle that started with the surrender of Concert Square, and the slow retreat away from the city centre for anyone intent on a night out that doesn’t involve metal detectors, sniffer dogs and steroid stares.

This week, the Concert Square Interest Group – which represents interested bodies from local businesses to residents – has tabled proposals to reanimate the square into the leafy, open and welcoming European style piazza it was always meant to be (and was, in that heady summer of 96).

Cllr Steve Munby, cabinet member for neighbourhoods at the council, said: “It became exceptionally popular at night with the bars being full and an overspill of drinkers into the square. That, in itself, can put a strain on emergency and other services. But it meant that the square was not reaching its full potential – during the day there is very little activity and it does not attract visitors. The original vision for it has been lost.

“This has been recognised by the local businesses who acknowledge that there needs to be more variety in what is being offered. They have worked with us and other agencies to see how we can get more varied use back into the square instead of its just being seen as a drinking area.

“The way we have done this is a model for other areas. If we can do this in Concert Square, we can do this anywhere.”

The council added that the new benches that have recently been installed, and the hedges that are supposed to signal some kind of demarcation zone away from Walkabout and Mood, clearly set it apart from the neighbouring streets and create a more relaxed, family friendly atmosphere.

An events programme is planned for this Sunday, with the first in a series of summer Sunday events with street performances from jugglers, magicians, stilt walkers, poets, singers, musicians, floor drawings and novelty acts.

To be honest, we’re not so bothered about the family friendly. We’d just like our square back. And we doubt these plans really do anything other than rearrange the deckchairs. The problem will not be solved with shrubbery. It’s not an infection of the city’s skin, it runs much deeper.

For its part, Heebies says it’s doing all it can to address its problems – and is heavily involved with the voluntary Pub Watch crime prevention scheme. But the fact remains – we might have thought the Lifestylers were happily self-contained in the velvet roped ghettos of Kingdom (hosting a The Only Way Is Essex party tonight Friday, folks. VIP tickets still available) and H Bar (until one stabbing too many forced its closure). But, spurred on by His’n’Her magazine photo-features, friends in PR and heroes who enjoy punch-ups in Southport wine bars, the contagion is spreading.

Little wonder the Shipping Forecast, wisely choosing to turn its back on Slater Street, remains a sole outpost of safety amid a sea of screeching stags and hens, and Leaf, hidden in the undergrowth of Bold Street, remains blissfully off the beaten track. But for how long?

This city has room for everyone. But it’s a curious fact that is doesn’t have a surfeit of great bars. And ventures such as Kazimer, Mello Mello, Santa Chupitos and now defunct DTTDB can’t take the strain alone.

By night, our city centre fun zones have to rub shoulders with each other. It’s this melting pot that has always made for such an eclectic and thrilling night out in Liverpool. But lately things have started to boil over.

Let’s hope, with Concert Square trying to turn back the tide, we can flush out the crap and get back to having a great time again.

32 Responses to “When Good Bars Turn Bad”

  1. Spot on, I remember when Modo was a cool (in the laidback sense) bar, with a great crowd and brilliant bar staff. Going there recently the atmosphere has a nasty undercurrent and the venue itself was a mess.

    I hope they succeed in turning the area around but until then I’ll be hiding out in Leaf or Tribeca.

  2. I have been going out in liverpool for about 20 odd years now (yes im old!) and have always seen this problem. Cool new places pop up and are safe and welcoming, with regular faces, for a few months, then the scallies and scene leeches get onto it and spoil it.

    The Shipping forecast and Santa Chupitos are my fave places to go in town and although the door staff do try to keep out the idiots, some will always slip through… the only way to solve this i think is to go back to the 90’s and have memberships again.

    Rio’s and G-Love were amazing nights and always had the same old faces and we felt safe, these were both members only clubs… as was the underground and quadrant park… until the all-nighter opened, which then became a free for all and was spoilt by coked-up scallies looking to have people off with knives.

    There will always be places that draw dodgy crowds and create problems, but if we can save our hidden gems then we should do everything we can!!

  3. I say leave the places for idiots to the idiots, the milk has already been spilt. There’ll always be alternatives, pub-wise there’s plenty and with any luck and based on recurring trends, something new will come along and bolster the independent ranks in the city soon enough. The best new places always come about through having to find an alternative to the vod-bulls and Ed Hardy shirts. I’d say grin and bare it for a little while, salvation will pop up in some form or another.

  4. It’s undeniably true that Ropewalks is not the place it was, or the place it was supposed to be. The only decent place was Korova, and that increasingly looked like a fish out of water. Ellis is right, pubs are the best place for a chilled night out in the city. Shame, but guess that’s evolution. Even if they succesfully kick the scallies out of Concert Square, what happens then? They’ve gotta go somewhere. And when times are tight, which bar owner is going to be brave enough to say they don’t want their cash. Have you seen how quiet the Shipping Forecast is compared to the rest of the places on Slater Street? Maybe there just aren’t enough decent, intelligent drinkers in town. Supply and demand.

  5. Duncan

    It can’t be a coincidence that during the same period the city embraced wag culture, the city’s got more and more knucleeheaded? I remember when Chaya used to be cool, and even alma de cuba when it first opened. Trouble with the city centre is its too small- it’s not like the cool kids can go to the northern quarter like they can in mcr, sadly.

  6. Littoral

    More cliched BS. There has always been nasty, scally places and when good places get infected by them the action moves elsewhere. And yes this happens in other cities as well. In London for example the lifecycle of leftfield to tacky seems to be of the order of weeks not years. Liverpool has a great nightlife scene and the place is big enough (Liverpool is small is a another BS trope that people accept all too readily) that there are always good places as well as bad and you choose to go to the good places. Most towns and cities in the UK are pretty much ALL bad btw so count your blessings. Or have a night out in Chester or Southport. The horror.

  7. Of course there’s always been nasty places, but the predominant atmosphere has changed, you can’t deny that. Since the city became a stag and hen centre, I’d say. That’s to do with the fact that in the nineties there weren’t the amount of cheap travelodge hotels, and the introduction of chain bars like Walkabout and Lloyds, Easyjet flights etc has seen the city’s average punter change more in this city than Leeds or Manchester or Brum. In some ways it’s good for the economy, because Liverpool’s England’s second most popular weekend break destination, but that has a knock-on effect, and it’s changed the nightlife of the city for good, you can’t deny it.

  8. don hutchison

    Ever been around the so-called cool bars and clubs when there is a big student night on? Being threatened by some young wool whose mashed-up on hooch is no fun. Its not just the local scalls, the students who now infest the city centre are also to blame for the agro and bad vibes.

  9. Littoral what planet are you on- of course cool places move fast in London. That’s london, not Liverpool. We are a small city, that’s a fact. It’s also a fact that there’s not many areas that are free of the coke heads in tghis city which is why most saturdays you’ll see me in pubs, and don’t even talk about Lark Lane, that’s the real horror.

  10. Littoral

    There’s upwards of 2 million people living in Liverpool and its surburbs. Well over a million in the contiguously built up area. Small city? Silly Dunc. In reality, including its suburbs, Liverpool even now is the third largest city in England and about the same size as Manchester. Think harder about where you live. Liverpool is not small.

  11. You’re making my point for me mate. I’m not talking population, I’m talking about physical geography. The actual size of the city, downtown. Its what, no more than a mile sqaure. That’s a hell of a bottle neck. Was in Edinburgh the other day, and that’s got a well defined space for scallies and off the beaten track bars for arty brigade. We don’t have the luxury of that.

  12. The city has always ebbed and flowed though? It’s what areas do. Areas change as they naturally go through their stages underground > cool > fashinable > mainstream > stabby

    In the late 90s, like Stephanie said, Modo was probably the first place we felt comfortable. It wasn’t Matthew Street. Or Slater Street.

    I look at the city’s night life now and see a much wider choice than back in those days. The map looks very different though. The no go zones have moved a bit, and new areas have opened up. It’s hard to remember how areas like Duke Street looked even just 5 years ago, never mind 12.

    Back in those late 90 early 00s times bars weren’t really the destinations. They were the warm up act. It was always on the way to a club night somewhere. Voodoo perhaps, or more usually for us the L2. That was normal.

    Plus there was the obvious Creamification of the city, and the rise of the big club nights. There were places like the 051 and The Buzz that catered for large numbers of the stabby inclined people of the city

    Somwehere along the line club nights lost their appeal and the bars became the destination. So not only is the agro closer to the city, it’s also free to mover around.

    It’s all part of the dynamic.

  13. Littoral

    Good post, Ant.

    I feel though that (on top of the other things I’ve beefed about!) the original article and some of the following comment have an element of snobbery that doesn’t sit well with me.

    We know the nasty, scally or “stabby” places but how many of them are there really? While there mightn’t be *many* venues that are filled exclusively with middle class students and ex-students with skinny strides but that doesn’t mean that the rest of town and its bars are dangerous. Strip away the scary zones like Mood or Walkabout and the hipster (or wannabe hipster corporate imo like the SF) places such as Leaf and you’re left with the vast majority of places that like Alma might not the most cutting edge place in town or might even be a chain of sorts like the Wood St Revolution but neither are they bad or dangerous places. The vast majority of folk in there are normal Liverpool people and the more mainstream of students and visitors out and having a good time.

    The notion that the alternative types in this city need to take refuge in Leaf or the SF for fear of what will happen to them elsewhere is absurd. Avoid the small handful of terrible places and you’re fine. And even the few areas that are a bit scal like Mathew and Slater streets and Concert Square are flooded with people, and so if you’re not going into one of the worst bars at those locations you’re still fine.

    I’ll agree with Dunc though that for a beer, pubs are better and that’s an area in which the city really does excel.

    Finally however I do miss he Everyman Bistro. 🙁

  14. I’m sorry you think there’s snobbery in the original article, Littoral. It wasn’t its intent. As I’m sure your description of SF as a ‘wannabe hipster’ place wasn’t supposed to sound invertedly snobby either. My point wasn’t so much that stabby places ‘move around’ – because that’s self evidently true, and nothing to get hung up on. My point was that they’re increasing – and getting harder to avoid. It’s not so much that the no-go zones are shifting, more that they’re multiplying. And that it’s not the fault of the bars, per se, but that there’s a sea change : a regression to the mean, if you wanna put it in a sound bite. My feeling is that, societally, we *have* changed, and the shift isn’t possibly to the city’s gain. There is space for everyone, sure – and I avoid hipster ghettoes like the next skinny jeaned Brooklyn kid. I much prefer mixed up bunches of punters. But not when the balance has shifted uncomfortably one way or the other, which it has in the Ropewalks, I’d argue. I’m posting an interview with HeebieJeebies management tomorrow, and they have some very interesting observations on the shifting in the city’s nighttime character. Watch this space.

  15. Littoral

    Well okay. That’s always been Liverpool’s strength for me. That it is all mixed up with different folk. The SF with its selective door policy and rejecting “types” of people, not just drunks and the badly behaved, seems very unliverpool to me. I’m old enough (just) to remember the likes of the old Casa, which had literally everyone in. Studes, south end black lads, north end former dockers, bohos, homos, emos (or their equivalent back then) and everything in between and they were still mostly safe.

    I would like to read a searing indictment of much of Allerton Road however.

  16. They might be orange and wear expensive shirts, but as with any scal they suffer from never having been taught how to behave properly, or to relate to other human beings AS human beings. They drink excessively (to the point where we’re almost guaranteed to have to buy them a new liver at some point), go ‘Woo’ outside your house at 4am, and think that their chavpanion standing next to them in the street is deaf.

    If you’re lucky, they’ll also like doing this so much they’ll rent the flat next door to you (curiously these people seem to get past the allegedly extensive checks that ‘lettings agents’ do) where you’ll then suffer at least 6 months worth of misery & crime.

    As a resident in the city centre I can tell you all about this type of person spoiling things for everyone else, but unfortunately when you live in the city people assume you’re a whinger if you dare open your mouth about anti-social behaviour from night time business, rather than realising you actually care about the place…

    I stopped going out a long time ago, due to that I was surrounded by people who didn’t want to enjoy themselves, but instead by those who want to be nasty to others (Seriously – paying to go out to be nasty? how thick is that?).

    However, with budget hotels springing up like molehills, local supermarkets with their cheap booze, and endless bars with ‘promotions’, this is exactly the sort of people Liverpool is bringing in these days, and I’m sure there are many more such companies clamouring to get into Liverpool to grab their share.

    It’s worth remembering that at one time these people used to go to Blackpool, then Barcelona, then Prague, then Newcastle… so is it wise to build an economy on the back of them? Barcelona & Prague are strong enough to still be standing afterwards, do we want to be Blackpool?

    The other day I was coming up to the corner of Moorfields station and witnessed a previously smiley american woman actually looking down and saying a disbelieving ‘oh my god’ at the vom covered pavement she was about to navigate.

    I felt so embarrassed.

  17. good post. To be honest, it was good enough when you coined ‘Chavpanion’. But the rest, yeah, it’s a dangerous role to take – that of the beery weekend destination. It’s also worth pointing out that it only takes a further hike in fuel tax for Easyjet to pull out of John Lennon, and see how much our city’s economy would suffer then…

  18. There are continuities and differences. In the 1980s, there were music and drinking venues in the city centre with reputations for violence as big as Mood et al.

    The difference between then and now is largely concerned with volume. There are tens of thousands more people living in the city centre now than in the 1980s and 1990s, and ever more tourists in hotels. But that doesn’t change the fact that there was blood on the streets throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

    Unfortunately, your selective memory is preventing you from acknowledging this. You trumpet Cream and Baa Bar in your opening paragraph, yet you forget the bits of the 1990s when both were overrun with gangsters (remember the “no moustaches” Cream flier?). You talk of The Magnet and Le Bateau in the same breath, forgetting that the former only opened in, what, 1998 or thereabouts. And you conveniently forget those 1990s Liverpool/Merseyside clubs which had, at times, fearsome reputations, The Circle, The Hard Dock, Fallows, The Quad early in the decade, and The Garage, The Buzz, The 051 in the latter part of the decade. Without forgetting pre-rave fightzones from the 1980s like Flintlocks and that club above St John’s where The Holiday Inn now is.

    The one consistent factor in nightlife violence and aggression from the 1980s through to the present day is alcohol, and that’s one thing that EVERY venue you mention has in common. They are ALL licensed to sell intoxicating liquor, and at some point, they will ALL suffer from violence and aggression.

  19. david Lloyd

    Rotters. And what is memory, if it’s not selective. It’s just opinion. Debate. I think you raise some good points – and you’ve missed out a few nasty places too. What was that knuckle dusting place in Skelhorne Street? I know there were, and have always been no-go zones. I was really just commenting on the Ropewalks’ mutation. That’s what saddens me. And I do think it’s indicative of a shifting of the balance. Look how I’m trying not to say tipping point. Damn.
    And 1998 was in the nineties, wasn’t it?

  20. While I agree that violence has always been around, when I was the same age as those packing out the bars and clubs now, the vast majority of people had a degree of empathy with their fellow human being and just wanted a good time (which was often dependent on others also having a good time, rather than being a wholly selfish affair).

    At that time a ‘good time’ involved smiling, liking people, talking, dancing, laughing, fancying people and all those things that were light-hearted, friendly and fun. I used to drink as much as the next person, but at no point was it ever accepted as a valid excuse for violence. Nor was it even accepted that drink and violence went hand in hand, as seems to be inferred today. If you got violent when you got drunk, then it was said that you couldn’t handle your drink, not that you’d had a great night out.

    Compare that to these days where too many of those going out believe being blind drunk gives them a license and excuse to behave as badly as they want.

    These sorts of people are horrible, and it is – and always has only ever been – horrible people that equal violence, with the drink just being used as an excuse to get away with it. So, if it’s that sort of person the area appeals to, then increased violence and the squeezing out of anyone who is (quite rightly) allergic to that repulsive carry on is the inevitable result.

    I can say right now that it has absolutely nothing to do with the number of people living in the city centre. As one of them, I can tell you we only watch in horror as we witness the city we love being ripped apart and vomited on by those who don’t give a damn about anything.

  21. Well said, James. I live in the city too and have no problem with noise at the weekend. Stepping over vomit to leave my apartments though, I do have a problem with that. As someone else said, it’s all about respect. That’s what’s missing from most of the element that is ruining the centre of this city. I love going out and having fun – we live in one of the best cities in the UK for that, but it’s got to the point now where I feel safer having friends around and watching all the horrors from the safety of my balcony.

  22. Its all down to the shit music all these places play that attracts the idiots.

    Djangos Riff seems to be the only regularly open place left to go in the city that doesn’t compromise on music policy and never seems to have any trouble. Even Santa Chipitos and The Shipping forcast seems to be fully of wags and pretentious trendy wankers these days.

    I blame the club owners for having no vision and always catering for the lowest common denominator.

  23. Gemma A

    with all the stags and hens and students and meat heads right in the centre its over. Liverpool needs a new, out of the way area and leave the centre to the bars that want that business. The Shipping Forecast is alone and cast adrift. The coolest area in town is going to be down along Jamaica St .where the Picket, Elevator, Cains Brewery and the CUC already have bars . Ive heard Pushka are opening down there and theres talk of the A Foundation re-opening with a bar and a hotel using caravans which sounds interesting. My favourate Friday is a pint in Cains, cross the road for a Pizza and a cocktail in Elevator and then a cheeky one in the beer house in the CUC building. Actually at the moment the best bar in town is Elevator. Its always full of interesting types .If a couple more bars open up down that end thats where i will be enjoying my nights out. .

  24. […] So, we accept that the review was only of the five or so hours Stephanie was there for. Not a full reflection of the event in its entirety. We accept that completely. We also apologise for any inference that might have been taken in our comment that ‘there is a sickness within this institution’. To us, Creamfields is an institution but our point is that the feral scally element is a sickness that regrettably affects a lot of Liverpool’s night time economy.  It’s a sickness we’ve written about before. […]

  25. Interesting to see the Shipping Forecast held up as some kind of last bastion of decent bars. I have enjoyed many a relaxed night in there and love the selection of beer, but I fear they’re going too far sometimes in their efforts to keep out the “idiots”. Sometimes it feels like an interrogation getting in. Once, when asked what we were looking for and my friend merely replied with “a drink”, we were told rather bluntly that “Revolution down there serves drinks, why not try there”. I wouldn’t mind if I thought we looked anything like what would fit the profile of troublemakers. I have spoken to other people who refuse to even bother going again out of principle; they seem to think it is an issue of age. Depressing to think that once you turn 30, you’re deemed too old for certain places. Admittedly, there are plenty of places I would feel too old for, but generally I would not want to go to such venues out of choice. I am not sure that is the full story in this case, but it does seem a little excessive, even if I do appreciate the sentiments behind it. It may also explain why it often seems empty; those unable to pass the door selection and those who have been put off by the attitude of the door staff on previous occasions.

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