For this month’s Member Spotlight, we hear from Lewis Farrell, owner of Bacchus Late Bar on Union Street, who, despite a hugely challenging year were able to hit the ground running as soon as restrictions lifted.
“To say the last year has been a challenge would really be an understatement for the hospitality sector, even more so for independent businesses like ours, and to finally be able to open our doors as a functioning nightclub again after over a year is real relief to myself and all my staff here.
In March 2020 our entire team were operating on the presumption we would likely never be opening our doors again – and a lot of us resigned ourselves to the awful reality that many of our fellow workers in the late night industry unfortunately saw come to pass over 2020/21. I’m beyond proud to be able to say that I have not had to lose a single worker due to events of the pandemic – although this hasn’t been without some difficult weeks and tireless effort for the team along the way.
Looking back at the history of Bacchus in all it’s incarnations and drawing inspiration from how we would have operated some 30-40 years ago, along with our smaller space, this allowed us to survive as a late bar environment, and so we were lucky to be able to open temporarily back in last July under a slightly revised model. However we suffered numerous crippling restrictions into the autumn; with not being able to serve food, and most onerously the 10PM curfew that proved to be the final blow for many later trading venues across the sector. By February 2021, the Night-time Industries Association revealed in a consultation that 4 in 5 nightclubs were at risk of a complete closure, and that the industry itself could be on the brink of extinction. I felt terrible because I felt we’d been painted into a corner by an increasing swathe of governmental mandates and knee-jerk litigation – and I know I’m not the only licensee that felt our industry had been unfairly victimised throughout the process. Nonetheless, we persisted – and while as a business we remained mostly radio silent during the off months, a lot of us were working behind the scenes to renovate, repair and decorate a lot of parts of our venue and bring on board new promoters and DJs so that when we would be able to open again, we’d be 110% ready.
In the run up to Monday 19th July, I was apprehensive of how the public would respond to the doors being flung open for the night-time economy once more. Had people’s tastes and choices changed over the last year without these types of venue open? Will people want to embrace re-entering a space like ours once more? It’s obvious that COVID-19 hasn’t simply ended over night, and I’m sure there will be more challenges in the coming weeks and months – but the response we’ve had since re-opening proper from 00:01 on Monday 19th July has been so overwhelmingly positive. To keep our staff and customers safe, our capacity is still strictly managed to help everyone in attendance feel confident, and a reinforced cleaning regiment operates as before – and while we’ve not had a chance just yet to return to a full bi-weekly calendar, just to have the volume of people returning, and excited to be back out again, that has been really special for all of us.
The support for us locally has been overwhelming since the pandemic first took hold, and it makes me so grateful that I still have conversations with people who are so happy to see us back open again – that we survived – and having the returning staff and DJs old and new all amped up and ready to go. We’ve definitely been able to hit the ground running and fortunately operate as before, opening seven days a week. Looking forward – I’m still in the process of launching new club nights and residencies, and the feedback has been great – I’m also planning to get more live music going towards the end of the year once more also. I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to offer the diverse and exciting array of club nights we are known for again very soon.”