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‘Sitting room only’ as East End pubs reopen after the big lockdown

PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:42 08 July 2020

Cheers! Pubs reopen at last. Picture: Remarkable Pubs

Cheers! Pubs reopen at last. Picture: Remarkable Pubs

Remarkable Pubs

You need to sign in and leave your name and number when you go into most East End pubs now the lockdown is ending.

Approach Tavern by Victoria Park... Approach Tavern by Victoria Park... "Our capacity is 133 people, but if it rains we lose 36 from the front garden." Picture: Anja Kulessa

The pubs, bars and taverns began reopening on Saturday with government restrictions being partly lifted, while having to put ‘social distancing’ in place with track-and-trace in case anyone later shows Covid-19 symptoms.

But you can’t prop up the bar once you’ve queued to get in — it’s all table service and no standing.

The famous Approach Tavern in Bethnal Green, by Victoria Park, sanitizes the pen offered in a gloved hand to sign every time another customer walks in.

“There was enormous preparation,” pub guv’nor Samuel Brookes revealed. “The company put together a 23-page document a month before government guidelines came out.

“Saturday and Sunday were good for business, but the phone lines went down suddenly and people couldn’t book ahead.”

Approach Tavern ready to open... Picture: Remarkable PubsApproach Tavern ready to open... Picture: Remarkable Pubs

Social distancing is not too bad, seated at tables in the large saloon bar and large beer garden out front.

“Our capacity is 133 people,” Sam added. “But if it rains, we lose 36 from the front garden.”

Just half-a-mile away on the other side of Vicky Park is the Royal Inn on the Park with its restaurant and beer garden, run by ex-Coldstream guardsman-turned-chef Malcolm Patterson and wife Catherine.

“We can take 200 people,” Catherine explains. “We opened at noon on Saturday and in an hour had a long queue waiting for a table that went on all day.”

They put six to a table, nicely spaced out. Most sit outside.

Royal Inn on the Park... Royal Inn on the Park... "We opened at noon on Saturday and in an hour had a long queue that went on all day." Picture: Anja Kulessa

The wage bill is “rising dramatically” to cope with all the safety measures. The couple have 25 staff, including the kitchen with husband Malcolm as head chef, and looking to take on more with trade returning.

Both pubs are part of a group of 16 autonomous businesses working in collaboration and known collectively as the Remarkable Pubs company.

The group is run by Elton Mooner, from Wapping, who recalls: “We took the decision to close two days before the government told us, because it was the right thing to do for public safety. Our strategy is the first to close — but first to open when it’s safe.”

The safety document he created during lockdown has 142 points that he drummed into all 16 pub guv’nors in the group.

“I used a lot of shoe leather going round each pub to explain everything line-by-line,” Elton added. “Then I went through the government’s 48-page guideline with them. You have to take public safety seriously. You can’t just tick the boxes.”

The Birdcage in Columbia Road... Staff tested for Covid regularly, but so far a clean bill of health. Picture: BirdcageThe Birdcage in Columbia Road... Staff tested for Covid regularly, but so far a clean bill of health. Picture: Birdcage

The guidelines seem to cover everything — sanitised pens to sign the track-and-trace at the door, bar staff allowed to wear face masks if they want to and even sanitized beer mats.

Other East End boozers are taking similar measures.

The Birdcage next to Bethnal Green’s famous Columbia Road Flower Market opened on Saturday with regulars having to sign track-and-trace before they got their own table space. Staff are tested for Covid regularly, but so far a clean bill of health for the pub which is also an off-license with a brisk take-away trade.

The Town of Ramsgate on the Wapping waterfront, a tavern since the 15th century once known as the Red Cow, has a skeleton staff of five who have their temperatures tested daily.

“It’s quieter at lunchtime than normal with tourism absent,” assistant manager Jackie Geer tells you: “Normally this is full of tourists as we’re in the history books.”

The tavern at Wapping where a mob put 'Hanging Judge' Jeffreys into 'lockdown' arrest in 1688. Picture: Town of Ramsgate c1930sThe tavern at Wapping where a mob put 'Hanging Judge' Jeffreys into 'lockdown' arrest in 1688. Picture: Town of Ramsgate c1930s

Their place in the history books is Judge Jeffreys, the “hanging judge” from the Bloody Assizes who hanged hundreds in 1685 after the Monmouth rebellion.

He was spotted desguised as a sailor at the tavern waiting for high tide on the Thames to make his getaway during the Glorious Revolution of 1688 after his autocratic master King James II was deposed. A mob put Jeffreys into “lockdown” and summoned the Guard at the Tower of London. The “hanging judge” was later hanged at The Tower.

The tourists aren’t back in Wapping just yet to see where it all happened — so the pub is having to keep tabs on that yarn for a while longer.


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