Coronavirus: Grogan’s pub among several to close for two weeks

Management say small size means impossible to ensure recommended social distancing

Dublin business owners say turnover is down more than 50 per cent due to coronavirus concerns. Some are providing hand sanitiser and enforcing social distancing measures, while others are closing down for the next fortnight.

 

Grogan’s, one of Dublin’s fabled literary pubs, is among several pubs that have announced they are closing their doors for the next fortnight due to coronavirus restrictions.

Grogan’s, also known as the Castle Lounge on South William Street, has been a haven for artists since it was taken over by Cavan publican Tommy Smith and his business partner Paddy Kennedy in 1972.

It quickly built up a reputation as the successor to McDaid’s as Dublin’s most prominent bohemian pub. Its habitués, according to singer Christy Moore in his memoir, included “off-duty pimps, robbers and thieves, poets, actors, saints and spoilt priests”.

Doubling as an unofficial art gallery, with many artists displaying their art on the wall for sale, customers love the intimacy and old-school cosiness of the pub.

It’s that very intimacy that has prompted joint owner Donal Smith, the son of Tommy, to close the pub as of midnight tonight for the next fortnight.

Grogan’s, he has concluded, is simply too small to adhere to the Department of Health guidelines that people should keep a recommended two metres from each other.

Such a stipulation would be difficult in a big pub; impossible in one the size of Grogan’s with its little nooks and crannies. Besides, he adds, keeping that distance apart defeats the purpose of going to a pub.

The pub was reasonably full on Saturday afternoon with drinkers gathering around its little partitioned enclaves while a few regulars supped silently at the counter. Outside a large group of men sat under the awnings at the side of the pub enjoying what has passed for a spring day recently. So much for social distancing.

Mr Smith said he made the decision after consulting with Mr Kennedy who remains a partner in the business.

“It’s been playing on my mind for the last couple of days,” he said. The pub has closed before, once during Hurricane Ophelia and also during the Beast for the East, but only briefly.

“We’ve never seen anything like this, ever,” he suggests. Tommy Smith died last month at the age of 78 and warm tributes, including an obituary in The Irish Times, testified to his reputation as one of Dublin’s great publicans, but even he never had to confront the present circumstances.

“We have to do this, to try and get a handle on it. It’s impossible to keep people two metres away from each other,” Donal Smith said.

He and Mr Kennedy intend to“take the hit” and continue to pay the five full-time and nine part-time staff who work in Grogan’s.

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“It’s not about the money,” he says. “It’s about the health of the staff. Their parents could be older. We had to think about this. This is serious for everyone. Look at what happened in Italy. We have to contain this.”

On Thursday the Government called for gatherings of more than 100 people indoors and 500 people outdoors to be cancelled.

However it has been left up to pubs to decide themselves if they will close or limit the numbers they allow into their premises as part of efforts to deal with coronavirus.

However on Saturday the State’s Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, delivered a strong warning about compliance with social distancing measures. “There are a lot of anecdotal reports of busy restaurants and pubs. It’s important to get the message out. Listen to the message, take personal responsibility… reduce as much as possible social activity.”

Another pub set to close is Anseo. In a statement on its Facebook page on Saturday, Anseo on Camden Street’s management said “after discussing the situation at length” it too has decided to close until March 29th.

“This is not a hasty or panicked decision though it is a very difficult one, Anseo is a small family business and is our and our staff’s livelihood.”

Cork

One of Cork’s most successful publicans has decided to temporarily close over a dozen of his pubs in Cork for the next two weeks in response to calls for a public shut down to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Benny McCabe, who owns the Rising Sons Brewery on Cornmarket Street and The Crane Lane Theatre as well as such landmark Cork pubs as The Oval, The Mutton Lane Inn, El Fenix and Sin E, made the announcement via Facebook.

In a statement posted today on Facebook, Mr McCabe said he has decided to close the pubs, which operate as Cork Heritage Pubs, until the end of March in the interests of his staff, his customers and the wider community in Cork.

“Folks - Tonight will be our last night serving pints across Cork Heritage Pubs including Rising Sons until the end of March,” said Mr McCabe in the Facebook post this afternoon.

“We have worked on building this business over the last 25 years with the custom and support of the people of Cork and now is the time for solidarity across the city and wider regions with our healthcare workers and emergency services,

“Cork is a great City and we look forward to bringing you a couple of new venues and a new brewery over the next 12 months, better days are always ahead and I’d like to thank my family and partners and staff for everything to date, I know a lot are looking forward to the break in one way so they can focus on family etc.

“Whether you are in business or worried about rent then contact your bank or landlord and of course suppliers and they will work with you and that’s a great comfort to all. Mind yourselves and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”

Speaking to The Irish Times Mr McCabe said his company, which has around 300 staff on its books, will continue to pay their employees for the duration of the two week shutdown which has been in planning for the past ten days or so.

“The staff won’t be affected in that they will still have wages - they are not being laid off and people will be paid,” said Mr McCabe, adding that very few pubs in the trade will make profits this year because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr McCabe said that his decision to close his 13 premises was born primarily out of a sense of social responsibility in that he believed closing the pubs was the right thing to do to try and curb the spread of Covid-19.

“I think the situation is moving faster on the ground than people think and I’m not going to wait for something to happen next week - we have a lot of older customers and I don’t want to be known as the fellow who stayed open.”

He instanced what was happening in countries such as Italy, Spain and Poland where bars are being shut and it was seeing such developments that prompted him to begin planning this shut down some ten days ago.

“We spoke to the powers that be and we got the relevant information for the Revenue Commissioners, we spoke to the banks and Cork City Council and all we are doing is pressing ‘Pause’ on our business for a period.”

“It’s not a catastrophe but it is inevitable there’s going to be a shut down here too like on the continent and I think it’s the right thing to do for the integrity of our business and take it on the chin and do it now

“But just to leave you with one thought - exactly 100 years ago this year, Cork city was burnt to the ground and the city survived and came back and we will survive this and come back too.”

The move comes just days after the Cork Branch of the Vintners Federation warned of the impact of Covid-19 on the pub trade.

Chair of the Cork City Branch of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, Michael O’Donovan who said publicans in the city were facing a difficult period as people avoid large social gatherings on foot of government advice.