Pull pints to prove a point: Some Cork publicans believe they can socially distance customers if allowed to reopen early

Pull pints to prove a point: Some Cork publicans believe they can socially distance customers if allowed to reopen early
Paul Montgomery, Aidan O’Driscoll, Graham Barrett and Michael O’Sullivan of Clancy’s Princes Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

CORK publicans are pleading for a chance to reopen in late June.

“A level playing field” is being called for between pubs, cafes and restaurants with Cork Vintners Federation Ireland (VFI) chairperson Michael O’Donovan claiming some publicans have been left feeling like “second class citizens” by the initial Government roadmap that may see pubs reopen on August 10, six weeks after cafes and restaurants welcome customers on June 29.

“Publicans can follow guidelines as well as anyone else,” Mr O’Donovan said, “And they should be treated equally.

“There are a lot of pubs in Cork that offer a food menu. All we are asking is that they have the option of opening.” 

Paul Montgomery who runs Clancy’s on Princes Street said that while he didn’t think it was going to be a very profitable time for anyone until there is a vaccine, social and physical distancing has to become business as usual.

“We want to open up and trade. They are saying this virus could be around for 12-18 months and this will be the new norm and it's what we have to do.

“By June, people won’t have been out for four months, there will be pent up demand and people with birthdays and other occasions will want to go for a meal. People will want to meet other people and say hello.” 

Business Benny McCabe, Proprietor Crane Lane, Cork.Pic Denis Scannell
Business Benny McCabe, Proprietor Crane Lane, Cork.Pic Denis Scannell

Benny McCabe who owns and runs a range of pubs across the City, including The Oval, Sin É, Crane Lane, Mutton Lane and Bodega, said 80% of businesses in Cork that involve face-to-face interactions would not be able to reopen, unless wages and rents were largely subsidised by the Government.

“Margins were very tight pre-Corona, to go down to 40% or 50% capacity is beyond the realms of possibility for survival. The staffing levels required for social distancing would be too high.” Mr McCabe said that the Government needs to invest in business and industry now in order to prevent a recovery that takes ten years.

“We subsidise now and allow people to keep some form of the Covid payment as well as rent /mortgage subsidies to enable re-employment hence allowing VAT and excise receipts to flow again and in two years we will be pulling clear again. Or, we don't subsidise and the cost has just doubled as businesses can't reopen and we are all on the dole."

Ernest Cantillon, who runs Sober Lane and Electric, said he is considering his options in relation to safety, customer experiences and financial viability.

Cork publican and entrepreneur Ernest Cantillon Picture: Clare Keogh
Cork publican and entrepreneur Ernest Cantillon Picture: Clare Keogh

Mr Cantillon said he thinks only time will bring clarity to the situation.

“More than anything, it will depend on people’s confidence in our ability to provide a safe environment - if punters don’t emerge, and fairly lively, then it’s going to be very difficult.” 

Mr O’Donovan, who runs The Castle Inn, said he would have to sit down and think very carefully about the viability of reopening with the stipulated guidelines.

“The Castle Inn is one of the smallest bars in Cork, it is very long and narrow, with social distancing you are looking at 12/14 people in there with additional staff to monitor social distancing and then your overheads. It could be really difficult to reopen in August.

 “There has always been changes in the industry, it has evolved from dance halls to discos to nightclubs to late bars. It will be interesting to see how the industry adapts.” He added that while larger pubs have the advantage of space in relation to physical distancing, they also had a disadvantage in relation to increased overheads and rates.

“Every publican has a business decision to make in relation to the short term restrictions during the pandemic.

“Cork is very lucky to have an eclectic mix and variety of pubs, it would be very disappointing if we didn’t manage to maintain that.” Addressing some of the points in a VFI proposal, such as no music and no being served from the bar, Mr O’Donovan said the document put forward to Government was a starting point to get establishments open and over time, things would return to normal.

“These are baby steps to get things going again. We are awaiting the outcome from the Government with bated breath."

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