Back in the pub - but it's a cautious return in Blackpool

Landlady Kerry Humphries serves a customer at The MitreLandlady Kerry Humphries serves a customer at The Mitre
Landlady Kerry Humphries serves a customer at The Mitre
A handful of people are queuing to get into Wetherspoons on Market Street, while round the corner Backpool's smallest pub The Mitre plays host to a trio of regulars.

At the trendy Beach House Bistro, the barman sharpens his cocktail-making skills, while demand for real ale has brought drinkers back to the Brew Room on Church Street.

'Super Saturday' may be the biggest easing of lockdown so far, but lunchtime trade in Blackpool was much reduced compared to a normal July weekend.

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A steady drizzle of rain did not help but damp shoppers were made welcome when they did venture inside for refreshments.

People queue to get in the Layton RakesPeople queue to get in the Layton Rakes
People queue to get in the Layton Rakes

Certainly many of the newly reopened cafes were doing brisk trade as people enjoyed ordering a coffee or sandwich for the first time in nearly four months.

Michelle Burrows, owner of the Compass Cafe Bar on Birley Street, said they had had a steady stream of custom on the first morning.

She said: "This is the first day of whatever normal will be but we also want people to enjoy it.

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"We don't want it to be a chore for people, we want to be safe without losing the heart of the place."

Waiting for bar service at The Rose and CrownWaiting for bar service at The Rose and Crown
Waiting for bar service at The Rose and Crown

Hand sanitiser at the door and tables one metre apart are the 'new normal' now.

Some premises have installed screens, all have upped their hygiene practices, while policies on how much personal protection equipment staff wear vary from place to place.

Hairdressers had been busy from early doors with this service one of the most missed by all sections of society.

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At Toni & Guy on Birley Street, stylists wore protective visors and aprons, with clients supplied with a mask.

It's new rules at restaurantsIt's new rules at restaurants
It's new rules at restaurants

They have a lot of catching up to do, with a backlog of 400 clients needing a haircut, colour or trim.

Reception manager Sarah Golder-Clarke said: "It"s good to be back and it's complete excitement from the clients

"I think people would have come in at 6am if they could have and we did open a little earlier at 8.30am."

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At the Beach House Bistro on Central Promenade, there are new uniforms as well as strict protocols in place.

Capacity has been reduced from 36 tables to 22 to comply with social distancing, menus are either disposable or accessed through a QR code and there are less food choices, but favourites and new items have been included.

Nevertheless the restaurant, which was fully booked for Saturday night, is determined to give its customers top service.

Duty manager Charlotte Box said: "We still want to be pouring wine and drinks so we're asking that customers don't touch the wine, so they still get the level of service they expect from the Beach House while keeping it safe.

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"I think people have missed the dining experience, having food cooked for you and the service."

Kevin Mulligan from Stockport and visiting Blackpool for a few days with his son, was among the first customers.

He said: "You don't miss it till it's gone. We have not been desperate for a pint but when the opportunity arises you want to make the most of it."

While people are encouraged to book tables, there is still the chance of walk-ins at quieter times.

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But expect to have to give your name and phone number as part of the tracing service every venue must adhere to under government guidelines.

Details will be kept securely for 21 days before being destroyed.

Robert and Gaynor Wynne were checking on their three venues which reopened on Saturday - although the West Coast Rock Cafe has been doing take-away food during lockdown.

Customers can still order a pint at the bar at another of their premises, the Rose and Crown on Corporation Street, but tables which have been removed to enable social distancing have been lined up against the counter to ensure staff are always a metre from the punters.

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A lot of tables are taken - but it's nothing like a normal Saturday in Blackpool, even with the rain, says Robert.

He estimates the pub will take a quarter of its normal Saturday revenue.

Robert, who also owns the Brew Room on Church Street, said:"Everyone has been working so hard to get ready for today.

"I'm pleased with how things have gone and the West Coast Rock Cafe is fully booked tonight.

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"The most important things in the guidelines is washing your hands, ventilation and getting people's contact details."

The Brew Room has a good vibe with old friends meeting up and plenty of banter.

Customer Steve Houghton of Layton said: "It's meeting up with friends I've missed most and enjoying a pint of real ale.

"We have a lot of friends who we only ever see when we're out, so it's great to catch up with them again."

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His partner Nicky Wilcox added: "It's not as busy as we thought it would be but it's nice to see a local business back up and running."

Early on it's quiet at The Mitre and landlady Kerry Humphries says they would be packed at this time usually on a Saturday.

She said: "We get a lot of holidaymakers usually and I think if the weather was better today we'd be busier.

"It's nice to be open and see our regulars again, but if it stays quiet we'll just shut down again until we're fully back to normal."

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Police cars are regularly patrolling round town and in one pub there are a couple of officials asking questions of the manager.

It appears operations are being monitored as promised by enforcement teams.

Pubs look busier on Market Street and by early evening trade has certainly picked up.

But not everywhere is open, with some pubs such as The Counting House on Talbot Square choosing not to open until Monday.

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Meanwhile there's plenty of laughter coming from the hostelries on Topping Street whose doors are flung open.

It's the sound of people once more being able to relax on a Saturday night.

Hopefully those who are first to venture out will act responsibly with their new found freedom - giving the confidence for more to follow so Blackpool's vital nightlife economy can operate safely for all.

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