While London’s road out of lockdown feels a little long and winding right now, and while a lot of the capital’s future freedoms ride on how the current easing of restrictions pans out, we do know a bit more about when you might be necking a pint at your favourite London pub.
In Boris Johnson’s TV address on Sunday May 10, the prime minister stated that ‘at least some of the hospitality industry’ will reopen in July. The government’s follow-up document (called ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’) outlines in a bit more detail what it’s calling ‘Step Three’ on the road out of lockdown, which will take place no sooner than Saturday July 4.
‘The ambition at this step is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including... hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation),’ says the document.
But in truth, that’s looking at things very optimistically. While the absolute soonest you might return to your local boozer would be in well over a month’s time, it’s unlikely many of London’s bars and pubs will be fit to welcome punters while maintaining the correct social-distancing measures – as also outlined in the government guidelines:
‘Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to reopen safely at this point, or may be able to open safely only in part,’ it says.
Many of London’s most atmospheric pubs are diminutive, low-ceilinged, age-old taverns dating back as far as the 1600s, while Londoners undoubtedly have a penchant for cosy little basement bars when it comes to cocktail hour. How these venues would be able to put social distancing measures in place remains to be seen.
And how other larger venues would be able operate at half-capacity and still make their margins work is even more of a dilemma. Especially when the reality is that some of London’s best and oldest bars and pubs are already struggling to survive.
Indeed, many have had to turn to their punters to help fund this interim period (The French House and Bradley’s Spanish Bar among them), while a campaign is now underway to give the hospitality industry a rent freeze under the banner of a #NationalTimeOut.
Having said all of that, Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has told his investors of his intentions to open up the pub group’s 867 boozers and hotels as soon as physically possible. The pub chain boss said the size of Wetherspoon pubs and their ample gardens would make social distancing possible when the time comes. He was hoping government restrictions would ease ‘in or around June’ when he made the statement at the end of April, and so it’s likely the pub group will be one of the first to attempt to open once ‘Step Three’ is officially announced.
Other London pubs with large beer gardens are likely to be among the first to open up to some extent – even if it’s just their gardens – this summer, too, with the government significantly less wary of outdoor, socially distanced interactions than of those taking place in enclosed spaces.
But if our small, independent pubs and bars don’t get the support they need in time, for them, it’s more likely to be last orders than reopening time this summer.
Read all about our Love Local campaign, supporting London’s pubs, bars and beyond.
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