Stormy weather and social distancing didn’t stop Sydneysiders from celebrating Friday night drinks for the first time since June following the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Eyebrows plucked, bodies freshly tanned, biceps pumped and dating apps ready to swipe, Sydney’s show ponies strutted into restaurants, pubs and bars determined to revive the traditional bonhomie of the end of the working week.
A trickle of pedestrians walked past mostly empty shops along George Street, but trendy Ash Street restaurants were bustling with outdoor diners, despite the lack of office workers in the CBD.
Alex Orwin, head of operations at the Ivy precinct, said eateries such as Felix and Ash St Cellar were busy, while the Ivy pool club was booked out.
“It’s just our normal crowd – corporates, people working in the area, regulars,” he said. “We’re not bursting at the seams like we were just before lockdown, but we’re busy.”
Few patrons were fussed about being asked to provide proof of vaccination to gain entry as well as scanning a QR code to check in – a process that will become easier following the roll-out of the integrated Service NSW vaccine certificate.
Upstairs at Ivy pool club, patrons sat in booths surrounding the rooftop pool drinking cocktails and wine as the afternoon sun broke through the storm clouds.
Melissa Ridley, who normally works in the city, travelled for half an hour on an empty train from Oatley and said it felt “surreal but normal” to be at Friday night drinks after so many months of lockdown.
“I’m reverting to my old behaviour, but I also recognise that I’m vaccinated and can do this safely,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand to go out and have a good time.”
Carina Goncalves took the day off work to celebrate the first Friday after lockdown with her boyfriend Pedro Miguens. The couple travelled from Wolli Creek to shop, before visiting the Lansdowne Hotel in Chippendale for beers before dinner at a nearby Polish restaurant.
“People have spent so long at home that they appreciate the little things like drinking a beer and talking to strangers,” Mr Miguens said.
Friday night drinks had extra poignancy for Mr Miguens, who spent much of lockdown recovering from back surgery: “My COVID was more about rehabilitation.”
The hotel’s licensee Stu Nunan said it felt good to return to work and “get back in the swing of things”, but he echoed the industry’s well-documented concerns about a lack of available staff.
“Down in the kitchen is a bit of a punish,” he said. “Just got no chefs.”
A steady stream of patrons entered the hotel, though Mr Nunan expected bigger crowds once live music resumed. On the rooftop bar, views of the city skyline and Sydney University could not distract Nick Henry and his friends from their beers.
Mr Henry, from Hurstville, said it felt good to be reunited with his friends. “I love my brothers, I haven’t seen them in a while, so yeah, it’s good,” he said.
“It’s good being able to go out, but obviously there is that fear that you still could get sick. I know that everyone here is double vaxxed so that’s good.”
Dancing might not yet be permitted but at the Beresford Hotel in Surry Hills, a DJ provided a pumping soundtrack as Khan Oxenham and Tom Bache enjoyed post-work beers in the pub’s bustling courtyard.
Mr Oxenham, from Bondi, was excited to be in the busy bar. “I’m pretty happy about it, tastes pretty good,” he said of his third schooner of the night. Mr Oxenham predicted the next month was “going to be pretty loose”.
“Everyone’s going to be getting wild, I reckon,” he said. “You’ve had a whole city locked up for four months. It’s pretty self-explanatory. A lot of people are keen to get out, have a few drinks, let their hair down.”
A queue of patrons waited patiently outside the Kings Cross Hotel to check in and display their vaccine status to the bouncer as a steady stream of beer-lubricated patrons such as Ed Lipman, who said he had “a bit of a tingly feeling in the body”.
Drinking at an outside table opposite Kings Cross’ iconic Coca-Cola sign, Mr Lipman and his colleagues were into the fourth hour of their after-work drinks and planned to continue their pub crawl into the city.
“This is the busiest I’ve seen the Cross in months,” he said. “Coming in through COVID was kind of depressing. This is great to see new people.”
The Coogee Bay Hotel was busy and Oxford Street started coming back to life too, with modest queues outside the refurbished Columbian Hotel and the Universal nightclub just after 10pm. But some venues, such as the Stonewall Hotel, remained closed for the time being.
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