It’s a Tuesday night in October, students are enjoying cans of Jack Slatts (with dash of course) after a long day of online lectures. This is not the NuBar from six months ago. Then again, it’s not the traditional academic year.
The tables have been booked in advance, a difficult task when numbers are restricted to fifteen outdoors. There will be no impromptu taxis heading to Harcourt Street tonight or late night strolls to Lin Kee.
Student accommodation complexes are far quieter this year with most opting to stay at home for a year of ‘”blended learning”.
Perspex glass splits each picnic bench into two halves and yellow ribbon leads the way to the bathroom. Department of health guidelines and hand sanitiser dispensers are now taken for granted, normalities in the new normal.
A QR code sticker allows students to order their beverage of choice or the infamous (five) chicken goujons. There is a buzz around what once was the smoking area, tables are completely distanced but it’s clear that customers are happy to have some semblance of normality.
Level 5 hangs in the air everyone knows it. Christmas songs are blaring from the bar inside and groups chat over jagerbombs about dodgy WiFi, Zoom etiquette, the meaning of synchronous learning and fast approaching deadlines.
Generations of DCU students have flocked to NuBar for sunny days towards the end of semester, for unexpected snow days and their very first DCU days.
NuBar is where many have made friends for life and established a newfound appreciation for Micky Joe Harte. A packed dance-floor on a busy shite night and a crowded ladies’ bathroom for deep meaningful conversations, now seem like a Covid-19 nightmare.
Shared drinks, borrowed makeup, exchanged packets of cigarettes all seem to signal a time long gone, a time before social distancing and mandatory face coverings.
A well deserved two weeks rest
March 12th was the first sign of things to come and for a year of adapting to change. DCU closed its doors and students looked forward to what many thought would only be a well-deserved two week break.
Naturally, many flocked to NuBar before travelling home to their respective counties.
An Athletic Therapy and Training student explains that thoughts of an extended closure had not even crossed students’ minds.
“We thought reading week just got extended… I definitely didn’t think I’d be away from NuBar for over a year. The view of everyone I was with was that we were getting an unexpected holiday and we’d be straight back to the home of Jack Slatts a few weeks later.”
The staff of NuBar had a similar mind-set. General Manager, Dave Kineavy explains that they expected to see all staff back after the break.
“We thought we would be closed for two to three weeks, said bye to the staff… enjoy the time off”, said Kineavy.
However, that wasn’t to be. The government closed pubs three days later and a ‘stay at home’ message was later issued from Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar on the evening of March 27th.
What followed would be months of adapting to suit ever-changing government health restrictions. While student bars around the country remained closed, NuBar found a way to adapt to “the new normal”.
Click and Collect
In early May, NuBar announced that they would be offering a café garden in line with government restrictions. Socially distanced seating was introduced. Take away options were provided for those on the go.
The café garden provided a sense of normality for those missing on campus life and coming to terms with the health and safety restrictions still in place after a long lockdown.
Later, a click and collect option was introduced allowing customers to pre-order food and drink online.
“We have adapted and adapted to keep everyone safe and people in jobs, make no mistake we will come through this and we will be back bigger”, says Kineavy.
Nearly seven months have passed since the original two weeks’ rest. During that time students, staff and alumni of DCU have seen things that many would have associated with a dystopian fiction novel at the start of the year.
Masks are colour coordinated to match an outfit. Zoom etiquette has been established. Now Tanáiste, Leo Varadkar admits that it is unlikely that pubs (in the traditional format) will reopen before the end of the year.
Level 5 once again brings uncertainty for the staff of NuBar as the outdoor area is once again empty. Kineavy’s main concern has always been his staff.
“Will it be only six weeks? We have staff who have families and mortgages and we are trying to support all of them”, he said. Feelings about an upgrade to Level 5 restrictions can be summed up in one word, “afraid.”
Better days on the horizon
However, goujons taste just as good in takeaway boxes and NuBar remains a constant in students’ lives as it has been since its establishment.
Kineavy’s message for students missing Shite Night, Jack Slatts, and last minute plans is, “don’t panic shite night will be back but right now we have to protect our parents, grandparents and each other.”
“The social aspect to college plays a part in your time here, we know that. We know it’s tough but hang in there and better days will come… When all of this is over we can get together and it will feel all that more special. We won’t take little things, like an hour with your mates chatting over goujons (best in Ireland) or dodgy dance moves to Westlife with your mates, for granted anymore”, he said.
Kineavy and his staff have a message of thanks for everyone that has supported them over the last few months.
“We want to say thank you to staff and students that have supported us all through this. All of ye come to our bar as strangers but leave as friends. We really can’t thank all of ye enough.”
Image Credit: Grace O’Sullivan