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Melbourne bartenders describe life in the second lockdown

When the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit the Australian on-premise industry back in March, the impact was swift, devastating and felt to the same hard standard across the country.

But for Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire right now, in the midst of the country’s only second lockdown since March so far, things are a little different. After recently hearing from locked down bar owners and operators, Bars and Clubs spoke to some of the staff of the city, to get some insight into what it’s like to be a bartender in Melbourne right now. 

As you can imagine, things aren’t easy. 

Tiana Matthews of Speakeasy Group venue Eau De Vie, described how she felt being in lockdown again, and how it’s incredibly different to last time around. 

“I think we all saw this second lockdown coming, and I feel it was definitely necessary to hopefully get us back on top of this virus,” Matthews said.

“Having already gone through one lockdown I definitely felt a lot more mentally prepared this time around but, It’s a very different lockdown for me this time. Last time I was fortunate enough to be able to travel back to W.A with my partner to spend some time with my family and escape the Melbourne cold! We were able to spend a lot of time at the beach, kayaking, and cooking. But this time around it will be spent in my little apartment in St Kilda with my partner and our housemate trying not to get in each other’s way.”

Matthews counts herself lucky during this lockdown to have access to JobKeeper while Eau De Vie is closed. During this time, the team is re-working training documents and doing maintenance, preparing for things to be in the best shape possible once they’re allowed to reopen.

Meanwhile, Alex Brown from Union Electric is also looking to the positives in his workplace.

“At this point Union Electric is closed for the foreseeable future until we see some restrictions lift. Being placed in the middle of CBD means the venue is heavily reliant on after-work-trade throughout the week. This means running a takeaway service or delivery isn’t something we have viewed as very sustainable,” Brown explained.

“The silver lining is that my boss Huw Griffiths has another premise in Fitzroy where we have been doing really well with takeaway coffee. Bell Street Coffee Window on Brunswick Street – come check it out.”

Brown has also been using the time to connect with the industry – you might have seen his video with Union Electric colleague Lachlan in the Never Never Have I Ever Bartender Challenge recently. 

It’s the connectivity and togetherness of the industry as a community that both Brown and Matthews see as a real positive in this hard time, and something that is really keeping everyone going. 

As Matthews said: “Everyone is banding together and doing their best to stay positive which can be pretty hard in these uncertain times. 

“I’ve been baking scones on Sundays for friends and dropping them on their doorsteps, still warm from the oven. It helps to get your mind off things and hopefully I’m putting a few smiles on faces. 

“I’m also lucky enough to be on JobKeeper but it’s incredibly hard to see those who aren’t eligible, especially those on temporary visas, really struggling through this time. The community is doing the best to support each other with many people cooking up free meals and even just offering to chat if you’re struggling.”

Brown added to this sentiment and said: “As a whole the industry is very resilient but I believe it is particularly hard for those people working at venues that have shut completely and have not had access to JobKeeper.”

However, he also mentioned how it’s been great to see local industry legends from venues and brands pull together to support those that need it most. 

“Jason Chan from Hats & Tatts, Yao Wong from The Elysian, Iain Ling from the Lincoln and Emma Ramos from Vanguard, to name just a few. And shoutout to all those brands who have been in contact and supporting staff with meals and venues with stock and vouchers – this love goes a long way in lifting a person’s spirit. Plus getting a call from Nick Edwards from Sweet & Chilli yelling down the phone on the occasion is enough to put a bit of juice in the batteries any day!”

Even with the small bright spots that Matthews and Brown mentioned, this second lockdown isn’t smooth sailing. While having gone through it once before might in some ways make it more bearable, in many ways it also makes it harder, especially seeing other parts of the country now trading with little restrictions again. 

“Being back in Victoria for this time around has been very different… It’s also hard seeing how well WA is doing compared to us here in Victoria. Bars, restaurants are basically back to normal and thriving, with just the 1.5m distance rule in place. Meanwhile, the whole industry here has been thrown into incredible uncertainty once again,” Matthews said. 

Brown described the new lockdown as being part of a heartbreaking routine, but one that would be harder without the support the industry fosters within itself.

“I think the brief opening and then being forced to close again within the space of about 6 weeks was particularly heart wrenching.  The effort involved alone without mentioning the extra financial burden, was very heavy.  I think you can get bogged down in it at times but again we are very fortunate to have a great community and this support goes a long way to keeping you propped up,” Brown said.

If you’re looking to support the Melbourne bar industry, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Support the COVID-19 E.A.D campaign (mentioned by Brown above).
  • Take the advice of Melbourne operators from this article.
  • Check out Melbourne venues through Hospo Threads.
  • Reach out to your Melbourne friends and colleagues. As Brown and Matthews mention above, keeping in touch and spreading the love make the world of difference when you’re in lockdown.
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