O’Sullivans pub in Crookhaven remains shut – for the time being (Photo: E. Hebeker)
10 June 2020

What is next for the Irish pub?

Ireland | Hundreds of pubs in the Republic of Ireland could open their doors to the public at the end of June, due to a loophole in the government’s phased reopening of the economy.

At the moment, pubs are not scheduled to reopen until Phase 5 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, provisionally set for 10 August 2020, provided they can adhere to strict social distancing measures.

However, restaurants and cafés have been given the nod to open for business on 29 June under Phase 3 regulations. This is six weeks earlier than the pubs and has angered those publicans, who don’t have a restaurant licence.

The Republic of Ireland shuttered its 7,000 pubs on 15 March, ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, sending 50,000 bar staff into redundancy. Lockdown rules in the Republic were among the strictest in Europe. But Ireland, a country of 4.9 million people, still recorded over 1,600 deaths from coronavirus until the end of May.

Will pubs be the same after lockdown?

Regardless when pubs will reopen, the changes caused by the covid-19 pandemic are of a different kind to anything Ireland’s publicans have seen before. Measures put forth by the country’s two trade associations include no live music, no DJing, no dancing, no standing at the bar. Table service only. Even time limits on customers have been suggested. 

James Mc Cauley, an Irish academic, has pointed out that “the practice of social drinking in Ireland’s public houses is a cultural activity that has a history and pervasiveness deeply entrenched in the Irish psyche.”

But, like elsewhere, “the survival of pubs is contingent on the business model of high customer footfall at weekends and peak season, a model highly questionable in the short-term social distancing era.” He wonders: “Can they survive the choppy economic waters that lie ahead? Some may not. Marginal pubs that were already struggling will be reluctant to invest money in the current climate, while some lifestyle publicans may see now as the natural time to depart the trade altogether.”

Good times gone?

Mr Mc Cauley is not alone in pondering “how the new spatial configuration and necessary public health compliance measures within pubs will impact the unique Irish pub experience, … which depends on intimacy and social interaction?”

Surely, plenty will miss “the ‘craic’, the highly charged atmosphere of blather, blarney, fun, and music that characterises the Irish pub at full tilt” (John Spain on irishcentral.com). For others, however, it will be a welcome transition to a more civilized and healthy future.

Perhaps this is the time to bring back a particular Irish pub invention – snugs – albeit as Perspex dividers. Introduced in the 19th century, snugs best compare to wooden confessionals or one seater cubicles, replete with a door or a curtain, where a solitary punter or an unchaperoned female could drink themselves into oblivion, if they so desired, without anybody noticing. Alas, very few Victorian snugs have survived pub renovations and remodellings. 

The changes brought about by covid-19 can be seen in two ways: as a disaster for Ireland’s traditional pub culture and, by extension, the Irish themed-pubs world-wide, or as a chance to reassess Ireland’s licensing laws and to figure where they should be going when all this is over. 

Brauwelt International Newsletter

Newsletter archive and information

Mandatory field