The Victorian government revisited the liquor laws in 1994, creating the General Licence Class B which allowed establishments that didn’t serve food to serve alcohol. This precipitated a boom in small bars in Melbourne.
The last major overhaul of the liquor laws had been in 1987 in response to the Niewenhuysen Review, which recommended relaxing trading hours and removing many restrictions on liquor licences. However, apart from hotels, licences were still restricted to premises where meals were available.
It seems that the 1994 changes occurred largely in response to the demands of the Crown Casino, which had opened in Melbourne’s Southbank precinct in 1993. The casino management wanted the freedom to operate bars in the complex without the need to serve food. The Victorian government of the day, no doubt mindful of the revenue the casino generated, saw fit to amend the liquor laws. The new licence led to the opening of many small bars, including Melbourne’s famous lane-way bars.
The new on-premises licence still required that some form of food was available, but it need only be nuts or packaged chips. Bars could not sell liquor to take away; it had to be consumed on the premises. Operators were also required to make water available at no charge and to comply with the usual Responsible Service of Alcohol requirements.
Bars were only allowed to supply alcohol for people to drink on the footpath outside their premises if they had approval from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation and from the local council.
The original Melbourne lane-way bar, Meyers Place (named for the lane-way it was located in), opened in 1994 below one of Melbourne’s best-known late-night dining haunts, the Waiter’s Club. The bar operated until 2017 when the owners of the building declined to renew the lease. It subsequently re-opened in a nearby lane-way, Crossley Street, but closed permanently in 2021.