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ABC "News" is worried about the state of Sydney's gay clubs

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It's rare that good news leads the news agenda, but when it comes to Sydney's decimated nightlife, a recent series of positive stories mark a distinct departure from five years of doom.

Australia's "only global city" (as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian perhaps generously called it) had a night-time economy on its knees since the introduction of 2014's lockout laws: 176 venue closures and a loss of almost half of its live music venues.

The first piece of good news is, of course, that they'll be rolled back in all areas except Kings Cross, where the worst alcohol-fuelled violent incidents occurred.

It has been welcomed with much fanfare from the city's embattled creatives, DJs, music makers and venue owners.

Without wanting to be the party pooper here, the night-time economy of all Australia's major cities must resist an even bigger threat, one that's wreaking havoc on the individuality and joyously hedonistic landscape of every global city worldwide: development.

That is, however, where the second piece of good news comes in — it's a rare and underreported good news story about Sydney's nightlife, and it comes from its gay village on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst.

The threat of gentrification

In a feat of refreshing resilience, Australia's biggest gay nightclub, ARQ Sydney, has just marked its 20th anniversary.

It's an outlier among gay clubs in Australia and worldwide, which are closing at an alarming rate.

When ARQ opened in 1999, there was an unequal age of consent, no legal recognition for same-sex couples and no hook-up/dating apps.

Gay clubs like ARQ were essential places for the LGBTQI community to meet, connect, hook up and form solidarity and supportive friendships in less-enlightened times.

Since then, much has changed. What's impressive about ARQ is that it has weathered a perfect storm of factors that've destroyed gay scenes worldwide.

These include hook-up apps like Grindr, "chemsex" parties hosted in homes, stay-at-home drugs like ice overtaking dance-floor drugs like ecstasy in popularity, and millennials preferring festivals.

Perhaps surprisingly, equality also plays a part. In an age of same-sex marriages and other legal protections, there's more integration and assimilation on the nightclub scene.

The threat of gentrification lurks, though.

As rents have skyrocketed and alcohol restrictions in NSW have stung profits, it must sometimes be tempting (and financially seductive) for nightclub owners like ARQ's Shadd Danesi to sell-up.

Panicked rumours of ARQ being sold often circulate around the LGBTQI community.

"We've heard rumours for the last 10 years that ARQ's closing; we've no intention of closing in the near future," marketing manager Jimmy Dee said.

Sydney is bucking the trend — for now

That's the near future, but what about the medium term? Another good news story provides some reassurance.

When The Midnight Shift, Sydney's only other major multi-level gay club on Oxford Street, closed in October 2017, the LGBTQI community kicked up enough fuss for it to be reborn as a gay club again.

Against all odds, it was — it's now called Universal.

Many thought it'd be made into yet more luxury flats or something gentrified, like grungy after-hours gay club The Phoenix, which in recent years transformed into a bougie straight cocktail bar.

That's a pernicious phrase to which nightclub lovers worldwide are becoming depressingly accustomed: transformed into luxury flats.

Melbourne's biggest gay club, The Greyhound, closed in 2017 — transformed into 43 luxury flats.

Except, it wasn't. The site, to this day, stands empty, just the rubble of the former much-loved, well-attended 163-year-old venue.

If it ever does happen, it's a story repeated in major cities everywhere — the middle class lives of 43 residents are deemed more important than the thousands of clubgoers entering their refuge, their safe haven, on a weekly basis.

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