I have lapsed recently, but for about 8 months up to about a month ago I lived an abstemious life almost totally off the booze and the cigarettes.

A couple of months ago, I was walking out of the opera house talking to a friend after a concert. I was stopped not once but twice by the bouncers of the “Opera” bar. I could in fact just have been walking home past the bar (because it is an outdoor spot with a right of passage through it to the carpark, the bouncers seem to enlarge their jurisdiction to extend to this) but in fact I was planning to meet a friend from interstate who was waiting for me there.

Was it my gait? Was it my garb? Was it my age? Both, and the second more than the first, asked me those questions about what I had had to drink. These are questions which I am not asked often, and certainly not when I haven’t had a drink for some months.

In the end they let me in. I suppose I could have called my friend out and gone elsewhere, but I didn’t want to make a scene. Still, it was unpleasant and I think entirely unfounded. I wondered and wonder if they just didn’t think I was the right customer for their trendy (though quite uncrowded: it was early in the week) bar.

Which is one of two reasons why I feel sorry for the unsuccessful plaintiff in Sleeman v Tuloch Pty Ltd t/as Palms on Oxford (No 3) [2013] NSWDC 92, who sued a bar for the way its bouncer turned him away.

Even on the bouncer’s account, if true, you can see where things take a wrong turn, at [37]:

When the males got to the front of the line I, I just each male, as I always do, “Gentlemen, where have you been today? How are we?” And I saw one male, I describe as being approximately 50 to 60 years of age, tall, which I now know to be Mr Sleeman, had reddish complexion, dark red complexion, so it’s my, my experience and, and skill to be able to see that this person may have consumed some drinks. I do not know how many, and that’s why I asked, “Excuse me, sir, how much have you had to drink tonight?”
He stated he had none. His two friends, I said, “How much have we had to drink?” His two friends then said, “We’ve been to dinner and we’ve consumed a couple with dinner,” so now I had conflicting stories with his friends, so I said to each male, I said, “Excuse me, gents, which one is it? None, or one, or two? Can you help me out?”

That’s Mr Unwin, described by Her Honour as a “public servant.” He’s obviously picked up a bit of police-speak somewhere along the way (“conflicting stories”, “the males”). (Google suggests: Customs.) I don’t know what skill he has at telling whether someone has consumed drinks. The uncontradicted evidence seems to be that Mr Sleeman rarely drank and had not drunk that night. To see that someone “may have consumed some drinks” surely means nothing at all.


See Bounced Again! for the fate of Mr Sleeman’s age-discrimination complaint.

It appears that Mr Unwin is employed as a plain clothes investigator in the Australian Customs & Border Protection Service. He said his basis for concluding Mr Sleeman was drunk was Mr Sleeman’s red complexion.

Indeed, the Tribunal felt Mr Unwin’s evidence was more credible precisely because he was “a trained professional investigator with the Australian Customs Service.” Is that really a reason for considering a witness more credible? It is a small step from professional investigator to professional witness.

5 Responses to “Bounced!”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I have heard about the Opera Bar and it sounded like a nice venue to visit. Perhaps not so nice now. I am guessing you are of a certain age, and there lies the problem.

  2. O Says:

    There are two running jokes in my milieu. One is that I will, with one exception, always be accosted by bouncers. After approximately 15 years of debate we are yet to determine conclusively whether this is a function of my age or colour (brown) or whether I have a generally drunken appearance.

    The second is that Palms is an exception to that rule, and will instead turn away any women in a group on a flimsy pretext – usually something to do with shoes. It is the only place in Sydney and surrounds which apparently discriminates in this fashion.

    This suit is therefore very confusing. But that aside there is no doubt that bouncers habitually exclude on the basis of race (don’t know about age). There is nothing surprising about this. I considered conducting a series of experiments with a view to making a discrimination complaint, then realised that the right to get into a bar late at night is not necessarily a right worth fighting for.

  3. marcellous Says:


    The shoes rule is also applied to cross-dressers at some other bars, or so I recall (it is a long time…).

    As to race, when I was researching a previous reference to the “Ivy” bar I came across some fairly vehement online complaint about its bouncers conduct towards persons of middle eastern appearance.

  4. Victor Says:

    Since I suffered ear damage on a flight four years ago I walk with an occasionally unsteady gait and I have often wondered whether that makes me appear to be drunk. Perhaps I should test myself by walking through the Opera Bar at night next time I attend the Opera House.

  5. Bounced again | Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] Bounced!, I referred to Mr Sleeman, who was barred from entering Palms on Oxford. The doorman said Mr […]

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