A year of personal and professional upheaval, the impact of Covid-19 upon daily life has been vast, the persistent pandemic particularly detrimental upon the local hospitality sector as businesses remain closed in adherence to public health guidelines imparted by the Government.
As the prospect of a return to permanent reopening remains unclear, Michael and Gillian Nugent, Proprietors of The Snug Bar, spoke to the Athlone Advertiser this week on the anniversary of the forced closure of the business, affording their thoughts on the year just passed and what the future holds for the popular premises located at Fry Place on the west side of the town.
“To say it has been a surreal year within the hospitality industry in particular is an understatement. As Covid-19 case numbers became more prevalent in the country, and following discussions with staff members, we initially closed The Snug Bar on March 14, 2020, but little did we think that one year on we would be in a similar position, awaiting clarity from the Government and NPHET as to when we can welcome customers through our doors once again,” Gillian remarked.
Although indefinitely closed, both Michael and Gillian were of the view that it would be a short-term situation, but with daily Covid-19 briefings alluding to the spread of the virus within enclosed settings, it soon became clear that the business would not be reopening as case numbers continued to increase.
“The Covid-19 uncertainty was a source of much anxiety, but thankfully the introduction of the PUP payment ensured that our staff continue to receive financial assistance while the business remains closed for the foreseeable future.
“Although there has been much pandemic related criticism of the Government, they have implemented a number of business grants which have enabled us to look to a positive future when we eventually reopen,” Michael stated.
There was some business positivity during 2020 when The Snug Bar reopened for a ten week period at the end of July. Strictly adhering to social distance guidelines, Gillian noted the enthusiasm amongst the 11 members of staff who were eager to welcome back customers despite the wholly altered working environment.
“With a focus on social distance and public health guidelines as we served our customers, our staff were swift to adapt to their new working environment. Employee conversations were continuous as we strived to ensure that our customers felt completely safe as they enjoyed their time in the bar,” Gillian said.
With a serving capacity for 160 persons, and table reservations now necessary, Gillian noted that this period of opening, while rewarding, was also immensely busy.
“Great credit is due to our staff who adapted as necessary during our ten weeks of opening. Our phone was continuously ringing with customers seeking to reserve a table but due to capacity restrictions there were many occasions when we had to turn away customers with social distance guidelines firmly in mind.
“Through the years, we have established a positive relationship with our neighbours, Pavarotti’s Italian restaurant, who were in a position to cater for our customers’ food needs during our brief period of reopening in 2020,” Gillian asserted.
Early October brought business closure once again, with both Michael and Gillian deciding not to reopen for the brief period of time before Christmas.
“While it was ultimately disappointing to close our business in early October, we decided not to open in the brief period prior to Christmas knowing that January would see the pub closed to custom,” Michael noted.
Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI ) support has been further welcomed by Michael and Gillian as the licensed trade representative organisation continues to liaise with its members with regard to future business reopening prospects.
“The VFI have been fighting our cause from the start of this pandemic and are continuously in touch with relevant information as we strive for ongoing clarity and a date when we will we welcome our loyal customers back to The Snug Bar.
“The rollout of the vaccination programme offers hope and a return to a semblance of normality.
“Personally, I cannot see The Snug Bar reopening to trade before June, it may be even as late as September, but we just have to believe that we will turn the key in our business front door and return to a life to which we have become so much accustomed, complete with friendly customers, in the near future - we are even looking forward to the long and late working nights,” Michael concluded.