Coming “back home” is what Kazuko Nelson says she looks forward to most when pubs reopen on Monday, after being closed due to lockdown since June.
Nelson began running the Hero of Waterloo pub at The Rocks in Sydney 28 years ago with her husband, Ian, and says her pub staff are “like my family”.
After Ian died 10 years ago, she says, “that’s all I have left in this country.”
The pub will reopen its doors on 11 October as part of the New South Wales government’s Covid roadmap to recovery, welcoming back regulars who love its rich century-old history.
“I am so grateful we have the opportunity to reopen the doors and be part of [our customers’] celebrations,” she says.
Pub regular Arthur Carney has been going to the Hero for 30 years.
He is counting down the days until opening night, and is not worried about social distancing rules ruining the “homely vibe” of his favourite drinking spot.
“I see a lot of people that must be feeling very lonely [during the lockdown] without being able to go to places like the Hero. It’s a very social place,” Carney says.
As part of reopening measures, all businesses are required to have Covid safety plans, including one customer per 4 sq metres and mandatory seated consumption.
But the measures don’t bother Carney. “I think it’ll just go back to being the same, that’s what’s nice about [the pub], it’s constant,” he says.
John Palmer, who has been frequenting the pub for the past 20 years, says he can’t wait to get back to his “second home”.
Originally from the UK, he and dozens of expats have been celebrating St George’s Day at the pub for 20 years and they all “absolutely love it”.
“It’s been exactly the same ever since I walked through the door and it gives such a feeling of comfort and safety.”
Like Nelson, many business owners across the city were worried about when they would be able to reopen their doors.
The York Lane bar owner, Dieter Steinbusch, is finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.
He says his regulars are so desperate to get back to their favourite drinking spot that they’re ready to “lick the door handles of the pub” when it reopens.
His European-style bar, tucked neatly between Sydney’s hidden laneways, could be easy to miss but its regulars know exactly how to find it.
“We’re like their second home, and they’re like my second family,” Steinbusch says.
He’s already been inundated with phone calls from customers trying to book a spot at the 30-seat capacity bar.
“I’ve already had customers ring me up and ask if I’m going to be open on Monday night because they want to come in and we’re their first choice.”
This week, he’s hosting “Latins in the Laneway” especially for his customers, many of them motorbike enthusiasts.
On the night, he says those who have been stuck in local government areas in strict lockdowns can “let off some steam” and have a few beers and appreciate some “beautiful bikes”.
“[The bikes] are pieces of art,” he says.
During lockdown, he has stayed in touch with regulars who have supported him throughout the journey.
“Hard work and good service does pay off and it took the lockdowns to make me realise that people appreciated what you do, and that makes you even work harder.”
He also says he’s been revisiting his youth, after taking up kneeboarding again while the bar had limited opening hours.
“I’ve been catching up on kneeboarding with an old friend from school, and we’ve been reliving that memory.”
One of his really good customers had given him a kneeboard last lockdown to thank him for providing a positive space for his staff.
“[The gift] was to say thanks for inspiring him and his [team], and being positive,” Steinbusch says.
It’s the support of the community around him and his locals that he says will keep his doors open in the years to come.