"I literally saw someone get stretchered out of here two weekends ago. St John's really came through on that one, it was raw…"
It's midnight, and a girl I just watched vomit four times in the car park of Auckland's Hobson Street Denny's is sipping a chocolate shake and describing the harrowing consequences of New Zealand's binge drinking culture.
She's not alone. After a string of late night assaults in Auckland's CBD, New Zealand police have suggested following Sydney's lead and implementing earlier lockout laws for bars. The proposal, which hospitality industry players strongly oppose, would most likely include a one-way policy at 1:30 AM and total shut down by 3 AM.
So where would the young and restless to go if bars are no longer open? The same place they already go—the dependably open, warm, and beautifully cheap Denny's. This so-called family restaurant is where the drama goes down, as highlighted last September when a mental health worker was beaten unconscious in the carpark.
So I decided to spend a Saturday night at Denny's to see if the city's nightlife is as savage as it gets made out. And as a Denny's virgin, I was expecting the experience of a lifetime. I wanted it to get messy. I wanted to know that if Auckland gets lockout laws, at least they're warranted.
The restaurant manager Pam tells us she is the only Denny's employee in NZ to ever get robbed, which is a fact she's both proud and ashamed of. The burglar's knife went right through her clipboard, because what other perfectly serendipitous shield could a Denny's manager use? "Drunk young kids…" she tells us, explaining everything just three words.
While eating pancakes and being hypnotised by a TV screen featuring Selena Gomez writhing on a bed wearing some dude's shirt, I'm feeling far from sober. Thankfully, I'm no way near as turnt as everyone at our table, or the other Denny's clientele for that matter.
"Google Rita Ora's parents, she's fully white and 100 percent appropriating black culture," a girl near me says. "Steven Adams came to one of my parties last year, he's a fucking dick and way too tall," yells another.
The only one who's remotely sober is a DJ, who's invitation to Denny's apparently came in via Instagram DM. A crowd of inebriated girls is gathered around as he shows off the Japanese key ring that he (very impressively) can pronounce but (somewhat disappointingly) can't translate.
"Is one percent battery enough to get me an Uber?" the DJ asks the table. Evidently it is because he and his Japanese key ring/bona fide lady magnet are gone soon after.
From the 2 AM to the 3 AM stretch, Pam is on a round-trip route to our table with percolator coffee (luxury!) and battle tales of the Denny's graveyard shift. "Have you ever seen someone fall asleep in a plate of lasagna?" she asks.
At this point a group of young punters move to the nearest table. It's 3 AM and they've had a long night pretending to enjoy rugby. They're wasted, and apparently regulars. After much apparent deliberation, one saunters over and introduces himself as Finn, a redundant ferry worker.
With eyes half closed, Finn reveals he's really into photography, showing me all of his monochrome Samsung photos to prove "he's not talking shit".
"His dick is really big!" shout his friends, a titillating detail sure to entice any female. One dude accompanies this with the ol' "ok" sign/pointer finger penetration gesture. Alas (spoiler alert) whether the advertised size was fact or fiction is never to be uncovered.
Instead, we discover Finn is our uninvited, misguided guardian angel for the majority of our Denny's stay. Assuming a proud place in our booth, Finn's friends eagerly abandon him with high hopes for his ability to close. They moon us on the way out.
It turns out 4 AM is when all of Auckland's finest seek sustenance. A girl and her cousin, fresh from Club Kong, fall over mid-dab. Another group celebrate one member's 21st birthday over a roast meal and shared fries, Lady and the Tram-style.
All this while I'm on the lookout for something real. A fight over non-validated parking, perhaps. Maybe girls ripping out each other's hair extensions. Sky City success stories making it rain on Pam. Just little anecdotes I can impress friends with.
By 5 AM Finn's woken up and has clearly had it. We're no fun and neither is anyone else in the vicinity. Denny's was, in fact, just a restaurant full (an adjective used very, very loosely) of club rats seeking refuge in all day breakfast and Trey Songz.
As Pam comes up for breath during a story about some "drunk bitch" telling her to fuck off ("girls are the worst") because Denny's doesn't serve pizza, I ask if she's in agreement with police. Would an earlier lockout policy make Auckland CBD a more genial place to be at night?
"It wouldn't be better," she replies after some thought. "It would be the same shit—excuse my French—just two hours earlier.
"It's the way these kids approach drinking that needs to change."
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