Last weekend, we saw the six counties of Northern Ireland catch up with the Republic’s lockdown lifting.
From Friday 3rd July, bars, pubs and cafes were finally allowed to open their doors to their cold pint, and artisan coffee thirsty customers.
Cue, ‘Super Saturday’. The highly anticipated reopening day, however, had many questions looming;
-How would pubs operate under new Covid regulations?
-How busy would it be? Would it be safe?
-Would our favourite local drinking spots even open?!
I headed into Belfast last weekend to see for myself.
First stop, ‘The Sunflower’ pub – a historic pub dating back to the late 1800s in the north of Belfast city.
As expected, we had to wait patiently to get in. We joined the orderly queue and were pleasantly surprised at how calm everything was. It was clear The Sunflower Pub’s managers and staff, donned with face masks, had planned everything to the last detail.
After ten/fifteen minutes, a bartender showed us to our tables and took our – both of which felt so unnatural in an Irish pub!
That said, there was no doubt we were back in a pub – having a drink at home with friends was just not the same as being in a cosy, bustling, and (admittedly on that weekend) damp beer garden.
With the drinks and hand sanitizer flowing, we moved on, curious to see how Belfast’s bars, with no such beer garden, had adapted to new Covid regulations issued by the Stormont government – especially those that differed to the rest of the UK.
Notably, the new rule states that ‘people will not be permitted to order either food or drink from the bar area’. So if you go out for a drink, you must also get food. A simple enough task for venues with a kitchen, but what about a cocktail bar?
Cue, ‘Liquor XXX’ – an upmarket, award-winning, Latino inspired cocktail bar, in the heart of Belfast’s nightlife Botanic area.
Owned by larger hospitality group Bachus, this bar was able to open despite its small size and few tables. Their choice of food to serve with your margarita? Tapas – easy, small and low maintenance. Perfect for a bar that didn’t typically serve food.
Even they admit the changes made to abide by new Covid regulations hadn’t been easy;
However, it certainly felt like business was back and raring to go at Liquor – with the addition of sanitizing gel, and not waiting at the bar. The bantering bartenders were mixing away, and customers dressed and dolled up, presumably for the first time in months.
Until now, so far, so good! Bars and pubs in Belfast seemed to have effectively adapted to new Corona regulations, and successfully reopened to their devoted regulars. However, what about the city’s cafes, which serve a completely different customer, purpose and space?
For the Cathedral Quarter’s popular ‘Established Coffee’, reopening is going to be a much longer and precautious process. Speaking to co-owner Bridgeen, this particular cafe is going to be taking ‘baby steps’ into getting back into businesses;
‘We feel a huge duty of care to staff, customers and suppliers and want to make sure that we are working as hard as we can to keep things stable.’
What is more, the locally owned, independent cafe, despite being situated in a typically bustling part of town, is finding its location to be a key issue;
‘Take-away for us is the only sensible (pathway) now as (many) of our customers have been local office staff and tourists. Both of which do not exist at the moment.’
It seems that whilst the evening-time bars and pubs manage to draw people into Belfast, working from home poses a clear issue for day-time focused cafes.
This said, ‘Established Coffee’ are a prime example of small businesses making the most of takeaway and delivery services, bringing coffees and cookies to Belfast’s homes.
Though, a difficult time for them, they are optimistic that taking it slowly will ensure their longevity;
‘This is all about surviving, to hopefully thriving again one day’.
So whilst many of Belfast’s pubs, bars and cafes are open and thriving once more. However, within the Covid regulations, some are taking their time. Reminding us that emerging out of lockdown and into never-before-seen rules and expectations,will take more time. It’ll certainly be a longer process than ‘Super Saturday’ would have us believe.
But what does this all mean for us customers and visitors? Well if my trip to Belfast said anything, it’s that our bars, pubs, and cafes are thrilled to have us back, and have our, and their staff’s, health and safety at heart.
Whether in person or just takeaway or delivery, we need to keep supporting and enjoying our pubs, bars and cafes, in whatever way we can.
I’ll cheers to that!
Not sure where to start with supporting our cafes, bars and pubs? Check out our article on how to be a local hero and help your favourite small business for life after lockdown.