Nightlife

I Tried to Buy Booze in Turin Despite the City's Current Ban on Alcohol

The threat of getting fined for trying to have a good time is making young locals feel that they aren't welcome in their own city.

by Francesco Spinolo
19 July 2017, 11:53am

All photos by Federico Masini

This article originally appeared on VICE Italy

On a recent Monday night, I went to a friend's house for dinner and drinks after a long day of studying. But around midnight, the booze ran out – which pretty much put an end to the fun. In most major cities in Europe, stocking up on more alcohol at the nearest corner shop after midnight isn't a problem but unfortunately for us, we live in Turin.

In June 2017, the city's mayor, Chiara Appendino, declared a three-month ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol outside of bars and restaurants in major areas in the city, between 8PM and 6AM. The measure was taken to, in the words of local authorities, guarantee the "protection of residents" and to maintain "the peace and quiet". But to many, this was just a hasty response to a stampede that occurred at Turin's Piazza San Carlo in May 2017. That panic followed a firecracker going off at a screening of the Champions League final – over 1,500 people were injured.

Turin isn't the first Italian city to enforce a ban like this. In the past few years, local governments in places like Milan, Florence and Bologna have introduced similar measures in response to residents' protests, or to keep historical city centres safe. But in Turin, the rules surrounding the ban are much stricter, and so is the way it's being enforced. The decision has caused widespread protests in the city – mainly among students, who like their booze but don't have the means to buy it in bars and restaurants. The measure also prompted a wave of unlicensed beer sellers, described in local newspapers as "booze dealers".

On the 20th of June, locals clashed with riot police trying to enforce the ban at the Piazza Santa Giulia – a popular hangout spot for students near the University of Turin. I decided to spend a weekend trying to buy alcohol in Turin and speaking to other fellow residents, to find out how the ban is affecting the local nightlife.

FRIDAY

I started on Friday evening at Piazza Santa Giulia, where students had planned another protest for 10PM. An hour before it was supposed to start, the square was already busy with people carrying signs and banners – all aimed against the way the ban has been implemented. "When the ban was announced, there was so much confusion around what it meant exactly, and what the consequences would be," said Beatrice, a 22-year old student I met there. "Students are afraid of police and what they're allowed to do under this ban." Willie, another protestor, was just as frustrated. "It's a stupid measure, created to 'make up' for this even more stupid thing that happened," he told me.

Many young people in Turin believe that this ban on buying alcohol and drinking in the street is limiting their late-night options in the city too much. "As is the case in many other big cities, most of the nightclubs in Turin have now closed," local DJ Pierangelo explained. "When you're a student and you can't go clubbing, having a drink in the street is the next best thing."

I went to a nearby shop that's famous for selling beers for €1 [£0,88], but the owner wouldn't serve me. "If I get fined one more time they'll shut us down," he admitted. Shops ignoring the ban can be fined as much as €7,000 [£6,192] and, in some cases, they can even be shut down. A couple of days earlier, two corner shops in central Turin were fined for not putting up a sign warning clients of the ban.

When I stopped by another local shop, the owner agreed to flout the ban and sell me a drink, but for double the price and under the condition that I hid the bottle in my backpack. I heard that a few other shopkeepers have settled on this tactic too – it's a way to make up for some of the income they are losing under the ban.

After a while, I spotted a group of girls drinking beer in the street and asked them where they bought it. "We brought it from home," they told me, before confessing that they hadn't realised that was also prohibited now.

A protestor holding a sign that reads "Je Suis Dehors" – a play on "Je Suis Charlie". "Dehors" means "outside" in French, but in Italian, the word refers to the seating outside a bar or restaurant. Under the ban, it's still legal to drink alcohol there.

I spoke to a few other students who had gathered to march – 22-year-old Paola told me she worried about the "militarisation" of the neighbourhood. "This area has always had this strong, particular identity – it's been home to squats, occupied community centres, student unions," she explained. "The heavy-handed tactics used by police to enforce their ban suggest that the local administration wants to take back control of the area."

The march made its way through to the Piazza Vittorio – the most central square in the city. The stop gave some protesters the opportunity to walk into local bars to legally get a drink. A few managed to sneak the beers they bought in bars onto the square in plastic cups. Even though those bars could face fines and closure too, there isn't much they can do if someone decides to walk off with a drink.

The protest continued through the streets and squares of Turin

Based on what I'd seen on Friday, it seemed that having a drink outside was still fairly simple in Turin. But I suspected that was partly because of the protest, and the police not wanting a repeat of the violence that erupted on the 20th of June. Another night of investigative drinking was required.

SATURDAY

The following night, I decided to visit San Salvario – an area which many people in Turin blame for the ban. San Silvario is rich in two things: drunk people partying until late on the streets of the neighbourhood and residents complaining about the noise.

But by midnight, I couldn't find a single corner shop around San Silvario that was open and willing to sell me alcohol. Eventually, I spotted one girl carrying a drink, so I asked her where she had bought it. She gave me directions to a nearby shop but when the photographer and I got there, the owner didn't trust us enough to actually sell me a drink. When I grabbed a beer and tried to pay, he just handed me the money back. Despite my fresh face and my friend's Hawaiian shirt, he seemed to think we were undercover police officers.

Some stores will still sell you a drink – as long as they don't think your an undercover police officer.

Next, we headed to Piazza Saluzzo. Normally on a Saturday night, the Piazza is so busy it's difficult to even cross it from one side to the other, but on that particular Saturday night, it was empty.

A few people who were around blamed it on exam season or even the weather but Andrea, 25, who owns a bar in San Salvario, disagreed. "In the three years I've been hanging out here, I've never seen the piazza so empty at this time," he told me. "It's the ban – people don't want to go out and waste their money on buying expensive drinks in restaurant and bars, especially students."

He added that he doesn't think it makes sense for the ban to apply only to certain areas in the city. "If I live in San Salvario and want to buy a bottle of wine at the supermarket when it's 8.30PM, I can't. But if I live around the block, in Via Nizza, I can. It would have made more sense if the ban applied to the whole city."

A notice outside a Turin bar explaining the new ban on alcohol.

Unsurprisingly, the ban is forcing people to find new, less convenient places to party where it doesn't apply. Sophia, 23, who lives in Quadrilatero – a neighbourhood with a traditionally much older population – told me that lots of students are starting to hang around in her area. "I've never considered Quadrilatero the sort of place you'd want to spend a night out drinking, because the bars here are very expensive," she said. "But in the past few weeks, I've seen more and more people gathering in the square right behind my place, drinking beers they bought from neighbourhood corner shops."

Everyone in the areas affected in Turin seems to interpret the ban in their own way. I found that it's still possible to buy cheap alcohol in the evening and drink it in the streets and squares of Turin where the ban is enforced. Still, the threat of getting fined for trying to have a good time is enough to give young people the impression that the city doesn't want them around.