A “mismanaged” Edinburgh nightclub has narrowly avoided having its licence removed after police said staff failed to take action against excessive drinking, drug use and violence while employing unqualified bouncers.
Bourbon, on Fredrick Street, has been issued with a written warning from the City of Edinburgh Council, despite police recommending it’s late 3am licence be revoked, following a catalogue of incidents at the club since it re-opened after coronavirus restrictions were lifted last summer.
At a meeting of the council’s licensing board on Monday, sergeant Marc Copeland said officers found a “failure to inform police of incidents taking place and a number of violent incidents”.
Highlighting “poor door stewarding” as one of the main issues, it was revealed that police discovered Bourbon’s head bouncer wasn’t even licensed to be working as a steward.
And police highlighted a list of incidents of “alcohol-fuelled violent crime and an inability from door staff to manage their patrons”, which has led to a reliance on police to be “ever-present” on weekends.
Sergeant Copeland said: “From June 2021 until mid-February 2022, police recorded 45 incidents on our system and reference has been made to areas that show a failure on the side of staff are ongoing problems at the premises.”
He said officers were alerted to drug misuse and disorder, overconsumption of alcohol and a “poor attitude by the owner of the premises” during the eight-month period.
Sergeant Copeland said on one occasion in August, somebody in the venue received a “three to four inch cut on their eyebrow”, but staff did not contact police regarding the incident or seek medical attention for the injured party.
In September, he added, a customer was allowed to leave the premises after throwing a glass, with police not contacted until after they had left. It was just a few days later during a police inspection of the venue that officers discovered the head steward was unqualified.
The following month, as police arrived in response to reports of a “serious sexual offence” in the club, staff “weren’t in control of the premises” and officers had to “get involved with disputes”.
And in November there were multiple incidents involving drunk fights and assaults, demonstrating “clear mismanagement of patrons allowing excessive alcohol consumption as well as an amount of drug use,” Sergeant Copeland said.
He continued: “On the 5th of December at 1.10am, police came across a male sitting outside the premises stemming a bleeding nose and reporting being assaulted within.
“Door staff did not appear to be concerned about the male, nor did they opt to interact or attempt to identify the assailant until involvement from police.
“Whilst they were dealing with that, a melee took place on the dancefloor and following on from this a member of staff exited the premises and reported to police that a patron had sustained a head injury from being hit with a bottle.
“Later on when police reviewed the CCTV it could be seen that an altercation took place between two members of staff within the premises.
“Since June 2021 there have been 23 assaults recorded by the police at the front door or within the premises.
“In conclusion, the conduct of the management, security and staff at the premises is causing significant concern; overconsumption has been reported by attending officers at almost all of the examples provided above.”
Representing Bourbon’s manager Edward Fox, lawyer Niall Hassard said the venue has responded with a range of measures including a new system for reporting incidents to police, a new CCTV system for the club and additional training for staff to deal with violent and intoxicated customers.
He said new, fully-licensed stewards have been employed, while a medical room has been set up in the venue.
And in a bid to tackle overconsumption of alcohol, Mr Hassard said the bar has launched a “mocktail” menu offering alcohol-free alternatives and reduced the price of water.
He added: “There’s no excuses here, but I will address you on some general challenges that the industry and my clients have not been immune to.
“Coming out of the period of lockdown and significant uncertainty, there was an element of a perfect storm, there was a significant amount of pent-up demand within the nightclub-going demographic regardless of whether they were students or young professionals.”
The “perfect storm”, he said, came as a result of staff shortages and a lack of “quality stewards”.
He added: “Fundamentally there were a lot of things in the general night-time industry with staffing and stewarding etcetera that were making things very, very difficult.”
Conservative councillor Jo Mowat described the officer’s report as a “very serous rap sheet” but said feedback from people in her city centre ward is that the behaviour of people going out “is generally worse than it was immediately before the pandemic”.
Quizzing the club’s manager, councillor Mowat said she was most worried by reports of alcohol overconsumption and asked: “What specific changes about overconsumption and identifying people have over-consumed are in place and how is that being managed on a day-to-day basis?”
Mr Fox replied: “A lot of the changes, it ties into the door stewards as well, it is more ejections, more refusals – all of which are documented – the alcohol awareness training has been a huge part, better education and better training for the staff and the staff are better placed.”
In a plea to the board, Mr Hassard said there is “no daytime trade” for Bourbon and added it would ‘effectively have to close’ if hours were curtailed to 1am as was recommended by police.
Members voted to issue a written warning and requested a police report to be brought to the committee in six months updating the council on the situation.
Convener Norrie Work, SNP, said: “I’ve always felt this licensing board to be very fair and maybe even lenient sometimes.”
He warned the new licensing board formed after May’s local elections “may not be as lenient or as fair as we are”.