'Massive' queues expected to remain as Sydneysiders return to pubs and restaurants

The Old Fiztroy Hotel in Woolloomooloo. Pubs in possession of an awning have been highly popular this week.
The Old Fiztroy Hotel in Woolloomooloo. Pubs in possession of an awning have been highly popular this week.  Photo: Wolter Peeters

In spite of rain, hail and very little shine, Sydneysiders have returned to pubs and restaurants with gusto since the city emerged from its 106-day lockdown on Monday.

"We had a massive queue at The Dolphin as soon as Surry Hills bounced back into action," says Brett Robinson, chief executive of The Point hospitality group, which also operates the just-opened Menzies Bar near Wynyard railway station.

"We filled the Menzies for a soft opening on Wednesday night, mostly with people just walking past and poking their head in.

Bucketty's Brewing Co. in Brookvale has been packed with 200 punters each night this week.
Bucketty's Brewing Co. in Brookvale has been packed with 200 punters each night this week. Photo:

"It's been great to see people out and about everywhere, but especially in the CBD, considering a lot of workers still haven't returned to the office."

Queues to enter venues with a no-bookings policy have been constant throughout the week, especially at pubs in possession of an awning.

Punters endured wet weather for a cold one at watering holes such as Bucketty's Brewing in Brookvale, The Marlborough Hotel in Newtown and Petersham's Oxford Tavern.

Some older locals have not been able to produce the correct vaccination certificate at The Old Fitz.
Some older locals have not been able to produce the correct vaccination certificate at The Old Fitz. Photo: Wolter Peeters

"The Oxford Tav' can fit about 300 people with current COVID restrictions, and we had a line up [from New Canterbury Road] down to the train station on Monday," says James Thorpe, the pub's boss and general manager of Odd Culture hospitality group.

"It was a bit less busy over the next few days, but overall it's been a massive week of trade across all our venues. I can only imagine what it might have been like if it was 30 degrees and sunny … I think we're in for a big one over the weekend."

At Odd Culture's Duke of Enmore pub on Enmore Road, Thorpe says police have asked the venue to try and "kill" the line for hotel entry when it becomes too long.

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"Unfortunately, that's a lot harder than it sounds, but we've put extra security on this weekend to keep the queue under control," the publican says.

Under the NSW government's recovery road map, only people who have been double vaccinated can enjoy the freedom of visiting a pub or restaurant, requiring staff to ask for proof of vaccination.

While the public waited for an integrated Service NSW vaccine certificate to be made available (the app technology was rolled out across the state yesterday), venue check-in was a two-step process to scan a QR code and show a Medicare vaccination certificate.

Manager Tobias Van Pel (right) at Raw Bar in Bondi, which has had a half-hour waitlist throughout the first week of ...
Manager Tobias Van Pel (right) at Raw Bar in Bondi, which has had a half-hour waitlist throughout the first week of Sydney reopening. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Hospitality operators speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald said the overwhelming majority of patrons where respectful and patient regarding the new condition of entry.

"All our staff have been talking about how nice customers have been this week, and just grateful to be back in venues," says Elliot Solomon, chief executive of Solotel group, which counts The Marlborough and Barangaroo House in its portfolio, plus Circular Quay fine-diner Aria.

The two-hatted restaurant copped a torrent of online anti-vax abuse in September when it became one of the first Sydney restaurants to announce it was reopening reservations for vaccinated guests only.

"The reality is that more than 90 per cent of vaccine-eligible NSW residents have had at least one jab, and the vast majority of people understand we're just doing our job by asking for vaccination proof," Solomon says.

"They realise that yelling at hospitality and security staff probably isn't going to change a new premier's mind about public health requirements."

Thorpe says "one or two people" tried to take a moral stand against showing proof of vaccination at The Duke of Enmore, "but nothing too serious".

"Our management staff are trained in de-escalation. Police are also very present on the street to provide support where needed, but overall it's been a really great week.

"However, there have been a few really awkward conversations at [Woolloomooloo pub] The Old Fitz, with some of our older locals who haven't been able to produce the right vaccine evidence.

"It can be a complex process for some people to download the Medicare app on a smartphone, or print off the certificate. We had to turn a couple of our favourite locals away yesterday but, as we explained to them, we didn't have a choice."

At Raw Bar in North Bondi, manager Tobias Van Pel says patrons have been putting their names down on a half-hour waitlist for lychee martinis and tuna tataki.

"We have been so busy, but we make sure we look after everyone and make them happy," he says. "We haven't had any issue with unvaccinated people. Everyone has been understanding and following the regulations."

Van Pel also noted that Raw Bar was still providing a lot of takeaway for half-vaccinated and unvaccinated customers.

Bucketty's co-owner Nick McDonald says his brewery, with a 200-person capacity, has been packed every night this week and has consistently had a queue for a table.

"We only do walk-ins because bookings are too difficult, and rather than limiting people to a two-hour sitting they can stay as long as they like," he says.

"We actually had the police turn up on Thursday night, just to check that no one was giving us trouble. We also have to make sure everyone inside is sitting and they wear a mask to the bar and toilets."

With NSW set to hit its 80 per cent vaccination milestone this weekend, bar and pub owners look forward to allowing punters to stand while drinking when the next raft of freedoms under the recovery road map are introduced on Monday.

At present, anyone drinking indoors must be seated. Premises are required to operate at one person per four square metres indoors and two square metres outdoors.

"The seated consumption thing is just the pits," Thorpe says. "Especially when it's the kind of pub where you want to have a shot at the bar and stand around for a chat. It also feels weird turning down the lights and turning up the music when people have to stay in their chairs."

Solomon says long queues for popular pubs and restaurants that don't take bookings will most likely be around until one person per two square metres is permitted indoors from December 1.

"We would love to be completely open without restrictions, but we understand why they need to be in place," the Solotel boss says. "At least [the reduced capacity] is a nice way for our staff to find their rhythm again before things get even busier over summer."