28 March 2022

Hospitality veteran hopeful post-lockdown life becomes the new normal

| Sally Hopman
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Peter Dorree from Belconnen’s the Boardwalk bar and nightclub. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Canberra’s nightlife is returning to near-normal, with clubs welcoming back punters after what has been the hardest of times, according to one veteran of the Canberra scene.

Peter Dorree, who owns the Boardwalk bar and nightclub in Belconnen, knows how Canberra’s nightlife operates, having worked or managed other locations including The Grange, the Holy Grail and Cube nightclubs during his long career in the capital.

“It’s starting to bounce back,” he said. “People have been conditioned during the lockdowns to get everything home delivered so they don’t have to leave their homes. Business is starting to pick up but it will take time before everyone starts going out again.”

The lockdowns hit the industry hard, with some clubs having to put off staff when they either closed or were only able to operate for limited hours and customers.

Peter said he had to close the Boardwalk in August and couldn’t reopen till late last year.

“It was a really hard time,” he said. “After the first lockdown, I thought that was OK, we could cope with that. Then we had the next one, and I thought, here we go again, backwards. I couldn’t help wondering what we were going to do. My wife was working from home at the time, so she was OK, but I had all this free time in which to worry.

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“The second lockdown was harder but then the [Federal] Government came through with some help. We soldiered on but it wasn’t easy. There were times when I wondered whether we’d make it … but we did. Thankfully, it all worked out OK.”

Peter started his career as “a glassy and never looked back”. He’s come up through the ranks, from emptying bins to working behind the bar to managing and operating many of Canberra’s leading nightspots.

But it’s a job like no other, he says. One minute you need the skills of a psychologist, the next, you have to step in when two people have what could be described as a ‘difference of opinion’ when they’re feeling tired and emotional.

You also start work, he says, when most other people are knocking off for the day. Customers come in to relax after work while those behind the bar are just starting their day/night.

What’s the appeal?

“You get to be part of the best time in some people’s lives,” he said. “Their 21sts, 18th birthdays, people remember these big events and those memories last – and you’re part of making it happen.”

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The downside: the hours and the aggression.

“The crowds today seem to be a lot younger and they have so many options when they go out,” he said. “Because they’re younger they can sometimes be a little inexperienced with their drinks, so they’re easier to rein in. Middle-aged drinkers are probably harder to handle.

“But I rarely have issues with people. Mostly you can talk people down, unless they’re drunk and looking for a fight. You just can’t argue with drunks.”

It helps, he says, when you’re behind the bar if you have skills like those of a psychologist. “People want to tell you about their bad day and your job is to listen. I only offer limited advice, a shoulder to cry on – we all need that sometimes. ”

So, does he enjoy a drink himself? “Yes, I do. It’s hard not to in this environment. Seeing what goes on every night doesn’t put me off. I’m more of what you’d call a social drinker.”

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