Editorial | Issue 14

Editorial | Issue 14

Several depressing things occurred over the break. Babe of the Day happened, the Western Black Rhinoceros became extinct, the Cook closed, and there was that thing on Game of Thrones.

I could have devoted this editorial to a rant about any one of those occurrences. But then Josh Pemberton came along and put the problems with Babe of the Day far more eloquently than I ever could (page 20). Following that, I discovered that the Western Black Rhinoceros was actually declared extinct in 2011 (poor dead unheralded schmucks; somehow the news that this news wasn’t news made the news even more depressing). Finally, I think we can all agree that it’s been five weeks since that thing happened, and most of us are over it. They were boring characters anyway, and I’m sure at least fifteen new ones will spring up in their place.

So I guess that leaves me with the Cook.

Personally I hardly ever went to the Cook because – and this is kind of the point – it was a shit hole. Even so, I and many others just assumed it would always be there, for no other reason than that it always had. If people had heard of one bar in Dunedin, it was the Cook. The vast majority of new arrivals in the city will have heard about the Cook long before moving here. Its closure still seems somewhat surreal, akin to TVNZ deciding to scrap One News and replace it with a game show, and I keep half-expecting the bar’s owners to turn around tomorrow and say, “LOL! Us, close? What are you, drunk?”

But the Cook is gone, and it’s probably not coming back, and now I feel a little lost, as though I were David Attenborough browsing the video store and I let my mind wander and suddenly I was outside and the store was gone and someone came up to me and showed me the Internet and gently explained that I was finished and should probably just go home.

It’s possible that someone will buy the Cook and reopen it. More likely, though, its second coming will be at the hands of some rich clueless philistine who turns it into a kind of horrible tacky neo-Cook – possibly with an original cobblestone that lay outside the entrance in 1860, and Tuatara on tap. This, after all, is how bars survive these days – with gimmicks and overpriced semi-craft brews. Needless to say, this would be a fate worse than death: no place that trades on twee nostalgia rather than cheap beer and pash rash is worthy of the Cook’s name.

I’m sad that this is happening to Dunedin. But I’m also mad. Sad and mad. Sad-mad. I’m sad-mad because bars have been priced out of the market by alcohol laws that impose a uniform levy across on- and off-licence premises. Basically, bars have to pay the same rate of alcohol tax as supermarkets and liquor stores. Given that bars have higher staffing costs and strict legal responsibilities around client supervision, and suffer a fair amount of property damage and theft, this makes their business model inherently less viable than that of off-licences, and alcohol tax merely exacerbates this problem. This is why drinks in town are so expensive, and why the Cook was unable to make any money off its cheap beverages.

As is well known, the prohibitive prices in town encourage people to stay at home, or to pre-load at their houses and flats, moves that further undermine bars’ business models. This also encourages irresponsible binge-drinking: people buy alcohol in bulk – a 12-pack, a bottle of spirits, one or more bottles of wine – and, because there is no marginal cost involved in having another drink, will be more likely to finish what they have already bought (and quickly). Of course, we’ve all had three-figure nightmares in town, blowing all our Studylink treasure in one go. But for the most part, going to the bar and paying for every new drink presents us with a clear cost-benefit decision. And if we make bad decisions, at least we’re in a supervised environment in which friends, bar staff, bouncers, or emergency services are on hand to look after us.

But hey, at least we still have Sammy’s. To me, Sammy’s, not the Cook, is the embodiment of Dunedin culture: it’s cold, cavernous, rarely full, and has the inimitable feel of a venue whose glory days have long since passed. It’s beautiful. If I had to list the top five gigs I’d ever attended, at least two would have been at Sammy’s; if it ever closed – and it’s come close a few times – the Dunedin in my heart will have finally died, and off to Wellington I shall trot.

On a more uplifting note, welcome back to Critic! It’s been too long. We’re particularly excited to present our social media issue, which, at 64 pages, also happens to be the biggest issue Critic has ever published (probably – we only looked back to the start of 2011, but that was aeons ago).

We’ve made a host of changes over the break, and we hope you like them. Our ranks have also swelled – I’d like to welcome on board our new sub-editor Sarah, food editor Kirsty, technology editor Raquel, and columnists Guy and Jacobin. They’re here to keep your belly satisfied, your mind limber, your phone stocked with apps, and your eyes shielded from the harsh glare of incorrect apostrophe usage.

And if you made it through this (somewhat engorged) editorial, congratulations, go have a drink.
This article first appeared in Issue 14, 2013.
Posted 6:05pm Sunday 7th July 2013 by Sam McChesney.