Four hour queues and Christmas levels of trade as Doncaster’s pubs re-open with a bang

Some queued for more than four hours. Between them they knocked back thousands of pints.

By David Kessen
Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 6:00 am

But by and large Doncaster’s drinkers are back at the pub and have behaved themselves well as they finally got to buy drinks out again, months after bars were put back into lockdown. Some were even comparing demand to Christmas levels after a busy week for pubs.

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England was put into lockdown at the start of January, after pubs that did not serve meals had already been shut by tier three restrictions late last year.

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O'Donegan's Irish Bar, Hall Gate. Picture: NDFP-20-04-21-Doncaster 9-NMSY

And pub bosses were delighted with trade on their first week back in business, which saw drinkers take advantage of the April sunshine Doncaster has seen for the last week to drink at tables outside venues in the borough, permitted again since April 12.

Josh Wilsdon, who runs the Salutation, South Parade, arrived at work on Saturday to find around 180 queuing at 12noon waiting for the venue to open. There were even queues on the Monday pubs re-opened, and they remained busy for the whole week.

He said: “It’s been really, really busy – non stop. I’ve actually lost my voice from talking so much, and pretty loudly. But it has been really nice to be back.

"It took 45 minutes to be full on the first day.

Andy Hensby, Carl Parker, Andrew Daines and Dave Cowling, pictured at The Hallcross. Picture: NDFP-20-04-21-Doncaster 5-NMSY

"People who have not been out for six months just wanted to go for a drink.

"On Saturday, there were probably 180 in a queue at 12noon. We were full in 35 minutes. We had one group who queued for four and a half hours for a table. They finally got in at 4.30pm, and then stayed until around 10.30pm. As soon as they got a table, everyone cheered them!”

He said they had sold over 5,000 pints by Sunday, and 300 jägerbombs. Chips from the venue’s restaurant had also done a roaring trade.

He felt people had generally been well behaved, although some needed reminding about using masks while on their way to their tables, and that police and council officials had been unobtrusive when dealing with drinkers.

Danny Marr, of Bentley, pictured with Simon Williams, of Woodlands at The Hallcross. Picture: NDFP-20-04-21-Doncaster 7-NMSY

"I think it’s calming down, but the first week, while it has been a novelty, it has been really busy,” he said.

Across the town centre on Hall Gate, pubs also saw a busy time.

Chris Coughlan runs the O’Donegan's Irish pub, and was delighted with the way residents responded to the re-opening.

He said: “It has gone really well, and we’ve had no bother.

"We have started selling pizzas here too, and there have been plenty of people out spending money. I think we are probably breaking even on opening on the outside, and when we are allowed to open up in some of the inside space, things will be really good.

"There was a great atmosphere in town, and no trouble. Everyone behaved. The outside tables gave the town centre a really European feel.

"I gather the hairdressers are all full because everyone wants to go out and have a drink again.”

O’Donegans have been asking people to buy a pizza to get a table reservation and felt that system had worked well. They closed at 10pm midweek, but later at the weekend.

Mr Coughlan said every day had been busy last week, and they had closed this Monday to give staff a break after a hectic first seven days.

He said he was now taking on more staff to cope with the demand.

Other venues on Hall Gate reported busy weeks.

The Hall Cross, near the junction with Thorne Road, had been given permission to put tables outside on the car park next to the pub, and bosses said business had been good. But there will be a limit to the amount of time they are allowed to use the car park space, as the licence is limited to a certain number of dates.

They had also seen some people fail to turn up for table reservations.

A spokesman said: “Are we going to see the same numbers this week? We don’t know.”

Manager Claire Ng said the car park had helped greatly by providing more space for people to sit outside the venue.

Other venues nearby also reported busy trading.

Nigel Hill, who runs Social, said that had been busy all days, especially Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Fiona Smilie, who runs Boogie Bar, which had tables outside, reported they had been busy.

Ballers Sports Bar, on Silver Street, had put a television screen on the pavement so drinkers could also watch the day’s sport, reported manager Paul Pawson.

Venues outside the town centre were also kept busy.

Jane Bushell, who runs The Plough Inn, in Arksey, said: “It's been a very busy first week but it's been lovely to see all our lovely customers and lots of new faces. Everyone that came it stuck to the covid rules as I think everyone is just happy to be out and seeing their friends and family

“The business side of things has been fantastic – we have taken what we would expect to take Christmas week.

“It's been so nice to see so many people supporting their local pub and seeing life back in the old place.”

The Cadeby, in Sprotbrough was busy, but its owner feels venues that operated as restaurants, like the Cadeby, need to fully re-open to thrive.

Gordon Jones, who set up the Speakeasy pub company, said this week had been buoyant in terms of drinks sales, but they remained reliant on the weather.

He said he understood only 60 per cent of pubs were open at present, stoking demand in those who have been serving. He was taking on staff.

He said: "There is great demand. Things are not ideal at the moment, but we’ve got to start somewhere.”

He added he was considering opening the outdoors space at his planned new pub, the Coach and Horses in Barnburgh, this month.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden editor.