In a referendum in 1954 voters approved 10 o’clock closing by a narrow margin of 902,532 votes to 892,740. The Liquor Amendment Act 1954 came into effect on 1 February 1955 and extended the closing time for hotel bars to 10pm.
As well as 10 o’clock closing for hotels, the Act had other provisions. Among the strangest was the creation of a ‘dinner hour’ for hotel employees, from 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm, effectively closing hotels at this time. Bar service was to cease at 6.15, giving patrons 15 minutes to finish their drinks and clear the bar. This provision was abolished in 1963.
The new legislation also required hotels to offer a home delivery service within a one-mile radius for deliveries of one gallon or six bottles of liquor or more. There was some criticism of the new laws for lowering the age for female employees in hotel bars from 21 to 18.
Restaurant licences were also affected. Until the passage of the 10 o’clock closing legislation, hotels could serve liquor with meals only until 9 pm while restaurants had to stop selling alcohol at 8.30 pm. The newspapers in the early 1950s were full of stories of restaurants being raided by police for selling liquor beyond this time. The new laws allowed hotel dining rooms and restaurants to serve liquor with meals until the much more adult hour of midnight.
But restaurant licences varied – some restaurants could serve only light (unfortified) wines but not beer, while others could serve beer and wine, but not spirits. Until 1966, liquor in restaurants had to be served in sealed bottles, which meant anyone wanting a whisky and soda or a sherry had to buy a small bottle of their preferred tipple.
A strange provision continued to apply to take-away liquor sales from licensed grocers and wine and spirit merchants: they were still prohibited from selling single bottles of wine and beer, but had to sell a dozen at a time. This endured until 1966, when the legislation was changed to allow single bottle sales of wine. Finally, you could pick up a favourite bottle on your way out for dinner. If you wanted beer, though, you still had to stump up for a dozen.