New Brunswick

New Brunswick pubs, taprooms officially allowed to reopen

Taprooms and pubs are reopening as New Brunswick enters the fourth week of its COVID-19 recovery.

Bars initially not among businesses that could reopen, but province had change of heart

The Picaroons taproom in Fredericton is reopening Friday with physical distancing measures, arrows on the floors and signs asking people to stay in their bubbles. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Taprooms and pubs are reopening as New Brunswick enters the fourth week of its COVID-19 recovery.

Bars were at first not included among the businesses that could reopen under the multi-phase approach, but when New Brunswick entered the orange phase the provincial government gave them the go-ahead, according to president of the New Brunswick Craft Alcohol Producers Association.

Sean Dunbar, who also owns Picaroons Traditional Ales, said provincial officials had a call with restaurants and alcohol-serving establishments last Friday.

"That was a bit of a nice surprise, but, you know, more of a surprise than we were prepared for," he said.

He needed another week before his taproom in Fredericton could open Friday night. The Saint John location will be opening later this weekend.

Sean Dunbar, president of the New Brunswick Craft Alcohol Producers Association, says he's happy to see the province's general guidelines can apply to restaurants, pubs and taprooms equally. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Dunbar said the province clarified that businesses can open if they can make sure physical distancing and cleaning protocols are followed, and this includes businesses that sell only alcohol and no food. 

"We got clarification at that time of of the the rules, or I guess the the lack of regulation," he said.

"Government's language was I believe, you know, 'We don't want to regulate you out of business. We want you to carry on your business as normally as possible as long as you mitigate the risks.'"

At a Friday afternoon press conference, Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, said restaurants, pubs and bars all have the same liquor licence, so the key when allowing them to open is to make sure physical distancing can be maintained.

'This is a trial'

Kevin Ferguson, owner of O'Leary's Pub in Saint John, said he had to call the Department of Public Safety and make sure himself before deciding to open his doors Friday. The pub will be open for sit-down guests only and will only accept customers up to 25 per cent capacity.

He said one musician will be playing at a safe distance.

"This is a trial," he said.

He said customers will not be able to grab their drinks and walk around the pub to socialize. He said if it becomes clear the pub can't make sure physical distancing is followed, he will shut the business down again.

"It has to be done very responsibly," he said.

Picaroons has hand sanitizer available for customers entering the taproom. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Ferguson said he doesn't expect to be making any profit this year and, at best, he figures the sales will make only a slight difference in this year's losses.

Both Ferguson and Dunbar said they will be asking people sitting at one table if they're part of the same two-household bubble. Ultimately, they'll have to take people at their own words since, Dunbar joked,the province has yet to issue "bubble IDs."

"We're going to respect people when they tell us that they're allowed to sit together," he said.

Dunbar said when the plan first came out it excluded bars from reopening, but he said it was not clear what that actually meant because "bars" are not defined under the Liquor Control Act. Now in the recovery plan, neither bars nor any drinking establishments are singled out.

"It's an undefined concept that's been unclear even, I think, from the first weekend [of recovery]," he said. "It's not correct to say that bars aren't allowed to open because there's no such thing as a bar from a definition point of view."

He said it makes sense for New Brunswick to treat taprooms like restaurants by giving them the same guidelines, but alcohol-serving establishment do have an extra challenge.

"If you add alcohol into the mix, [it] sometimes does loosen judgment a little bit," he said. "We have to be cognizant of that. So we have a big job to do."


Hadeel Ibrahim is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Saint John. She reports in English and Arabic. Email:


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?