‘Cultural gem’: Camden’s Electric Ballroom wins alcohol extension in face of police fears

The Electric Ballroom. Photograph: Wikicommons

An iconic Camden music venue where Billie Eilish put on a showstopping gig recently has won its bid to sell alcohol later at weekends despite police concerns.

The Electric Ballroom asked for the change on crucial Friday and Saturday nights, on top of a 400-person capacity increase.

The venue started as a Irish club 75 years ago and its list of performers reads like a Who’s Who of musical greats, from Paul McCartney and U2 to Razorlight and the Kaiser Chiefs.

It said extending its alcohol licence from 3am to 4.30am on Fridays and Saturdays would help it recover from the rigours of the pandemic and make it more attractive to promoters.

It wants the change because “stated frankly, the venue is now facing a difficult future since Covid-19”.

The night spot on Camden High Street also offered to cut back the time it could sell alcohol earlier in the week.

As it is inside the Camden Town cumulative impact area, the licensing committee has to consider the effect of more visitors.

PC Dominic Hallam said he was worried the later hours and extra numbers would see an influx on the streets of Camden Town in the early hours.

He told Camden’s licensing committee: “Predators look for vulnerability and one of these is over-intoxication.”

He said there could be a “potential increase in victims”.

PC Hallam also said that “gangs of organised criminals” were targeting the Electric Ballroom and “these criminals will be served with more vulnerable victims”.

He added: “We understand the Electric Ballroom is considered as an important part of Camden’s night life but it cannot be at the expense of crime.”

Sarah Clover, barrister for the Electric Ballroom, refuted this claim and said the police had never told the venue about this risk.

Liam O’Hara described the venue as a “cultural gem”.

He is the licensing lead for LabTech, which runs Camden Market and ran nightclubs for several years.

He said the Electric Ballroom is popular with people working in other hospitality venues nearby.

He has seen Prince and Blur perform there and added: “What is important is Billie Eilish chose to play there.

“It is a well thought out application. These venues do not grow on trees.”

He said no nearby residents had objected to the application.

Clara Cullen, venue support manager at the Music Venue Trust, said: “Venues like this help up-and-comers grow a fan base.”

She said 66 music venues closed last year and 111 are facing challenges with financial viability.

“Once a grassroots venue closes, it will not reopen,” she warned.

“Venues are increasingly having to diversify by offering club nights. It is income generated by club nights and alcohol sale that allow venues to offer service.

“In my view, Camden would not be Camden without the Electric Ballroom. You get high quality and exceptional music, and it is a safe and well-run venue.

“Give them the opportunity to get through this difficult financial time.”

Clover said the Electric Ballroom ran events with later hours using temporary notices and there had been no problems.

She also pointed out that nearby venue Koko was allowed to open later.

She said people tend to arrive at venues later if they have long opening hours and pointed out they do not drink as much as they would at a pub.

“Live music venues tend to reduce the amount of alcohol people consume because they are engaged in the cultural activity,” she added.

“People do not walk in off the street. It is a destination venue.”

The licensing committee approved the application.

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