After two years of closures, reopenings and curfews, Irish pubs are daring to dream of busy bars once again.
The Irish Government has announced a major reopening of the country after weeks of tough restrictions introduced amid fears over the Omicron variant.
Covid limitations on the hospitality trade, including the 8pm curfew, will lift on Saturday.
In Dublin’s pubs and nightclubs on Friday, there was a sense of hope but also some apprehension at the latest twist in Ireland’s struggle with Covid-19.
Gary Cusack, owner of the Mulligan’s pub in Dublin city centre, said: “It’s a funny one, how quick it has changed from restrictions to all of a sudden a free-for-all.”
He said the pub could adapt relatively quickly despite, as Mr Cusack admits, being a “bit tight” for staff.
While restrictions on hospitality end on Saturday, he said he believes that it will take longer for people to embrace a return to normality.
Mr Cusack said: “It will take a while. People are used to table service. In a full pub, there will be certain people who will be wary about that. It will be different. We’re two-and-a-half years doing it this way.
“All of a sudden, to go back to the old way – not checking at the door, coming up to the counter to get your drinks, sitting at the bar – it will be all new.”
Mr Cusack, who had Covid-19 over the Christmas period as Ireland reported record-breaking case numbers, said he was worried for his customers and his family.
“It’s not so much me, it’s my family around me that I’m more worried about. My wife’s parents are a good age, so you have to be cautious about that,” he said.
Ian Redmond, the owner of the Tramline nightclub, had only enjoyed several weeks of trading before concerns over Omicron shuttered the venue once again late last year.
“I’m feeling a sense of nervousness and trepidation that finally we might be at the end of this after 23 long months of being closed,” he said.
“We did get to open for a 47-day period, we traded 44 nights. It was absolutely fantastic to see the trepidation on these 18, 19-year-old faces who had never been to a nightclub before.
“They walked in the doors here to get hit by the sound from the DJs playing on the stage. It was just fantastic.”
“There will be even more new 18-year-olds over the last couple of months that will be coming to Tramline for the very first time,” he predicted.
The nightclub on Friday was in the middle of a minor renovation.
Mr Redmond said: “We’ve decided that we could open tomorrow night, but we’re going to wait until next week.”
He was optimistic about the weeks ahead.
“This has been a really tough time on DJs as well as live musicians,” he said.
“They’ve been virtually out of work for the last two years. It has been horrendous for them.
“With a bit of luck and a bit of good fortune, Covid and Omicron are all behind us and we can just look forward to the summer and getting out of this.”
On the other side of the city at The Swan Bar, owner Ronan Lynch welcomed the moves to lift restrictions.
He said: “I think everybody was a bit surprised by the way things moved so quickly.
“From a business perspective, it’s like getting your Leaving Certificate results – really, really apprehensive.
“For the last two years, it has been a rollercoaster all the way.
“Hopefully this is the end of it now and we can concentrate on what we do best.”
Mr Lynch said that he and his staff have been ready to get back to full opening with a moment’s notice.
“Over the last two years, we nearly have a master’s degree at juggling the balls,” he said.