Publicans set for extended tourism season

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HERE COMES THE SUMMER Westport publican and restaurateur Tom Bourke, proprietor of The Towers at Westport Quay, has reinstalled a large stretch tent in his outdoor area to cater for outdoor dining in all types of weather.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

West Mayo publicans excited about reopening

Oisín McGovern

LEADING up to yesterday’s reopening of outdoor hospitality, there was very much a sense among West Mayo publicans that this time, things are different.
While the weather may be unpredictable, the long days and continuing vaccine rollout has been a ray of hope for publicans who have suffered one of the longest lockdown in the world.
Those who spoke to The Mayo News last week had been spending the last number of weeks and days renovating their premises for outdoor dining and drinking.
Far from simply pitching a marquee and a few stools outside the pub, some pubs have had substantial work done in advance of the partial reopening.
Myles O’Brien, owner of The Tavern in Murrisk, reckons he will have ‘no change out of €40,000’ by the time his renovation works are complete.
The award-winning gastro pub has recently installed a heated outdoor dining area complete with its own barbecue and draft system, as well as television screen and sound systems.
When the Clew Bay establishment opens on Thursday next, it will boast 16 outdoor tables for six people each.
Myles says that this is a permanent investment in his business rather than something that was done to simply comply with government regulations.
“It’s going to be a permanent fixture for summer and autumn,” he says.
“It’ll be ideal for weddings afterwards with the barbecue area and the covered area with its own draft system so you don’t have to have them in the pub itself.”
With bookings looking strong for the coming weeks, Myles believes that the summer season will be a successful one.
“It’s a relief that we can reopen, but I wish we could all open fully,” he says, referring to the fragmented reopening of hospitality.
“I can’t see the reasoning behind it, but the government has been good with its supports.
“For my staff I’m so glad that 98 percent of them have stayed with me. It’s for them to get back to work and full-time wages, and our own family as well.”

Indoors and outdoors
FOR one pub situated in the heart of Westport’s Quay, legal indoor dining has already begun.
As well as boasting a large outdoor area, The Towers gastro pub also provides accommodation in six apartment units.
Under the current guidelines, this means that lodgers – who booked a long time in advance - can dine and drink indoors with social distancing in place.
Tom Bourke from The Towers senses an optimism that has absent from previous reopenings.  
“There’s a lot of optimism. People are feeling that this is the last lockdown, they feel that they won’t have to close again with the vaccine, it’s given people a lot of hope,” he says.
“Most publicans and hoteliers that I’m talking to feel like the last lockdown has happened and that it’s going to be okay from here.”
Restauranteurs and hoteliers like Tom have spent the time in lockdown doing up their rooms, creating new menus and training and upskilling staff on Covid protocols.
The Towers is also well equipped to accommodate outdoor service with room for up to 250 if the weather is fine.
While describing the contrasting rules for hotel dining and restaurant dining as ‘a two-tier system’ Tom believes that the 2021 summer season will be even longer than usual.
“I definitely think summer will run into autumn, it’ll be a good autumn right up to November,” he says.
“People have money, they want to spend it, they want to go places. Westport is one of those destinations. Westport has that uniqueness where every weekend is relatively busy.
“There’s €12 billion in savings in Ireland, that has to be spent,” he adds.

‘A lot of obstacles’
The wait for traditional pubs such as Danny’s Bar has been particularly arduous, with some only opening for 15 days since March 2020.
Situated on Castlebar Street, Danny’s is a popular watering hole for sports fans and revellers making their way to The Castle night club just a few metres away.
Bar owner Danny Scahill welcomes the opportunity to open his partly sheltered outdoor bar which he had been working on before lockdown.
However, he says challenges will persist for some time to come.
“It’s exciting and it’s good that we get to open, but there’s a lot of obstacles in place,” he says.
“You have probably three times the staff with the table service … and you’re operating at 40-50 percent capacity, and that’s all weather dependant too.
“I’m looking forward to July a little bit more, when every place is open,” he adds, referring to July 5 when all pubs can open for indoor service.
“There’s a lot of people calling, texting, looking to book through Facebook, but I can only cater for certain numbers, There’s going to be some people upset because you can only fit in a certain amount. It’s going to be hard turning people away.
“Preparation-wise, it feels like I’m starting off from scratch again and taking over the pub for the first time,” he says. “It’s kind of anxious but exciting at the same time.”
Like many publicans, Danny looks forward to the day that the masks come off and he can see the smiles on the faces of customers once more.
“People I’ve been talking to have been very supportive. They are looking forward to going out and seeing each other again. I talk to a lot of people over the phone, but a lot of people I haven’t seen for the guts of a year,” he adds.
“It’ll be good meeting up again, but everyone seems to be fairly positive.”