At first I thought it'd be fun to visit Sydney and pour shit on its nightlife. But then I got here and realised it wouldn't be fun, or even funny. It would be like going to a particularly brave funeral and coward punching the corpse.
The problem? Lockout laws. Or as I'd discover, a whole range of small, inconsequential laws that come together on Saturdays and make everything annoying. You'd think getting locked out of a place at 1 AM, or not being able to buy a takeaway after 10 PM wouldn't make a difference, but it does. It makes everything annoying.
So my plan changed. I went to Google Maps, looked up "nightclubs in Sydney" and then found the five worst-rated. And whereas I originally planned to critique everything and deliberately miss a lot of urinals, I now had a new mission: I was going to have the best night on earth.
Here was the hit list:
Ivy: 3.6 stars
Marquee: 3.6 stars
Shark Hotel: 3.3 stars
Scary Canary: 3.2 stars
Casablanca 2.4: stars
First stop, Ivy. This is Justin Hemmes' gift to Sydney. A man who believes that, on some level, everyone just wants to live in Los Angeles. While Hemmes has made millions from nightclubs and apartments that furnish this desire, I think he's mostly made his fortune from the cover charge at Ivy, which is $40 per person.
It's funny how paying $40 to get through a doorway immediately ruins your mood. The dancefloor was packed, encircled by bouncers who stood out like Gestapo lighthouses—eyeing off all the young guys in Ralph Lauren, waiting.
We left the dancefloor to check out the rooftop pool. I can imagine that on a hot summer night the place comes alive with giggly women and NRL recruits splashing about in precoital water fights. But that's summer. In winter, Ivy should rethink their cover charge.
The place was pretty quiet so we sat down to drink with these girls. "It's raining," one of them said. I liked that—a simple opening to get conversation flowing. Also the pool had a nice vibe. I decided this is where I'd start to have the best night ever.
The girls were obviously on the same page and wanted to show us a trick. This was it.
Instantly, like within 0.2 seconds, a bouncer materialised from a pot plant and started yelling. I didn't know it yet, but this image of a man in hi-vis yelling at nice people would come to characterise the night. The girls kept grinning too, like they knew it was wrong but regretted nothing. We left, wondering what it all meant.
Outside, Sydney was raining. I'm from Melbourne where if it's anything below 23 degrees (always) people stay home and eat butter chicken. I almost cancelled the night because I figured Sydney was the same, but it's not. People were out. People are determined.
But then we wanted to get travellers and couldn't. This was bad. Spending a night on the town is only possible if you drink between nightclubs. If you don't you'll become sober, and then you won't want to visit nightclubs.
If you actually buy all your drinks at nightclubs, you'll spend at least $200—and nightclubs just aren't worth $200, in the same way that dancing next to someone who probably won't have sex with you isn't worth $200, or really, even $50. So for the whole thing to work, you have to have travellers. Otherwise the system breaks down.
We headed for Marquee, feeling sober. This is me, wearing my very damp, slightly old t-shirt. At first this was a problem because a bouncer said we couldn't come in without a shirt, but then—like a fucking miracle—the venue manager offered to get me a shirt.
I pulled on the mystery shirt and again, felt close to the heart of something. It was like there were two elements to the night. On the one hand there was authority, but on the other a good old human desire to get weird and drunk and help others do the same. Also the shirt was clean.
The club was big, pounding, and full of dudes who've watched Scarface at least three times this week. DJ Troy T was working the decks and everyone drank Grey Goose from ice buckets, flanked by security guards and women who seemed to love selfies, but were terrified of anyone else (me) taking their photos.
This guy showed me his six-pack. I remember trying to get a six-pack for a brief period after high school. I never got there, but I did walk around optimistically rubbing my stomach. I say if you've got a six-pack, get it out. Love it. Celebrate it on Tinder.
Then I went to the toilet, and discovered this yummy alligator skin flooring.
Back in the party, DJ Troy T was pretty good. Like Drake, except you can find him on Facebook and ask him to DJ your wedding in Noosa.
Outside was madness. The rain was lashing down and someone had rear-ended a Porche. We drove past quickly because it was midnight and we were in danger of being locked out. Sympathy is for people who get locked out.
The Shark Hotel VIP Lounge
Welcome to the Shark Hotel VIP Lounge. Or, as Google calls it, the Shark Hotel Conference Centre. From the outside, you might assume terms like VIP and Conference Centre are misused, but that's incorrect.
For the discerning VIP with a taste for suburban pool halls, look no further than the Shark Hotel. It's big—very big—and it's very available.
Also when VIPs get tired of cutting deals over hot pool tables, retire to the Shark's slightly misplaced but highly convenient Thai restaurant, just next to the pokies.
Back outside I got thinking about the problem. So far it seemed that one of the problems was size. Everywhere we'd visited seemed to be a sort of Smirnoff Black factory farm. Colossal structures of 12 dance floors, 23 bars, 14,000 bouncers, and one toilet. But again this seems to be an unintended consequence of well-meaning laws.
Back in 2008, Sydney Mayor Clover Moore—along with a bunch of bar owners and musicians—pushed for new laws that would let small venues serve drinks until 2 AM. They won, and small bars flourished, but their sudden proliferation became the scapegoat for booze-fueled violence.
Then, while the City of Sydney kept approving liquor licences, the police started rejecting them en masse. Now, in 2016, you basically won't get a liquor licence unless you're a behemoth nightclub. And this seems to have unpleasantly affected the vibe of a night out. Luckily the next place was supposed to be smaller, even if it was a backpacker bar.
This is Scary Canary. It's a backpacker bar.
Anyone who has spent six months working/doing MD in Canada will feel right at home at here. Ads for buffalo wings adorn the walls, the guys all look like Seann William Scott, and everyone drinks blue drinks from plastic cups. Also an undercurrent of Jackass-style fuckery runs through the crowd: Lots of farting, some vandalism.
I got a blue drink to chill out and try to stop thinking like my mum. But the blue drink tasted like a KFC refreshment towelette and lots of caster sugar. I've never met a blue drink I liked.
I went to the toilet because I wanted to wee or cry, or something, and this is what the taps were doing. The taps were on. Like gushing, and no one was washing their hands.
I looked back at the dance floor and scowled at all the Seann William Scotts who'd left the taps on. It was time to go.
We left bro-town Scary Canary and arrived, truly arrived, at Casablanca.
I don't know why but I took an instant liking to Casablanca. Maybe it was the palm tree wallpaper; maybe it was the musk of Balinese-style air conditioners, or maybe it was just the music, which was firm and poppy—optimistic even.
I like to feel cooler than where I am. Like art galleries are usually too cool, but smorgasbord restaurants are fine. Or limousines are a bit much, but limousines on a buck's night are A-OK. Ivy was also better than me, but I was better than Casablanca. Here I was, a legend.
The crowd were dressed for a night on paddlesteamer casinos, I think. I'm not really sure what was going on, but there was an odd mix of old paddlesteamer money and basic guys in white button-down shirts.
The drinks were the standard $7,000 a piece, but they were strong, and in the last club I could kick back and relax. It had been a night of relentless rushing. The pace of it all had left me feeling cowardly and violent, but at least I was inside. And like all the other places, the crowd was tearing up the dancefloor. They were smiling and rich. Having a great night in a great city at the peak of their lives. Despite Sydney's best efforts, they were still having fun.
Follow Julian on Twitter.
Special shout out to Alexandria Funnell for being such a great sport and an excellent tour guide around Sydney. Also for braving the horrendous weather, being manhandled by bouncers, spending almost a week's rent on one messy night and falling over in the casino lobby and not complaining once. You can also follow her on Twitter.