Cautious excitement at Leeds bars and pubs as city centre venues reopen
It was a quiet start in Leeds city centre as pubs, bars and restaurants reopened for the first time in three months.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced that pubs could reopen from 6am on Saturday, July 4 but people in Leeds seemed to be pacing themselves and there were no queues in sight at lunchtime.
One man drinking in Wetherspoons Beckett's Bank, on Park Row said he had been out drinking since 9am with his friends but admitted it was "very quiet."
Construction worker Brian Middleton, 53, from Leeds said: "We started drinking at 9 o’clock in the Hedley Verity Wetherspoons.
"It was really really quiet but it did pick up a bit.
"We’ve not had a drink for three months and we like a beer so we're planning to stay out all day and go around town.
"There is hand sanitiser everywhere and the staff have been great and have been cleaning a lot.
"I feel very safe and I’d say people just need to use common sense.
"I’ve been going in the pubs for 16 years and I think this will change pubs forever but as long as people are cautious and keep their distance it is fine."
Around the corner, bar staff on the popular Greek Street were gearing up and getting things ready for an expected influx later in the day.
Oliver Stot, Operations Manager at Dakota Hotel, said it was a "mixture of feelings" reopening again but said they had put lots of measures in place to keep people safe.
Mr Stot said: "It is a mixture of feelings opening again and obviously we are very excited but there's a bit of anticipation about how the guests are going to feel and what their expectations are of us.
"I think the whole team is just looking forward to getting back to what we love doing.
"As soon as the guests arrive into reception there will be hand sanitiser on every entry point and the concierge will be advising guests on how we'd like them to socially distance. We've also staggered check-in times and made sure only one party uses the lift at one time.
"General food hygiene is kind of second nature for all the service guys and the kitchen and bar staff but where we used to hide the cleaning practice from the guests we are now trying to do it more theatrically to reinforce to our guests that we are on top of it.
"We will be open to people who want to walk in and have a drink but we do suggest they call us beforehand and book so we don't have to turn them away."
Stuart Bonis, the Group Food and Beverage Manager for all Dakota hotels, added: "We've reduced our number of tables so everything is socially distant and we have additional security to control the flow of movement. Once we are full, we're full and there will be no standing and drinking.
"It's been a long three months and it's been challenging for the team but it's over to the guests now to see how they feel. We know the demand there, you see it in the news that it's going to be like New Year's Eve but it's the control aspect of that.
"We have had a lot of training to make sure everything is in line with Covid-19 policy and there's extra cleaning behind the scenes.
"Doors are open, smiles are on our faces and we're ready to welcome people back."
Over at Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, on Belgrave Street, staff have completely changed the way they operate in order to welcome customers again.
The popular pub is primarily a music venue and such venues have not been allowed to reopen yet.
Chris Impett, 28, from Chapel Allerton, manager of Belgrave Musical Hall and Canteen said: "We are excited to reopen but we have had to put a completely new system in place because we’re a music venue and now we’re operating a bit like a restaurants with table bookings etc.
"It’s been a challenge but we are relishing it. We’ve had to do a lot of staff retraining.
"We are mainly bookings only but we will accept some walk ins if there is space. We had a lot of enquiries and we have managed to fill most of our tables.
"The roof terrace is open for booking only. People have been a bit tentative about that because of the weather but it isn’t supposed to be too bad today touch wood.
"Our capacity has drastically reduced and obviously we have no live music but I think it would be irresponsible for us to reopen as a gig venue at the moment because the nature of our gigs is everyone is close together and sweating. We’re looking at the bigger picture for now.
"We are going to be busy and most of our bookings are between 2 and 10pm.
“It’s a new challenge and we’re all learning so I am sure there will be errors but we will learn from them.
"As long as our customers and staff are happy with their experience I’m happy.”
As well as pubs and restaurants, Mr Johnson also announced that hairdressers and barber shops would be allowed to reopen on Saturday, July 4.
Daisy Cirell, hairstylist at Renegade on Cookridge Street, said: "It has been a very boring three months so we are quite excited to be back and hopefully it all goes really well and we don’t go back into lockdown again anytime soon
"It was a huge response when it was announced that we could reopen.
"Everyone was ringing us, messaging us on social media just desperate to get in contact and get an appointment
"It is appointment only and we have staggered the appointments to avoid too many people at once
"I’m quite pleased with how it’s going so far because it’s normally insanely busy on a Saturday but it’s been really steady
“We have decided to open on Sunday for some stylists to get some extra work in just so we can get to all our clients and remake some of the income we lost. Hopefully we don’t have to do that for too long.”
One man who was pleased he could finally get a haircut was Conor, aged 26, from Leeds,who was queuing at Just Men Barbers in the Merrion Centre
“I'm here because I need a haircut. I think I’ll be waiting a while.
"It’s not been a massive issue over these last 3 months because I’m pretty low maintenance but if I’m honest i haven’t got it cut in about 3 months.
"I was in town anyway and this is my regular barber so thought I might as well. I’ll feel about a kilogram lighter afterwards.”
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