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24th April 2021

Be fair — call to open ‘wet’ pubs when indoor dining resumes

  4 hrs ago

People dining outside of a traditional Irish bar© Stock photo People dining outside of a traditional Irish bar

Publicans have called for equal treatment for all bar owners and customers when the time comes for the long-awaited easing of Covid restrictions.

‘Wet’ pubs should be allowed to open as soon as restaurants and gastro pubs are allowed to serve food indoors, said Dublin publican Des Hanlon, owner of the iconic Cleary’s pub under the railway bridge in Amiens Street.

Michael ‘Sully’ O’Sullivan of Clancy’s Bar and Restaurant in Cork City said he would like to see all types of pubs being allowed to open at the same time, in the interests of fairness.

The difference is considerable between the Dublin pub, which is family run with three full-time staff, and the Cork pub and restaurant, which has three floors with 30 full-time staff and 70 part-time staff. But both men share similar views on how the bar trade should be brought back to life.

“I just hope and pray that they will open the wet pubs when the indoor dining starts,” said Des (63), who has a lifetime of experience in the city’s hospitality sector.

“I would like to see all pubs being allowed to open together,” said Sully (39), who runs Clancy’s in Princes Street along with his fellow directors Paul Montgomery and Graham Barrett.Irish pub - stock photo© Stock photo Irish pub – stock photo

The timing of the first lockdown was decidedly unwelcome for three directors of the 200-year-old Cork pub as they had only opened their doors in a grand reopening event in November 2019. A sum of €5m was spent on the purchase and complete renovation of the large premises in the city centre. The closure only a few months later was a tough blow.

The busy Cork city venue had been operating on the ground and first floors with bar and restaurant services and, when some restrictions were lifted on June 29 last year, a new rooftop terrace added an open air third level. An electronically operated canopy can enclose the rooftop within 30 seconds in the event of rain, he said.

Princes Street was the first in the city to be pedestrianised last year and customers along the street were able to experience al fresco dining.

The business partners also opened King’s cafe on the thoroughfare where businesses have plans for a canopy to be erected over the street when construction work is allowed to restart, said Sully. They also operate the Atlas Bar on nearby Marlborough Street.

Clancy’s had been able to offer a full restaurant service during the restrictions. In the run-up to Christmas, all the safety procedures were operating very smoothly. The venue was named ‘Best Cork Pub’ in the Cork Business Association 2020 Awards. The closure on Christmas Eve was “emotional” and “very difficult” for the directors and staff.People on Grafton street in Dublin's city centre© (Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images) People on Grafton street in Dublin’s city centre

A team of five have been keeping things ticking over during the lockdown, Sully said.

“I believe Clancy’s is in a strong trading position when we reopen. I certainly feel for many small rural publicans. Some may never reopen as it may not be sustainable,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dubliner Des spoke of sharing the anxiety of many in the pub trade about what the future holds in uncertain times.

The ‘wet’ pubs have suffered the most in the hospitality sector in the past year. His own pub has no outdoor space for tables and traffic noisily speeds past; the pub is across the street from Connolly Station.

“One advantage of opening the wet pubs along with the rest would be there would be less pressure on all pubs,” Des said.

He is proud of the personal service offered to his clientele, which consists of locals and people who work in offices in the surrounding streets. He endures the uncertainty of not knowing how many office workers will be return after more than a year working from their homes.

“We have a lot of the older generation coming in and it’s a very friendly pub. A lot of our customers will have been vaccinated. Sadly, five or six of our regulars have died of Covid,” he said.

Old folk in his pub get a special discount on their pints.

Cleary’s is steeped in tradition. It opened in 1846 as The Signal House. James Joyce mentioned it in his novel Ulysses. Just around the corner in Joyce’s time was The Monto, infamously the biggest red light district in Europe.

Jim Cleary, a native of Tipperary who played hurling for Dublin, bought the pub and had it until he died in 1937. National hero Michael Collins was said to have had meetings in the pub — it was used in the film Michael Collins.

Very few changes were made for the filming as the original counter and wooden decor from the 1840s have been retained.

A native of Sheriff Street who trained in the Shelbourne Hotel, Des got a lease on Cleary’s in 1995 and bought the pub in 2000. He later built a large lounge at the back while ensuring the traditional bar area in front remained unchanged.

The lockdown has brought its share of financial stress as he must continue to meet ongoing expenses such as insurance costs, mortgage repayments, phone and electricity charges as well as the living expenses of a family of six. He and his two barmen receive PUP payments, while his company receives the standard 10pc of turnover in State payments.

“There is certainly a stress factor involved with meeting financial commitments. And there is the worry about what the pub trade is going to be like when this lockdown is over,” he said.

“Not knowing how long the restrictions will last and wondering if we will be restricted to just 50 people in the pub. It is an ongoing concern and my broker is dealing with the insurance situation in applying for a loss of income payout.

It has also been a challenge for the mental health of publicans. I’m an early riser normally but there have been times when I did not feel like getting out of bed until noon.

“I miss the interactions with people. We’re a very friendly pub and there has always been a lively mix of people with plenty of chat about sport and everything. I think a lot of people miss that chance to socialise. We all need to communicate. The sooner we can reopen, the better.” 

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