Irish pubs were allowed to re-open, with COVID-19 precautions in place, on 29th July - and we were very much there. I'll confess I would not have felt comfortable going to a pub or bar in the US or UK at this point, given How Things Are Going There, but since things seem more well-controlled here in Ireland, we opted to take the family out for an early dinner. We duly made our reservation and headed back to The Merry Cobbler for the first time since early March. We chose The Merry Cobbler for a number of reasons, though it's not our nearest pub: first, we knew it was large enough to handle meaningful social distancing inside. Secondly, the food is fantastic, and, closely coupled, the not-just-Guinness (more on that in a moment) beer selection is most welcome. Finally, we wanted to support a pub with outstanding service, and the team there delivered, just as they had prior to lockdown – in fact, it was our last port of call in The Before Times.
Beyond the obvious lack of allowed spontaneity - we made sure to arrive just before our reservation time to maximize our allotted 90 minutes of pub time - what else was new?
There are directional guides on the floor to help drive more-or-less unidirectional foot traffic, and there are dedicated entrance and exit doors. The Merry Cobbler already has a series of snugs and separate tables throughout the pub, so that likely required less rework than many spaces might have required, but we had the section we opted for entirely to ourselves. It's table-service only, and while that's handy whenever we're out with the family, not being able to wander to the bar to see what else is on tap is a minor quibble. To the credit of the waitstaff, they were very much aware of their taplist, so no worries there – and, really, in 90 minutes, unless you are very, very dedicated, how many pints are you likely to get through?
Speaking of pints, having a freshly-tapped Hope Hop-on For The First Time In Forever was absolutely glorious. And it seemed churlish not to also have a Guinness, given that they'd delivered the brand-new kegs only days before, and it was perfect, especially with the wonderful brownie. While it would have been nice to linger longer, that's not much of an option with a smaller child anyway, so we had no difficulty sticking within our 90 minutes without feeling rushed.
I don't think I'd chance a busy, crowded pub with a non-family group at this point, but a relaxing meal, seated far from other people, worked well. Obviously this is only going to work for a subset of pubs, and there are no easy answers there, but hopefully this is a small step forward, and COVID-19 cases will continue to go down, allowing more flexibility. But until there's a working vaccine, it seems like it's possible, with some sensible precautions in place, to support local pubs and breweries in person from time to time.
And as much as I've had the opportunity to try some amazing local beers at home that I might not have come across in a pub in Normal Times, it's hard to beat a fresh pint in its natural setting. I hope to do it again in the not-too-distant future.