I went on a socially distant night out in Leeds on Super Saturday - and it wasn't what I expected

Greeted by staff in full PPE and plastic gloves, we shuffled inside one-by-one before removing our masks and thoroughly cleaning our hands at a sanitiser station.

By Abbey Maclure
Monday, 6th July 2020, 11:52 am
Updated Monday, 6th July 2020, 11:56 am

But this wasn't a trip to hospital or the dentists, it was simply the new normal for a night out in Leeds - preparing to enjoy a socially-distant cocktail at 3pm, ordered from a bartender in a face shield behind a plastic screen.

I went on a socially distant night out in Leeds on Super Saturday - the day our city's bars, pubs and restaurants reopened after three months of lockdown.

With a warning that police were prepared for New Year's Eve-style celebrations, I was worried it would be mayhem on the streets.

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A night out on Super Saturday - the day our city's bars, pubs and restaurants reopened

But the night was nothing like I expected.

Bars and restaurants are operating at reduced capacity and I didn't want to get caught out in the crowds and queues on the street, so booking this night out can only be described as a military-style mission.

A week before Super Saturday I drew up a list of our favourite bars and pubs in Leeds city centre and hammered out booking requests.

Most city centre bars were already fully booked and some venues, such as Fibre, made the last-minute decision not to reopen.

Gareth Allan, waiter at The Brotherhood, serving customers wearing protective gear

But after back-and-forth emails with multiple places, we had eventually lined up our plans for the night: pre-dinner drinks at Box, a meal at Turtle Bay followed by drinks at Jakes and Manahatta.

This set us back a whopping £135 in booking fees before we'd even got out.

Many of Leeds' local pubs and indie bars, including Jakes, are operating a free booking system. But at Manahatta it was a £90 deposit, which can be claimed back on drinks but not refunded.

Fast forward to Super Saturday and we were dressed up, hand-sanitiser and masks at the ready, booking our taxi to our first stop.

Queues outside Beckett's Bank, Greek Street, as pubs reopen in Leeds

Our taxi had a protective plastic screen which the driver told us he'd made himself, which put us at ease as much as the driver.

Now, a lot has changed at bars. We were greeted by management, who manned the door with bouncers at all times and took us to our table before explaining the new rules.

Staff were cheery and absolutely fantastic - regularly cleaning and making the rules super clear. Many told us they were genuinely happy to be back at work and resume normality.

At Box, Jakes and Manahatta there was a two-at-a-time policy at the bar, which had protective perspex screens and clear markings in place for where to queue up.

Because bars are letting in a tiny proportion of their usual capacity, there was rarely a queue and we were able to maintain a safe distance from other revellers.

Hand-sanitiser stations were dotted around venues and every other table was out of use.

The council has prepared bars for opening and music was kept at low levels to stop people having to shout to make orders and increasing the risk for bar staff.

Maybe this is a sign I'm getting old, but it made for a perfect atmosphere - we could sit down all evening, have a good natter and not worry about shouting over the music, being crushed by crowds or having a fight to get to the bar to order a drink.

With such a stark police warning I was expected mayhem out on the streets for those who hadn't made the time to book, with big queues and rowdy crowds (which were seen in parts of London).

But from 7pm to midnight while we were in the city centre, we didn't witness any real trouble.

We watched one group of men being kicked out after borrowing another person's phone to take a picture and refusing to give it back when bar staff politely, but firmly, told them this was breaking social distancing rules.

We also had to ask one (very drunk) girl to stand back when she tried to sit on our table.

But from what we could see, everyone else was doing their best to keep themselves and others safe - standing back to let us walk safely in the door or up stairs, queuing mindfully and listening to the instructions of bouncers and management.

I'm proud of Leeds and hope we can keep supporting our restaurants and bars while doing everything we can to keep infection rates down and keep our city safe.