Six o’clock hotel closing became permanent in 1918. In time it led to phenomenon known colloquially as the ‘six o’clock swill’. This name came from the excessive and undiscerning drinking of men who flocked to hotels to drink as much beer as they could in the hour between finishing work and closing time. The photo below records a Dunedin hotel closing at 6pm.
The binge drinking encouraged by six o’clock closing was an activity exclusively associated with men. At this time it was not socially acceptable for women to drink in public alone.
Alcohol could be sold and consumed publicly only in licensed places that provided accommodation – public hotels, or ‘pubs’ for short. In the 1960s, pub drinkers would have hurriedly swilled their beer from standard glasses like the one below.
There was public support for early evening closing for many decades. This continued after a 1949 referendum. But another, held in September 1967, reflected a shift in attitudes. Life in New Zealand had changed since the previous referendum, and this time almost two-thirds of voters supported a return to ten o’clock closing. The new hours came into effect the following month.
Learn more about the six o’clock swill and ‘rugby, racing and beer’ on the Slice of Heaven minisite.
The history of temperance and attempts to prohibit alcohol is covered in NZHistory.net.nz.
There’s more about hotels and liquor laws in Te Ara, the online encyclopedia of New Zealand.