'We're going to have to run': Clubbers fight the clock on the first weekend of lockout laws

It's 1:20am Sunday on Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross when the panic sets in.

"We're going to have to run," a male in his early 20s tells his two female companions, who are lagging behind.

There is an initial protest from one, who says her shoes do not allow for such athletic endeavour, but the pair then begrudgingly agree.

They realise they've got 10 minutes to get to their nightclub of choice or their night is over.

Welcome to the new regime for a night out in Sydney, where keeping an eye on the clock is essential and your options after 3am consist of eating a doner kebab or watching a strip show.

I spent seven hours on Darlinghurst Road and Oxford Street in the early hours of Sunday to see how the  laws enforcing a 1:30am lockout and last drinks at 3am would work.

If the objective was to get people home earlier, they were a success - but that did not mean the night was without violence.

Most people appeared prepared for the changes - arriving at their final destination by 1am. There were no lengthy queues outside clubs at the lockout deadline approached.

But the message had not got through to everyone. At the Flinders Hotel at 2am, chef Nicholas Operandi was shocked when he was stopped by police and hotel security.

"I didn't know about these lockouts," he protested. "I worked until 12:30am, by the time I got home and changed, this was the earliest I could get here."

Around the corner at the Brighton Hotel, a young woman also fell victim to the changes after she stepped outside to speak to a friend and forgot she couldn't get back in.

She negotiated, protested, argued and cried for 20 minutes - all in vain.

"It's a matter of people getting used to it," the Brighton's licensee, Sam Skoulis, said.

Mr Skoulis said the night had been incident-free at his pub - but as we spoke, he did have to pause to stop the odd drunk person trying to sneak in.

"These people have nowhere to go," Mr Skoulis said. "They are just walking aimlessly."

Security guards were assisted by a huge police presence - about 700 officers to assist with Mardi Gras crowd control and the new changes.

But their high visibility and the early lockout did mean all was peaceful. On Oxford Street, a fight broke out at 2:25am - a scuffle over a taxi resulted in one man punching another in the head, drawing copious amounts of blood.

"It's horrendous, you cannot just punch people," the victim's girlfriend said. "We were having a good night out. I had to rip his shirt to stop him punching my boyfriend again. It was over a cab, when there are about 100 on the street."

It was not the only violent incident for the night.

A 22-year-old man was hospitalised after he was assaulted on George Street in the CBD at 10:30pm. Security guards in Kings Cross said there were multiple minor scuffles, including some where police were attacked.

Police said they arrested 13 people on Saturday night and Sunday morning for a variety of offences including assaulting police, affray, resisting arrest and breach of bail.

Four other people spent the night in the police-run sobering-up centres.

It was not all dust-ups after 1:30am - the party atmosphere that began with the Mardi Gras parade continued along Oxford Street.

Groups of people started spontaneously dancing outside clubs they were prevented from entering.

And before 3am - when those still inside were due to be kicked out - the crowds had already thinned.

Venues could remain open and not serve alcohol - but on this night, the first real test of the laws, everywhere appeared to close.

In Kings Cross, the only offerings after 3am were the fast-food vendors and Striporama - a strip club where security staff repeatedly asserted that they were exempt from the new laws.

So, instead, just about everyone went home.

And while the streets were initial busy after 3am, the rain, the lack of options and a constant stream of taxis meant concerns that people would just mill about did not eventuate.

By 3:45am, Kings Cross and Darlinghurst in no way resembled the bustling party hubs they usually have been at that time of the morning.

A handful of hearty souls opted to wait it out until 5am - when venues with 24-hour licenses could re-open if they wanted.

Two French tourists even counted down the minutes and entered a pub right on 5am. They then realised they were the only two there, turned around and went home.

Other popular early-morning haunts around Taylor Square had only tiny groups of people inside, all behaving themselves while enjoying a quiet drink.

At the city end of Oxford Street, however, queues of about 100 people started forming at 5am outside venues with established day clubs.

The lines were swelled by revellers from the Mardi Gras after-party, which took place in Moore Park, outside the lock-out zone.

Organisers said they expected hundreds more to trickle in through Sunday.

There was no rush, with 20 hours until the doors at these venues would have to close again.

The story 'We're going to have to run': Clubbers fight the clock on the first weekend of lockout laws first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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