First drop is the sweetest

The first beer at the bar of the Charles Sturt Hotel tasted pretty good to regular Barry Knight. Photo: Kim Woods.

The rush to get back into the Shire’s watering holes last week was palpable as the doors were flung open in welcome at the clubs and pubs after 11 weeks of closure.

But, breweries caught short with the demand left publicans and club managers scrambling for kegs.

At the Charles Sturt on Friday, retiree Barry Knight was back on his familiar stool, sipping a beer and bantering with his mates – albeit from 1.5m away – after 11 weeks of self-isolation.

“I missed the companionship, having a yarn and seeing my mates,” he said.

Barry conceded having drinkers 1.5m apart was difficult for those a little hard of hearing.

“But when it gets really busy you couldn’t hear the bloke next to you so what’s the difference,” he said.

Barry is looking forward to the day when he can sit next to his mate and have a chat.

At the Narrandera Ex-Servicemen’s Club, patrons lined up on the steps waiting for the club to open at 2pm Friday.

Club manager Rick Boller said the Exies was taking a staged approach to opening. The club anticipates an eventual maximum of 150 people under present social distancing requirements.

“A building as big as this takes quite a bit to shut down and start back up again,” Mr Boller said. “We have had some issues getting beer but new stock is arriving today (June 5) otherwise it will be packaged beer.

“The breweries can’t brew enough, even when we placed orders, I can’t get our number one selling item of Carlton Draught in kegs.”

Mr Boller said the Club was limited to 50 patrons in the first week, with the bistro due to open on June 15.

“We were concerned about opening too early if there was another wave, and restrictions were reimposed so we took a middle of the road approach,” he said. “We are not having any social activities, including dance classes, bingo or raffles until further notice.

“We are restricting our trade to bar trade and only every second gaming machine is operating.”

Mr Boller said the full board of directors was meeting monthly to discuss the restrictions. All patrons must scan their licence, sign in and use hand sanitiser upon entry.

As one of the town’s biggest employers, the club retained its 24 staff on the JobKeeper package.

“We have budgeted for a 60 per cent trade in July so June is a wait and see,” Mr Boller said. “We expect it to be slow transition into visitors coming and that has a lot to do with state borders.

“Going into spring it is important everything is up and running, as that is trade for the whole town.”

Mr Boller said the Big Country Hoedown in late August was still booked to go ahead at the club. Member John Blain was keen to have a beer with his mates at opening on Friday. He said local charities had suffered financially without the regular fund raisers at the club.

Board chairman Neville Wortlehock said the Exies had been in a solid financial position to weather the lock-down but many other smaller clubs may suffer.

“We are lucky we have no major debt – there are a few clubs like the Wagga Commercial club not opening,” he said.

The Narrandera Bowling Club reopened its doors last week to a thankful audience with bowlers taking to the greens however there is no firm date for competition bowls as yet.

Director Vicki Maher said the greens were restricted to 10 players for roll-ups only.

“The response has been good – a lot of members are happy to be here enjoying their companionship again and happy to be adhering to social distancing rules placed on clubs and pubs,” she said. “The Three Greens Bistro is open daily for bookings at 10 people per table and there is full table service.

“Entry is by the main door only and people are asked to sign in and sign out, and sanitise their hands.”

Bistro bookings can be made to Tania Spencer on 0406 534 496.

The Barellan and District War Memorial Club has delayed its opening until Friday, June 12 due to the logistics of restocking in a short time frame. The club is aiming to have a new chef preparing Chinese cuisine for the reopening.

The Murrumbidgee Hotel opened its doors on June 1 with the dining room open for lunch and dinner. The four square metre rule per person applies, and patrons must record their names and contact number at the door upon entry. Group bookings are restricted to a maximum of 10 people, sanitiser stations are set up around the hotel and additional cleaning procedures enforced.

Barellan’s Commercial Hotel and the Royal Hotel at Grong Grong reopened to patrons for sit down meals last week.

At Lockhart, the Ex-Servicemen’s Club re-opened to a maximum of 100 patrons, who are required to be dispersed through the club at four square metres per person.

Morundah publican David Fahey has chosen not to open.

“Nothing has really changed, you can’t stand at the bar and have a beer – at four square metres we can only have 23 in our dining room,” Mr Fahey said. “I still think it’s too soon – I’ll wait to the end of the second wave.

“The state government is saying travel where you like but stay away from people. We have a duty of care to our staff, ourselves and customers so I’d rather tough it out for a couple more weeks and see what happens.”

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