It’s been awhile since The Londoner pub in Addison has had the kind of Saturday night they usually have during the hot months of the summer.
It’s 10 minutes to 10 p.m. on Saturday and the Midway Road watering hole is usually packed with people close to its capacity especially during soccer season where indoor tables aren’t easy to grab unless you’re lucky or willing to wait.
The sounds of cheers and chatter are noticeably absent in the far corner of the main floor where the pub has its dart boards and pool table.
The usual hum of a large crowd is so low that you can actually hear the lyrics in songs playing from the jukebox by Oasis and Dinosaur Jr. and tracks for Weezer’s “Blue” album.
There’s only around 30 people. They’re grouped in couples or trios at tables six feet apart from each other as they chat over beers or appetizers from the kitchen.
“We’re trying to adjust for the new normal,” says The Londoner’s general manager Michael Triggs.
Bars and restaurants like The Londoner took the brunt of the economic hit caused by the coronavirus outbreak and the stay-at-home orders that started nationwide at the end of March. While restaurants could scrape together curbside and delivery options, for a long time bars weren’t able to serve even curbside. The second phase of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s economic restart plan allowed bars to open their doors to the public again starting on May 22 even though cases of coronavirus are still being discovered across the state.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 1,935 new patients identified by hospitals last Sunday, an increase from the previous record of 1,888 cases on May 5. At the end of May, the CDC announced that deaths in the U.S. have officially hit 100,000.
The Londoner was allowed to deliver food and strong drinks to their customers during the three-month shutdown order but Triggs says the sales were “abysmal” and business “seemed like it was touch and go for awhile.”
“It was not even 100 percent,” Triggs says. “A good night would be $500.”
The reopening came with new safety protocols for the bar. Tables are spaced out by a distance of six feet or more and have a bottle of hand sanitizer on them. All of the bar stools at the large, wood stained bar have been removed to increase the floor space and keep customers from spending too much time near the bartenders. This past weekend was the first the Londoner was legally allowed to open its darts corner and pool table.
Even reopened, only one weekend has come close to resembling the pub’s old crowds. In the wake of the police brutality protests that made the city of Dallas institute a curfew for its downtown area, bar patrons were pushed to establishments in the county’s outlining areas. The Londoner was one of those establishments that reaped the benefits.
A couple named Patrick and Kelly, regulars at The Londoners, says they felt conflicted about going to the pub but decided to go because Patrick says “we ran through all of Netflix and HBO. We hit the end of the Internet.”
“We were torn because we still want safety,” Kelly says. “We’re used to going out. It’s a drastic change from being shuttered in but we also want to support local business.”
Joseph Reyes, the band leader of the local New Orleans jazz band The Black Powder Vipers, says The Londoner is a regular watering hole for him and his girlfriend Shelise Owens. He’s still not used to see so many open tables at his neighborhood bar and the places his band has started performing at again like. It’s odd to perform at places like The Free Man lounge in Deep Ellum when the crowd for his show is only at 25 percent capacity.
“It’s more than I anticipated,” Reyes says. “I was nervous because I hadn’t been around that many people prior to the COVID outbreak but all in all, it went pretty well. We got some tips out of it and they were generous given that there hasn’t been live music in a couple of months.”
The crowds may return someday when the coronavirus is more under control and the daily number of cases have more significant drops but the general public remains cautious even though bars like The Londoner have the legal right to open again.
Triggs is now looking ahead toward the next weekend. The Dallas curfew has been lifted and on June 3, Abbott announced phase three of his reopening plan, which allows virtually all businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity. Restaurants, which were already permitted to be open at 50 percent, were allowed increase their table size from six people to 10. Furthermore, on June 12, restaurants can up their capacities to 75 percent.
Bar owners like Trigg don’t know yet if on Saturday 75 percent of their customers will actually return. “I think a lot of people are still scared and more uneasy about coming out.”