You may have read this story in the Standard yesterday. Restaurants on Brick Lane have been visited by members of Tower Hamlets Council in recent days and informed of a local curfew which means they must stop serving customers at midnight or face a £20,000 fine. Apparently it's a bid to curb anti-social behaviour.
Being a curfew rather than a licensing issue, this new ruling is irrelevant of the existing licences which the restaurants have, many of which run until 1 or 2am. The letter handed out to businesses by the council read: “It may be your licensing hours are not the same as the opening hours specified by the planning condition. In cases such as this it is the earlier closing time that you must adhere to.”
It appears that the curfew applies only to licensed restaurants but, confusingly, these restaurants aren’t even allowed to stay open later if they stop selling alcohol at a certain time. They are being asked to take last orders at 11pm so that customers are gone by midnight.
We’ve tried to get hold of Tower Hamlets to find out exactly which venues on the street this applies to (we asked The Big Chill bar, for example, and they haven’t had a visit) but have had no answer as of yet. We also reckon that a license refund of some sort is probably due, if the restaurants can’t make full use of what they’ve paid for.
On a slight aside, we must say that the fact this only applies to licensed premises does mean that the street’s cherished and iconic 24 hour bagel shops are safe. Phew. But what of the rest of the street? Are we to lose an internationally known curry hub?
One restaurant owner, quoted in the Evening Standard article, says: “I predict 30% of the restaurants will be gone within three months”. We spoke to another restaurant owner on the street (he’d rather remain nameless) who reiterated the sentiment, though slightly less dramatically. He also told us how business rates (not directly set by the local council) and bin collection fees (directly set by local councils) have risen in recent months and years, and of a general feeling among restaurant owners (many of whom have been there for 20 to 30 years) that the council isn’t supporting them one jot.
He also tells us that late evening trade is seriously important to his takings. We’ve seen with our own eyes how quiet lunchtimes and mid-week dinners can be at most restaurants on the street, so it’s easy to believe.
While we couldn’t comment on the council’s intentions, there is a school of thought that could see the potential for getting rid of small, longstanding restaurants with lower rates and offering space at a premium to bigger, shiner or higher-grossing brands perhaps attracted by the street’s proximity to booming Shoreditch.
Maybe Tower Hamlets are indeed just worried about anti-social behaviour (which we imagine mainly involves drunkenness) but whether closing curry houses early is the best way to stop this, we’re not sure. Are they not where pub, bar and club leavers go to sober up if anything? And if a street becomes darker earlier thanks to the switching off of all that neon, then might it not become more dangerous?
There are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of uncertainty of the impact this could have, but we’re looking to dig further. Let us know your thoughts (or any information you have) in the comments below. Do you value the restaurants of Brick Lane, or given many are tatty and there are better Indians around should we not be too concerned if some close? Have you encountered much anti-social behaviour on the street? Are you a business owner that will be affected? Get in touch.