How safe is it to pop out for a drink? Clara Murray, right, sets off for a taste of drinking lockdown style
PERSPEX SCREENS, QR codes and caution tape are not traditional decor choices for pubs. But they are just some of the social distancing measures that Hackney boozers have put in place since reopening after lockdown was eased this month.
I spoke to landlords and drinkers across the borough to find out how they have been adapting.
Some boozers are taking a cautious approach to the government safety guidelines and their surprising openness to interpretation. At the Prince George in Dalston, laminated pages of rules prohibit everything from paying in cash to swapping seats and petting strangers’ dogs. Visitors must wait behind a rope to enter, which we’re encouraged to think of as being like a “posh members’ club”. It’s perhaps no surprise: with 16 watering holes around London, owner Remarkable Pubs is under pressure to ensure a balance between protecting the public and turning a profit.
Managing director Elton Mouna says its “114 point” (yes, that many) plan for reopening is the result of a “detailed, collaborative” process. But he feels the company has struck the right balance. “We like to think,” he says, “that we have a safe and hospitable not a safe hospital feel.”
Others have turned to technology. At the Forest Road Taproom and Bar in NetilMarket, off London Fields, customers, once seated at the outdoor picnic benches, can scan a QR code to access a virtual menu, where a tap of the finger summons craft beers straight to the table.
Forest Road Brewing director Pete Brown says his team spent over a month preparing to ensure that the new measures, which include two-hour booking slots and a strict sanitising regime, didn’t feel “intrusive”. But it’s been worth it: Brown reports that both staff and customers are pleased with the system – particularly the lack of queues.
He adds: “We aren’t doing what we’re doing to scrape by with the minimum. We know what it feels like to be a customer in this current climate and we’re doing it how we’d want it to be done.”
The Scolt Head in De Beauvoir is one of the few locals to require the wearing of masks when moving around or waiting at the bar. That’s caused some tensions, says co-owner Rosie Wesemann: though many customers “get it”, others have become “downright aggressive” when asked to comply. She thinks that’s partly because of government advice, in which there has been “little strength or consistency in message… we shouldn’t have to make the rules”.
Brown agrees, saying: “The government guidelines are and were entirely loose – almost as if it was intentional to disperse any type of blame if or when things went wrong.”
Lauren Johns, owner-director of the Three Compasses, in Dalston Lane, thinks some pubs have been taking advantage. While she has been sacrificing revenue to maintain social distancing, at other bars “customers are seated close together… there seem to be no measures in place”, which seems unfair.
Drinkers I spoke to appreciate the pubs’ efforts to keep them safe. Dylan Turney, 30, of Dalston, has been to six pubs in Hackney since the reopening and is impressed. “Obviously,” he comments, “it’s going to be hard for anywhere to be perfect, but they manage to do a pretty good job, considering.” He prefers the pubs that aren’t taking bookings, but is enjoying the widespread switch to table service – “I’m lazy”.
Arfan Qureshi, 42, of De Beauvoir, agrees that, while “having the table for [only] two hours was a bit annoying” at his local, in the end “beggars can’t be choosers”.
* Prince George, 40 Parkholme Road, Dalston E8 3AG
* Forest Road Brewing Taproom and Bar, Arch 355, Westgate Street, Hackney E8 3RL
* Scolt Head, 107A Culford Road, De Beauvoir N1 4HT
* Three Compasses, 99 Dalston Lane, Dalston E8 1NH
* Backstory: Pavement poet of Hackney pubs; Helping street people in the virus era; Hackney boozers its way to the top; Haggerston Acorn pub loses out to the wrecker’s ball; Prince George fears ‘bourgeois arrivistes’ in E8 ; Brewer makes a name in Hackney
* All pictures on this page © Clara Murray, and all for sale for reproduction.
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