Staggering rise of speed drinking bars

Speed dating is so last week: now you can pay £15 and booze until you fall over. Therein lies the problem ...
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The Independent Online

Restaurants that allow you to eat as much as you like for as little as a fiver are established on the catering scene. Now a wilder trend is in prospect – the bar that lets you drink as much as you like.

Restaurants that allow you to eat as much as you like for as little as a fiver are established on the catering scene. Now a wilder trend is in prospect – the bar that lets you drink as much as you like.

Tivoli's nightspot in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, offers unlimited alcohol until the 2am closing time, for £15 (men) and £10 (women). A notice above the bar says: "Persons showing signs of severe intoxication will not be served with alcohol." But the indications on Friday night were that people did not want to waste precious drinking time.

Campaigners say places such as Tivoli's are breeding-grounds for alcohol abuse and, in turn, put a strain on the health service. But the drinks industry saysit has strict guidelines on drinking promotions, and that young people will always find a way to abuse alcohol.

Research published later this year will reveal the average age for children takingtheir first drink is just over 12, and a third of teenagers say they drink at least 10 units of alcohol in a typical weekend drinking session.

These findings come from Alcohol Concern and the National Addiction Centre, which carried out the first in-depth study of alcohol use among 15- to 16-year-olds, interviewing 540 teenagers from schools in southern England about their drinking habits over a period of 18 months.

Ministers are also increasingly concerned about the link between binge-drinking and anti-social behaviour, and have pledged to implement a comprehensive alcohol harm-reduction strategy by spring 2004. Alcohol Concern has long campaigned for a national strategy and is demanding the Government draw up stricter guidelines for the industry.

Neil Wheeler has been the owner of Tivoli's, in the grounds of Rotherham football club, since it opened six years ago. Casting his eye over the ripped wallpaper, he says there is no point in renovating – it's a drinking hole.

"It's a cheap and easy way for people to go out, so we get a lot of the same people," he shrugs. "But rules are strict, and if someone gets carried away, we put him 'on cork'."

Dave Jones, 24, is a bouncer and a regular. He says the problem lies with the older drinkers, not the younger customers. "Yeah, there's the occasional scene, but we tell them to take it outside and cool off," he says. "The younger ones obviously take advantage of the special, but they're not the binge drinkers – it's the regulars. They come for the entire six hours."

The more the alcohol flows, the more your shoes stick to the floor and the effects of excessive drinking begin to show. In the sea of mini-skirted women is Amanda, 22. "You're guaranteed a shag here," she says.

Girls like Amanda are the reason Matthew, 20, comes to Tivoli's, as well as the beer. "The girls are easy, the beer is cheap and it's a fun place," he says, trying to make eye contact with a passing girl.

The Chicago Rock Café clubs also run all-you-can drink promotions.

But the company said it prohibited speed drinking, the practice of quickly downing drinks lined up at the bar.

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