A couple of weeks ago, I headed to the local bottle shop to buy a six pack of beer for a Friday night drinking session with some colleagues over Zoom (I need not have bothered, as I decided to switch after a couple of stubbies to red wine – which is my poison of choice at home).
At the bottle shop, I mentioned my evening intentions to the attendant, and he remarked that I was the third person that afternoon to tell him that was what they were planning for the evening.
Which does indicate a lot of how we are coping with the lockdown (is that what we should call it, or is there a more technically accurate term that spin doctors will insist upon?). Are people drinking more, or is it just that people are not drinking in public? Pubs, bars, and restaurants are all closed, which means that the opportunity for civilised social drinking has disappeared. Zoom has suddenly become the communication medium of the Friday night boozer.
What happens to all those pubs, bars and restaurants between now and when it becomes safe for them to reopen is a rather troubling question. I do not want to see otherwise successful businesses going to the wall, especially not those which have long histories.
When you look at the pubs of Melbourne, for example, most of those in established suburbs date to the 1860s or 1870s. I believe that the pubs of Footscray, which I know best, after those of central Melbourne, date to the 1870s, and that only half of those which existed when I first came of legal drinking age in 1987 remain extant, the rest being converted to apartments or totally new developments, or even (as in the late, misnamed Bayview) a car park.
Pubs are places with long social histories of the neighbourhoods in which they stand, and people have long and fond memories of times they have spent in pubs, especially when they were younger and more foolish.
I fear that many long standing pubs will not reopen after this pandemic is over. It is getting harder and harder for them to remain viable, even with clever owners who can draw in clientele with gastropub themes or poker nights, or cynical management with large poker machine rooms where the bistros used to be.
Aside from the pubs, what about the bars which are opening up in all sorts of locations, and which require less room and fewer expenses? In Footscray in the past few years, bars which have opened include Mr West in Nicholson Street Mall, Bar Josephine, Sloth Bar, Little Foot, and at least three others.
In other, more inner suburbs, like Carlton, Fitzroy, Richmond, Collingwood, South Yarra, the bar and restaurant scene is much older and more established. Will the pandemic hollow that out?