If you would like to set up a small bar in Sydney, this article summarises the steps you need to follow to realise your dream. And to keep you motivated through the process, there is good news: the Sydney City Council is keen to create a thriving night time culture in the city, including venues like small bars.

Step 1: Be Specific

An elementary, yet essential, first step. If you know what you want, it will enable you to determine what you need to do. Would you like tables on the footpath? If so, you will need to lodge a Footpath Usage Application (amongst other things) with Sydney City Council. Make a list.

Step 2: Locate your Premises

Only you can find your perfect spot for your perfect bar!  Once you have located it, you will need to contact the agent for the property.  Do not sign any contracts at this stage (irrespective of whether you intend to lease or purchase). It would be premature because you do not yet have Development Approval or a Liquor Licence. However, do have a lawyer look over the contract and explain it to you. Also, you need to consider what work, if any, the premises requires. Structural changes and building works require additional paperwork.

Step 3: Submit your Applications

Setting up your bar requires paperwork.  You may find the process exhausting, but it is essential.  You need to make two primary applications:

  • Application for Development Approval (Development Consent) with Sydney City Council; and
  • Application for a Liquor Licence with Liquor & Gaming NSW.

Development Application/Consent

All new premises in the city require development approval. The exact documents you need depend on the particulars of your plans.  For example, building works on a site likely need supplemental materials as compared to an application to operate a bar at a specific location without works. You will need to check with a City Planner at the Council.

You can complete the necessary paperwork yourself or employ a lawyer skilled in Planning.  Your choice will depend on funding and the complexity of the application. A more complex application may warrant assistance. While assistance costs in the short term, it might bring a better outcome and save you appealing a refusal. It will certainly save you time.   

Liquor Licence

All applications for a Liquor Licence are lodgeable online. Visit the website of Liquor & Gaming NSW.

Every application attracts a fee.  If you receive a licence, you must also pay an annual fee levied in April each year. While the cost is more likely to be the set base fee, Liquor and Gaming can NSW reserve the right to increase the cost depending on risk factors like trading hours and compliance history.

A bar can hold either a Hotel Licence or a Small Bar Licence. Your choice of licence depends on the anticipated size of your bar. A small bar licence extends to only 60 patrons. If you plan to serve more than 60 people at any one time, you will need a Hotel Licence.

Small Bar Licence

  • Application Fee: $350.00; and
  • Annual Fee: $200.00.

Hotel Licence

  • Application Fee: $750.00; and
  • Annual Fee: $250.00.

All applications for a Liquor Licence must include:

  • National Police Certificate

The certificate cannot be over three months old. If the applicant is a corporation, the company does not need to get a Police Certificate. Visit the NSW Police website and select the link to Criminal Records.

  • Community Impact Statement

If you apply for a Small Bar Licence, a Community Impact Statement is not required if Development Consent is necessary and the applicant has notified the local police and the Secretary, Department of Justice within two (2) working days of submitting the Development Application.

  • Development Approval/Consent

Lodged with the Sydney City Council. The Council exhibits your application and makes their decision.

  • Formal Notification to neighbouring premises, local police and the local council.

If an applicant applies online, this is done automatically.  

All holders of Liquor Licence must:

  • Be fit and proper persons to hold a licence;
  • Have professional practices in place so that the business serves alcohol responsibly; and
  • Have development consent.

Note also that NSW Liquor laws allow local communities to act against licensed premises if a business affects the neighbourhood adversely. You can submit your applications for Development Approval and a Liquor Licence simultaneously.

Assuming all goes as planned, you are now able to create your ideal bar.  Contact LegalVision’s business lawyers to assist you with setting up your small bar in Sydney. Questions? Call us on 1300 544 755.

Carole Hemingway

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