“Sydney is dead.”
It is a phrase repeated in conversations across the once-vibrant entertainment districts of Sydney.
Aggressive crackdowns and the “lockout laws” limiting admission to bars after 1.30am are widely blamed for the demise of Kings Cross.
Raids a fortnight ago on two of the remaining strip joints in Kings Cross, Dreamgirls and Bada Bing, are viewed as part of the death throes in the transformation of the area from a red light to a residential district.
More than 90 police executed the raids following an investigation into the alleged supply of cocaine by club staff. Two hundred patrons were ordered to the floor and patrol cars blocked both ends of Darlinghurst Road as sniffer dogs went through the clubs.
There were three arrests. A 31-year-old Randwick woman was charged with nine counts of ongoing supply.
Dreamgirls reopened after a 72-hour shutdown but the future of both clubs remains in dispute. The most imposing of the Kings Cross clubs, Bada Bing, remains shut.
A spokesman for the Liquor & Gaming Authority told The New Daily the licensee had agreed to suspend trading until the outcome of an application for a Closure Order was known in late January. Further hearings on the fate of Dreamgirls are expected this week.
Long-term players in the Australian sex industry expect the raids and closures to continue.
Con Ange, often described as a multi-millionaire ‘Porn Shop King’, told The New Daily there were only a few strip clubs and sex shops left.
“You can safely walk the streets, that is one plus,” he said.
“But closing the nightclubs is killing more and more of the nightlife and turning the Cross into a residential suburb.
“It is 100 per cent loss of the character of the area. The Cross used to be a tourist attraction, people came from far and wide, that is now gone. The closures will continue.”
Where hungover refugees from the night before used to weave their way through the streets, now women can be seen walking their children.
John Ibrahim, once commonly referred to as ‘King of the Cross’, was linked to Dreamgirls in recent media reports.
He told The New Daily he had been on Hamilton Island at the time of the raids, the reports were “all rubbish” and the raids “a cock-up”.
“I was interviewed by the police,” he said. “It was rubbish. I haven’t had anything to do with the Cross for 10 years. It is a beat-up. They are just closing everything down. It is so boring.
“Strippers selling a couple of grams. Are you serious? What are you going to do? You just have to cop it sweet.
“I am retired. I want to stay that way. I have had my day. It is over.
“Kings Cross was finished the day they brought in the 1.30 lockouts. The Cross will never be the same again. A page of time has finished.”
Gerardo Mazzella, consultant to two of the only remaining 24-hour sex shops, McQueen’s Adult Concepts and The Pleasure Den, said the closure of nightclubs meant people out for a night had nowhere to go and the sex shops had benefited.
“You get a better class of clientele,” he told The New Daily. “Couples feel less threatened because the area is safer. The whole energy has changed. If you are younger and want to party it is worse. If you are older and want to go to a restaurant, it is better.”
He said restaurants were now popping up in the backstreets.
“My feeling is the strip joints will always survive because they are in demand,” he said. “The industry is just cleaning itself up. Gone are the days of drugs and sleaze.”
Now, with prams becoming almost as common as tattoos, one of the only remnants of the bohemian, artistic and criminal mecca that once was the Cross lies in the form of plaques embedded in the footpath.
One of those features film star Peter Finch, who 60 years ago said: “Kings Cross was a wonderful place. Nothing since then, London, Paris, Hollywood or New York, has been quite so wonderful. And although I lived on the edge of destitution, I had never been happier in my life.”
In 2016, from his semi-permanent stool at the Empire Hotel, local resident Daniel Callaghan, 71, looks out on a different world.
“We have lost the characters. The outrageous atmosphere which made this location somewhere where people said ‘yes’ has been ruined. What we have lost is the unequivocal ‘yes’ in life. The Cross is now just another suburb.”
John Stapleton has worked as a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. His most recent book, Terror in Australia: Workers’ Paradise Lost is available in digital format at all major outlets, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Books and at Australia’s major online bookstore Booktopia.