The walk towards the pub feels a lot different to the walk in February to the last pub I reviewed. That was a cold, optimistic night (aren’t they all optimistic in hindsight?), an homage to a pub on the verge of closure. Little did we know then they all were.
Chatham Street on this dark, mid-December Wednesday is busy with volunteers and homeless gathered on either side of a table distributing soup and provisions to sustain rough sleepers. Pedestrians, including me, observe them from behind our face masks. The masks, the crowds, the darkness: it all feels medieval.
In this very different year it’s fitting that the moment of meet-up feels unreal. We have to queue five minutes though we’ve reserved a table. I have to give name and mobile number. Then the second of the two friends I’m meeting for an outdoor pint and meal arrives without a mask. You need one to walk to your seating, and in and out of the pub to go to the toilets, the staff member at the entrance tells him. He’s apologetic but firm. They’re the rules.
‘How can you go into a shop to buy a mask if you’re not allowed in to a shop without one on?’ I ask my other friend existentially. Yet the other friend returns successfully.
Even the ordering is jerky. We tell the staff member serving us that we’ll order drinks but wait to order food when our friend returns. He doesn’t understand and walks away. Another waiter does the same. My phone can’t read the QR code to read the menu. To avoid touching phones my friend has to WhatsApp me the menu.
A review of an outdoor pub experience in winter doesn’t seem valid. Perhaps I should be reviewing the culture of al fresco pints in any weathers. As a perpetually cold creature I didn’t think I’d survive. But I do (like the outdoor coffee culture). I’ve dressed up warmly, braced myself. After several pints, as the temperatures of my body and the December night drop, I put on a hat. Towards the end, I resort to a hot port (non-descript). We’ve all become resourceful.
All pubs have had to adapt and Bar Rua has done so reasonably well. Patrons are relatively well spaced out. The outdoor area is comfortable. The menu is good. The food is promptly served and tasty, a vegetarian burger in my case. The pints taste good, though I declare a conflict of interest: that could be the novelty after all this time. The beer choice, however, could be wider.
Despite the unreal experience (like that any pub visit I’ve had since the big change) the timeless experience of a drink with friends in a pub returns. The taste of beer meeting the sound of a friend’s laughter or familiar sentence comes quick enough.
Chatham Street is quiet as Bar Rua disappears behind us. The helpers and the homeless are gone. For all the wrinkles of an outdoor Christmas pandemic pint, perspective is needed. May everyone be safe and comfortable this Christmas.