Slainte! Scottish pubs reopen for first time in 2021

Glasgow, United Kingdom: On a chilly, grey Monday morning in Glasgow, drinkers sat out at tables and enjoyed pints -- and cocktails -- as pubs were allowed to reopen for the first time this year.

"It tastes incredible," Gary McWilliams, 20, told AFP. "There is such a big difference between a pint that's been poured and a can in your house.

"But I think for most people, just like me, it's less about the actual beer and more about meeting up with a friend. It can't be overstated that it's a big part of Scottish culture."

As well as pubs, "non-essential" retail and leisure facilities such as gyms, swimming pools, and nail bars reopened across Scotland.

Some drinkers at The Counting House pub in Glasgow's central George Square had been up for hours, even before it opened its doors at 9:00 am (0800 GMT).

Students Charlotte Taylor, 19, and Nikita Vance, 20, hit the shops two hours earlier, and sat in full make-up, shivering, as they discussed what to order.

"We were the first people here," said Vance, a second-year journalism and law student who has spent much of her time at university under lockdown and is taking exams remotely.

"I just want a couple of (cocktail) pitchers, to be honest, I miss pitchers -- and pints."

At another table, a group of three young women was ordering cocktails, to shrieks of laughter.

"I missed two of my birthdays in lockdown so I'm finally here, having a wee pitcher at 10:43 am," said one, Suzanna Golebiewska, a 22-year-old student, after a tour of the shops.

Most drinkers were sticking to pints to wash down traditional fried breakfasts.

Breakfast pint 

The four countries that make up the United Kingdom are lifting coronavirus restrictions at their own pace. English pubs and shops, for example, reopened on April 12.

On both sides of the border, alcohol has to be consumed outside.

But in Scotland, where the devolved administration in Edinburgh sets its own health policy, customers can eat inside, and at cafes and restaurants.

Father and son Adrian and Thomas Carey, 19 and 55, flew in from Belfast for business -- and breakfast, a pint, and a lemonade.

In Northern Ireland, "there's no pubs, restaurants or anything open as yet," said Adrian, who works in renewable energy, and was celebrating his 55th birthday.

After an unprecedented 12 months, he said the experience felt "a bit surreal".

"It's nice to be part of something that's new and happening," he said.

"I think it's reasonably good because it means people can start being less afraid and really returning to normal life," added Thomas.

Long road 

Scotland's partial reopening comes ahead of Scottish Parliament elections on May 6 that will test public desire for a second independence referendum.

The ruling Scottish National Party has pledged to push for a fresh vote once the virus situation is under control.

The campaign has been low-profile so far due to the pandemic, with few posters or ads on Glasgow's streets.

But the campaign is expected to step up a gear now that more people are out.

All Scottish pubs have been closed since December 26. As elsewhere in the UK, they first shut in March when the pandemic took hold.

They reopened in July but saw a bewildering array of restrictions, some localized to virus hotspots, including a ban on playing music so customers were less likely to shout.

A 10:00 pm curfew on pubs, bars, and restaurants was introduced in September 2020, and pubs in central regions, including Glasgow, had to close again in October.

They reopened briefly in December but were not allowed to serve alcohol and were forced to shut at 6:00 pm.

"I'm buzzing, it's a good feeling obviously to come back," said duty manager Massimo Mase, 33, who has worked at The Counting House for four years and has been on furlough for nearly six months.

The pub's manager Mick Murphy, 43, said: "It's been 162 days since the last time we worked a shift. It's been a long road, but hopefully, that's us back on the way to normality."

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