There has been much debate about the reopening of pubs which have been closed since Coronavirus Lock-down measures were introduced last March in Ireland. Places to drink alcohol have been framed as a central part of our culture, and in our economy they employ a large number of people. But what if we used this crisis as an opportunity to change their role?
In addition to being an essential part of the social life of many people of all generations on this Island, a vigilant local barman can be a good judge of when to stop serving someone who is having too much, and having people socialise in a regulated and controlled public space could be in ways much safer than unsupervised private parties.
But, as a nation, we let our guards down in the presence of mind-altering substances including alcohol. There is no doubt a large risk of transmission of a viral disease where people forget to remain socially distant, and where loud voices have to be used to hear others. You can see why the health authorities don’t want to go back to open crowded pubs.
But, what if the industry took this as the time to innovate? Many other countries choose to have their alcohol consumption broken up by the eating of food: think tapas in Spain. Maybe it’s time to do something to change the Irish relationship with alcohol and move away from the pint and packet of crisps, to a glass or two of locally brewed beer with a matching menu of nutritious Irish food.
The local could be somewhere you could pick up a square meal if you were at a loose end, caught without the inclination, time or facilities to cook for yourself. It could be a place where those socially excluded bachelors that sometimes seem to inspire our public discourse on licensing laws can be nutritionally cared for by those self same guardians of sobriety, the barpeople!
If such pubs were to turn over space for kitchens cooking simple, cheap and nutritional food, they could be contracted to provide meals on wheels, or even school lunches.
At the same time, the local humble Irish pub, whether urban, rural or suburban would be there to feed the tourists or passing tradesmen, or even people who were in the middle of finishing something off and didn’t get a chance to go home.
The Irish pub could have a renaissance, and one that was as healthy for our livers and our mental health as it was for the wallets of our bar staff!