Wellington Scoop

“Much, much quieter” in Courtenay Place as bars reopen

Report from RNZ
Pubs and bars are reporting a sluggish first day back after the lockdown, with the fear of going out or perhaps the joy of staying home thought to be a reason for low numbers.

Wellington bar and club owner Matt McLaughlin said they had to turn a few people away to maintain distancing, and while they had all the customers they could cope with it was still not like pre-Covid times.

“Much quieter. Much, much quieter. There’s people walking up and down the streets, so there are people out there, but we still have no pre-show dinners, concerts on, or people going to the movies – and there are a lot less people who are commuting to and from, say, Mt Vic.

“There’s a few people milling around now but certainly not as busy as a standard night that we’re used to.”

Courtenay Place will be closed to traffic on Friday and Saturday night from 10pm to 4am to give people more room to keep their distance.

Earlier report from RNZ – May 21
Please buy a beer – that’s the plea from Wellington bar owners as they reopen their doors today for the first time in almost two months. Forced to wait a week longer before they could open under level two, they still had to comply with three S rules: ensuring that customers needed to be seated, separated, and served by a only one person. They would also be restricted to a maximum 100 people in the venue at a time, and dancing is banned.

Panhead Brewery on Tory street has been making sure tables are properly spaced and putting contact tracing systems in place. Its owner and local Hospitality NZ representative Matt McLaughlin said he was expecting business to be tough.

“We’re going into a market that’s the big unknown but what we do know is that there’s no tourists, we know that only 50 percent of the workforce in Wellington City are coming back to work at the moment.

“Some of those people are reluctant to come to an on-premise environment, we’re going into a cold winter with no events on.

“Our market … at best is probably going to sit at about 50 percent and when your margins are between five and 10 percent, running at 50 percent is, yeah, near impossible.”

McLaughlin said the council had agreed to shut the city’s main nightlife Courtney Place to street traffic over the coming nights to ensure there is enough space available.

“Courtenay Place is going to be closed off … we hope that its’ not gonna turn into a street party because that’s not what it’s all about but we hope poeple will be able to be safe.”

What’s not known today is how many of these establishments will stay standing after the winter, and how many will become another Covid casualty.

McLaughlin asked punters to come support their local operators.

“Come out and support your local operators, Ashley Bloomfield says it’s safe to do so … come on have a few beers and something to eat.”

Down the road at Ivy Bar, owner Steven Mawhinney was getting ready for their reopening – hosting a Drag Show on Friday. Being underground and usually not having many tables has proven challenging.

“The new restrictions are basically a complete opposite of what we are and what we do. We used to only have about six tables in our little lounge stage area and the rest of it was people standing, drinking, dancing.

“We’ve managed to rearrange it and have got 16 tables, we’ve got tables on the dance floor and tables on the stage and we’ve had to train our staff who are normally just used to working behind the bar how to do table service, which none of us have ever done.”

Pre-covid Ivy could accommodate about one hundred people – that’s now been cut in half. Mawhinney said staffing was safe with the wage subsidy for now, but after that one of the six roles may have to go.

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