'It is so dreary': Pubs adjust to 8pm closing time

Dublin is a ghost town as new Covid-19 restrictions come into force

The ghosts of Christmas past came haunting the high ceilings of Doheny and Nesbitt's pub in Dublin's Merrion Row on Monday night.

As the clock struck 8pm, and closing time, some of the regulars burst into Adeste Fidelis in the original Latin. There were six of them and, aside from two men in a snug, they were the last ones left.

Custom decrees that eight o’clock is going-out time, not going home. In pre-Covid Christmases, Doheny and Nesbitt’s would be heaving and you might find a cabinet minister or even a taoiseach holding court in the corner.

Barman John O’Brien, who has worked in the pub trade for 42 years, said he has never seen anything like it at Christmastime before, unless of course you count last year, the first pandemic Christmas.


“It is so dreary,” he says, while questioning why the pubs are closing when the Luas he came to work on was packed.

Storied pubs

This part of Dublin hosts three of the city’s most storied pubs, Doheny and Nesbitts, O’Donoghue’s and Toner’s. In normal times the taxis would be queuing up outside waiting for their passengers, but on Monday night there are just a few stragglers sitting down in the outside dining space, rendered redundant by the latest restrictions.

O’Donoghue’s is slightly more full, but it is all relative. The snug under the window would normally be packed with the finest traditional musicians, andlate-night tourists would be craning their necks to get a glimpse of the performers. Now, a couple sit on their own having a quiet drink.

"We are just happy to be here," says Adam Clarke from Manchester, who loves Ireland so much he decided to travel even while knowing the pubs were closing at 8pm. "We are sick of all the Covid stuff."

Diarmuid Shiels, clutching a pint of Guinness, proclaims ironically that the 8pm closing time is a good thing. "It gives moral control to the dissolute of the world."

Christmas plans

Across the road in Hugo's Restaurant, manager Gina Murphy is contemplating the ruin of her Christmas plans. There are 32 people on the Monday night before Christmas. In pre-Covid times, she would expect a full house of 180 covers.

She is closing the restaurant on Christmas Eve and letting her staff go temporarily until the restrictions are lifted and she can trade normally again. Her business has been hit with a tsunami of cancellations, 4,700 in total over the Christmas period.

It is hard, she says, to enforce the 8pm closing time even when people arrive at 6pm. Nobody wants to be rushed for their evening meal.

Jennifer Moroney, who has flown back to Ireland from Florida where she lives, has dined to show solidarity with the owner and her staff.

“It is ridiculous. How are businesses going to survive another year of this?” she said. “We have been open 100 per cent in Florida for the last year. We were in Doheny and Nesbitt’s earlier and I have never seen a pub so empty at Christmas.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times