New Brunswick pubs, taprooms officially allowed to reopen
Bars initially not among businesses that could reopen, but province had change of heart
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.
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.
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."