by Colin Campbell
THE 10pm curfew on pubs introduced on Friday meant for would-be revellers the city centre drinking night was over before it had properly begun. And because of the new restrictions in a generally quiet precinct it seemed many people did not venture out at all.
By 9.30pm most bars had only a thin smattering of customers left nursing their drinks. And there was no semblance of a rush for last orders before 10pm. Those who were there cleared out before the new witching hour to make their way home. Noise, drunkenness or normal Friday night reacousness was notable by its absence.
When lockdown began in late March the Friday night city centre was dark and completely empty. As we reported at the time, it was an unsettling scenario but was not without its own unique and eerie fascination.
When the pubs reopened again in July it seemed to be another clear sign that we were past the worst and there would be a cautious and steady return to some kind of normality.
Unfortunately, all too soon we were reporting that caution and steadiness played no part in the re-emerging weekend nightlife scene. As the booze flowed freely there was a completely predictable breakdown in any trace of adherence to “the rules”. Queues formed shoulder to shoulder for entry to some pubs and social distancing was rarer than a teetotal miser buying a round.
During the day the centre was all about face masks and rule-following.
At night it turned into a virus free zone.
There will be no return to that bizarre state of affairs anytime soon and probably until the winter has passed and even into the spring, if then. A 10pm curfew may not seem that much to the uninitiated but it completely alters the mood and atmosphere of the night. For those used to an open all hours city centre 10pm was around the time the night began, not when it ended.
Some members of the licensed trade have argued that the curfew is unnecessary and it will play no role in halting the spread of the virus.
The financial desperation of pub owners is understandable and there has to be an element of sympathy for them.
But the difference a pub curfew will make is to drastically curtail the alcohol induced collapse in social distancing and the hugging, embracing and general hoopla which became more vigorous the longer the night progressed.
Whether or not it will lead to a surge of house parties remains to be seen, but both police and neighbours will be on the alert for that.
There was a time of course when pubs closed at 10pm anyway. In those days, at the Ordnance, the Eagle, the Crit, many others long gone, and of course the Tarry Ile, Glenalbyn, the Gellions and the Phoenix, there would be an almighty rush for last orders, with mainly male customers throwing whisky down their throats as fast as they could raise their elbows.
In that era,10pm closing was at the decree of the town’s civic fathers, a significant proportion of whom took a stern temperance-minded approach to pubs and alcohol.
Those benign days are long gone, but 10pm closing has returned, decades on. And now it’s the coronavirus that’s viciously calling the shots.