Pubs and restaurants report ‘apprehension’ ahead of expected reopening

Pubs and restaurants report ‘apprehension’ ahead of expected reopening
Peter Roche, a regular for 55 years at Mulligans pub in Dublin’s city centre, in conversation while having a pint (Brian Lawless/PA)

After two years of closures, reopenings and curfews, Irish pubs are daring to dream of busy bars once again.

The Government is poised to announce a major reopening of the country, after weeks of tough restrictions introduced amid fears over the Omicron variant.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has advised the Government that most pandemic rules can go, but that they should be removed in a phased manner.

On Friday, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar indicated to reporters there was no basis for the restrictions being in place without a public health rationale, but said it could take time to unpick the legislation underpinning them.

A barman at Mulligan’s in Poolbeg Street, Dublin, pours a pint of Guinness (Damien Eagers/PA)

In Dublin’s pubs and nightclubs on Friday afternoon, there was a sense of apprehension at the latest twist in Ireland’s struggle with Covid-19.

'It will be all new'

Gary Cusack, owner of the Mulligan’s pub in Dublin city centre, said: “It’s a funny one, how quick it has changed from restrictions to all of a sudden, a free-for-all.”

He said the pub could adapt relatively quickly, once Taoiseach Micheal Martin confirms the date and the time when restrictions will be lifted.

That is despite, Mr Cusack admits, being a “bit tight” for staff.

Yet even if rules are relaxed overnight, he believes that it will take longer for people to embrace a return to normality.

Mr Cusack said: “It will take a while. People are used to table service. In a full pub, there will be certain people who will be wary about that. It will be different. We’re two-and-a-half years doing it this way.

“All of a sudden, to go back to the old way – not checking at the door, coming up to the counter to get your drinks, sitting at the bar – it will be all new.”

Mr Cusack, who had Covid-19 over the Christmas period as Ireland reported record-breaking case numbers, said he was worried himself for his customers and his family.

I'm feeling a sense of nervousness and trepidation that finally we might be at the end of this after 23 long months of being closed

“It’s not so much me, it’s my family around me that I’m more worried about. My wife’s parents are a good age, so you have to be cautious about that.”

Nphet met on Thursday evening and issued a series of recommendations in a letter to ministers.

They include that live venues and sport venues can return to full capacity, an end to restrictions on household guests and a phased return to work.

The wearing of face masks is set to continue on public transport and in retail settings and Covid passes will still be needed for international travel.

'A sense of nervousness and trepidation'

Ian Redmond, the owner of the Tramline nightclub, had only enjoyed several weeks of trading before concerns over Omicron shuttered the venue once again late last year.

“I’m feeling a sense of nervousness and trepidation that finally we might be at the end of this after 23 long months of being closed.

“We did get to open for a 47-day period, we traded 44 nights. It was absolutely fantastic to see the trepidation on these 18, 19-year-old faces who had never been to a nightclub before.

“They walked in the doors here to get hit by the sound from the DJs playing on the stage. It was just fantastic.

Ian Redmond, owner of Tramline on D’Olier Street in Dublin’s city centre (Brian Lawless/PA)

“There will be even more new 18-year-olds over the last couple of months that will be coming to Tramline for the very first time,” he predicts.

The nightclub on Friday was in the middle of a minor renovation.

Mr Redmond said: “We’re not ready to open tonight, which is a bit of a shame. If we had heard on Monday, but look, we are where we are.

“We’ve decided that we could open tomorrow night, but we’re going to wait until next week.

“We have to hear what the Taoiseach has to say this evening, with that then we’ll make our decisions.”

He was optimistic about the weeks ahead.

“This has been a really tough time on DJs as well as live musicians.

“They’ve been virtually out of work for the last two years. It has been horrendous for them.

Over the last two years, we nearly have a master's degree at juggling the balls

“With a bit of luck and a bit of good fortune, Covid and Omicron are all behind us and we can just look forward to the summer and getting out of this.”

'What we do best'

On the other side of the city at The Swan Bar, owner Ronan Lynch welcomed the latest recommendation from public health officials.

He said: “I think everybody was a bit surprised by the way things moved so quickly.

“From a business perspective, it’s like getting your Leaving Certificate results – really, really apprehensive.

“For the last two years, it has been a rollercoaster all the way.

“Hopefully this is the end of it now and we can concentrate on what we do best.”

Mr Lynch said that he and his staff will be ready to open with a moment’s notice.

“Over the last two years, we nearly have a master’s degree at juggling the balls,” he said.

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