"Spend your hard-earned at the independent joints that don't have pokies or trust funds to see them through," says Charlie Lehmann.
For this week's newsletter — the first one back for us in 2022 — we spoke to a few bar owners about what they were expecting in the year ahead, how they are dealing with the ongoing omnishambles that is 'living with the virus', and what kind of support they're looking for from the government, other business owners, and the drinking public.
And as tends to be the way these things go, Ramblin' Rascal Tavern and Double Deuce Lounge co-owner Charlie Lehmann had a lot to say in his own inimitable style.
So, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, Lehamnn answers our questions below. It's a passionate, at times funny, salient description of the way things are for many bars right now.
Boothby: How do you compare this time in the pandemic with the previous waves of covid?
Lehmann: It seems to me and the staff who I've spoken with at both Deuce and Rascal, that it's neither "easier or harder" as one might put it, to live, drink and generally exist with some semblance of normalcy during a global pandemic. We feel dejected at the response — or lack thereof — from our government at both state and federal level. The yo-yoing of guests floating in and out of our bars only hardens the disconsolate feeling which stems from the complete breakdown of government leadership and which has driven people away from our already humbled bars. My Aussie version of Love in the Time of Cholera, Love in the Time of Corona should be a hit, it contains beers and yelling at our shithouse excuse for a Prime Minister.
We have yet again been left in the lurch; when there's blood on the streets, buy property as they say and business is booming for the already well off. There is no certainty from anywhere outside of our own circles. The constant daily updates have left us feeling isolated from families and friends in other states — even those Banana Benders have been sorely missed.
At this point in time we are closing ranks and shoring up our young staff's future by focusing on them and their development. If any 'glass half full' type of philosophy were to come from this, the future is bright for bartenders wanting to establish a career and we are here to facilitate in the face of what seems like industry collapse from exhaustion and bullshit from our pollies.
What do you think governments can do to help your business in the next six months?
Every man and his Harvey Norman franchise seems to have been given a handout except for an industry that provides 500k jobs in this fair country. It'd do us no disservice to receive direct, stimulus payments into business accounts that are supporting the vibrancy of this city.
We have had to cancel a month of live music down at Rascal due to government malpractice in response to Omicron, RAT and PCR testing debacles, and generally fucking it up so bad that the public has no trust in the system [that] they tend to avoid places that pour cold ones or have more than 10 people gathering. Obviously that doesn't happen over at Hillsong festivals so that's a green light for them, but we unfortunately still pay tax so maybe some direct help on that front too.
If that seems too hard for them, because they already gave Newscorp a $220 million dollar tax break, maybe they can let us all register as churches — shout out to The Lord Gladstone — and let our faithful followers flow through the doors to be baptized by the tin?
Rental reprieve has been extended to March but once that's done we're back to paying exorbitant rents that only Singaporean billionaires can afford. Now would be a good time to place rental moratoriums for the foreseeable future on small, independent businesses just trying to get back on their feet after a slog of three years through spicy cough.
What do you think customers can do to help your business?
Head to the bar, park yourself in a spot and take it all in over a few bevvies. Spend your hard-earned at the independent joints that don't have pokies or trust funds to see them through what will go down in history as a world-changing pandemic event. If you see events, turn up to them, get righteously pissed with ya mates, and tip.
Get your cash out at the ATM and let it rain!
What do you think fellow bar owners can do to help your business?
Each and everyone of us feels gassed. It's like we've had a gutful of Reschs and then tried to do an Ironman challenge. Three years of uncertainty has taken the wind from our sails. So much of the industry is social interaction and this pandemic has shaken this pillar of our industry to its core. Government directives still restrict so much and how many people we can do, but as soon as we can see some light we need to put all our heads together and throw a mad fucking party!
Given it appears covid will continue to be an issue for the next few years, how does this change your business plans? Will it stop you from opening new concepts etc?
I've yet come to grapple with anything in the future other than what I can already see ahead of me, and that's directing [our] current businesses out of this bullshit and into happier times. There may be room for concepts to evolve within the businesses that we can explore, Rascal taking on more live music, Deuce hosting or being part of larger events but for now we have no funds or juice to grab at anything outside of what we have in our hot little hands. Maybe we bring back pop-ups for a bit so we can all stash some cash and have parties with our interstate mates.