Furious Harrogate bars 'united' against 10pm curfew introduced by Government

Harrogate’s bar and pub owners and managers have criticised the Government’s 10pm curfew, claiming it is the final straw for an industry fighting for its survival.

Thursday, 8th October 2020, 3:58 pm

The people who run the town’s nightlife have grown accustomed to overcoming hurdles during the pandemic - much like the rest of society. And they've been broadly supportive of the Government's Covid measures in the past.

But, after battling through lockdown, then the easing of lockdown, their patience appears to have finally snapped following the imposition of new restrictions on the hospitality sector, in particular, the early closing rule.

Kayleigh Thompson, bar manager of the Tap on Tower Street, Harrogate. (Picture Gerard Binks)

With pubs now facing closure in much of Scotland and new tougher measures against pubs and restaurants reportedly imminent for the north of England, the prospects for the sector look even darker since the Harrogate Advertiser spoke to them.

It's also important to note, none of the bar owners the Advertiser talked to had any complaints about the need to take proper precautions in protecting customers and staff.

What Harrogate bars said

The Tap on Tower Street

31 Tower Street, Harrogate

Robert Thompson - owner of The Tap on Tower Street and the independent chain of So! Bar and Eats in Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon - says these are the most challenging times he has seen in his 18 years of running pubs across the region.

He said: “We employ 70 in the local area and have been fighting to keep everyone employed and have a future in this wonderful industry.

“The 10pm curfew has impacted on all our pubs. The physical aspect of the reduction in time has obviously had a detrimental effect and meant we have lost almost 20% of our normal trading hours.

“We will get through it, but in the 18 years we have been running pubs in the area, these are the most challenging times we have seen, and we worry a lot of the industry won’t survive.”

The Tap on Tower Street’s bar manager Kayleigh Thompson said the latest regulation was a huge blow after all the work they had put in.

“Most pubs are following the guidelines to the letter and offer very safe, socially distant environments for people to enjoy a pint and something to eat. But it’s not only the loss in turnover that’s impacting on pubs and bars in the region.

“We all have to rota more staff in to deal with the guidelines with table service, meet and greeting and policing and that makes for a double whammy of reduced sales and higher costs.”

Cold Bath Brewing Co

46 King's Road, Harrogate

Co-owner Jim Mossman said the bar, which had proven successful almost since the moment it first opened its doors opposite Harrogate Convention Centre, was already suffering under the 10pm curfew.

Mr Mossman said: "We had a solid trading period from re-opening through to the latest government restrictions imposed on 29th September.

"However it’s clear that the most recent changes have had a significant impact, most obviously the loss of one of our key trading periods.

"The reality for us as for others is that the requirement to be closed and empty by 10pm has meant that we must call last orders at 9.30pm, and the loss of an hour and a half has had a detrimental effect.

"We do, however, continue to work hard to ensure that we remain safe and legally compliant while maintaining the hospitality that we believe has stood us in good stead since we opened in July 2018.

"We would like to thank all our loyal regulars, and the new friends we have made since re-opening, for their continued support and urge the council and the government to provide the best possible support to us and the sector as we fight the headwinds caused by covid-19 and the related restrictions placed on us by Government."

Fellow co-owner Mick Wren said the new closing time was only one of several negative factors but Cold Bath Brewing Co could probably withstand it for a bit.

Mr Wren said: "The 10pm finish obviously doesn’t help but we can live with it for a short while.

"The problem is throw in the end of furlough, downturn in the weather, the increase in positive testing results and people now having one eye on Christmas it’s not looking good.

"We had a couple of decent months since reopening so it’s not all bad news and we’ll get back to delivering if we go into lockdown again. So that will help.

"You don’t have to book a table , just turn up and we will do our best to get you seated. "

North Bar

2D Oxford Buildings, Cheltenham Parade, Harrogate

Although North Bar in Harrogate is part of one of the most successful, independently-owned bar chains in Yorkshire, it is worried by the new closing time for pubs and restaurants.

So much so, its marketing manager Sarah Hardy, pictured, told the Harrogate Advertiser the curfew had the potential to have “a devastating impact on local independent businesses” and that “it has never been more important to shop local to support Harrogate.”

The North Bar spearheaded the craft beer bar revolution in Leeds, opening its first bar there in 1997.

Boasting six branches in total, when Harrogate’s North Bar opened its doors for the first time in 2016, it was its first foray into North Yorkshire. An organisation which prides itself on having gone to great lengths to meet the Covid regulations, if the North Bar’s hostility to the new curfew rests on one thing it is the feeling that the food and drinks industry has been unfairly singled out.

Sarah Hardy said: “Recent data released by Public Health England showed that 3% of infections were traced back to bars and restaurants.

She added: “After safely re-opening in July with a large sunny terrace, North Bar Harrogate saw the effect of the curfew within days of it being introduced as sales dropped by 50% compared to the same week last year.

“Prior to the introduction of the 10pm curfew we had worked really hard to rebuild customer confidence, which was reflected in strong sales.

“Coupled with the local lockdown in Leeds, the curfew has impacted on customer confidence, and eaten into our trading hours.

“We are also missing the trade from the current closure of nearby Harrogate Theatre.”

The Blues Bar

4 Montpellier Parade, Harrogate

One of Harrogate’s best known bars is also one of its smallest.

The Blues Bar’s reputation has been built on both its unique, laidback atmosphere and its support for live music.

But both have been undermined by Covid and lockdown. Its resourceful owners Simon and Sharon Colgan have remained positive in a year when doing business has been difficult while the nation fights the pandemic.

But recent weeks have seen it hit by a double blow.

First came an order to remove the tables and chairs from the grass outside on Montpellier Hill, which had helped it to counter-act the reduced capacity caused by social distancing.

Then came the Government’s new 10pm curfew, a blow which has left Simon Colgan scrabbling to make ends meet. Mr Colgan said: “A combination of losing the grass seating and the curfew has reduced our turnover by 50% and our costs have increased due to the fact we have to have more staff for the table service.”

Starling Independent Bar Café Kitchen

47 Oxford Street, Harrogate

The owner of Starling Independent Bar Café Kitchen in Oxford Street says the 10pm curfew is an ‘ill thought through’ restriction and fears the impact on businesses could be significant.

While Simon Midgley admits that he is currently ‘doing OK’, he understands the fears of others about the future.

“We are doing okay as most of our business happens pre 10pm,” he said. “But I am fully aware that is by luck not judgement.”

Since opening Starling in March 2017 with 20 years in the food and drinks industry behind him - including 12 years with Knaresborough-based Market Town Taverns - the owner has gone on to win a clutch of awards.

So successful was Starling in 2018, in particular, the bar won Harrogate and Ripon CAMRA pub of the year. In the midst of a pandemic, awards count for little, however, and Mr Midgley’s concerns are for the industry as whole, as much for himself.

Mr Midgeley said: “We are down to 70% of our original capacity but still trading OK, but I know of other very good operators with smaller premises for whom it is much more challenging.

“I personally think the 10pm curfew is ill thought through and also potentially harmful as it will drive customers out onto the street at the same time into an unregulated environment after a few beers.”

Mojo bar

49-51 Parliament Street, Harrogate

In one example of the atmosphere of dismay over the 10pm curfew, the owners of Mojo in Parliament Street, have issued a ban on serving any MP, should they attempt to wander in.

Malcolm Evans, director of Mojo - who launched the Harrogate outlet in 2018 - said the curfew was “murdering the hospitality sector.”

Mr Evans said: “We were trading well all told considering the reduced capacity and COVID procedures. "But the reduction in hours on top has decimated business.”

Simon Cotton

Director of the HRH Group

The Fat Badger pub, Scran restaurant, Yorkshire Hotel, White Hart Hotel

Even one of Harrogate’s most positive voices in the business world - and biggest champions of the town - Simon Cotton is firmly opposed to the new rules.

The managing director of the HRH Group, which owns the Fat Badger pub, the Scran restaurant, the Yorkshire Hotel and the White Hart Hotel, says, on this occasion, the Government has simply miscalculated.

Mr Cotton said: “After all the good support and help for businesses this year from the Government, all of which we’re truly grateful for, I do believe they’ve got it wrong on this 10pm curfew.

“When we’ve already reduced our capacities significantly, to then lose more covers through not being able to take a table after 8pm is just hitting the industry even harder. My belief is that it will cost jobs first and eventually it’ll claim businesses who will be forced to shut their doors.”

What’s more, he said he had yet to see any evidence that the spread of this virus was linked in any way to responsible hospitality venues.

“I just don’t see how hospitality, and many other industries for that matter, should be held accountable for this spread when it’s clearly showing that this isn’t a key driver of it,” he said.

Simon Cotton added that, having spent more than three months training staff on how to manage social distancing, how to sanitise properly and how to ensure to track and trace people in case there is a break out, he felt throwing people out at 10pm to congregate together on the streets was not helping the fight against the virus at all.

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