A server pulls a pint of beer at Station Sports bar in Montreal, Saturday, July 25, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Return of baseball, basketball brings customers back to sports bars

Sergakis said bars will need government help to get through the coming months to avoid major closures in Montreal

Toronto sports fans aren’t the only ones cheering the return of the Blue Jays and Raptors, who both played their first games this week since the COVID-19 pandemic put the MLB and NBA seasons on hold.

Sports bar owners say the Jays’ season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday and the Raptors’ scrimmage versus the Houston Rockets the same evening brought customers back to patios that sat empty after being forced to close during the pandemic. They’re optimistic the NHL’s return next weekend in Toronto and Edmonton will help even more.

“It actually was busier than we expected,” said Dave Auger, the general manager of the 817 Sports Bar and Grill on Queen Street West, who showed the Jays game and boxing on Friday.

“We opened at noon and by 2 p.m. we were non-stop and then at 6:30 p.m. all the tables were full until about 11 p.m., when we started getting a few tables opening up.”

It was a welcome sight for the 817, which didn’t offer delivery or takeout during its four-month closure.

Bills were piling up, but no revenue was coming in, said Auger.

“We shut down whatever we could shut down, turned down the heat to 60 degrees and made sure the air conditioning was off, but in the end, you still have hard, fixed costs like rent and insurance, which was killer,” he said.

A survey from Restaurants Canada revealed in early July that the majority of food-service businesses across the country are still losing money and could take at least a year to return to profitability.

To make back some of what he lost, Auger reopened the bar’s patio on Thursday with screens to show games, pizza, slider and pilsner specials to drive in customers and a slew of new physical distancing measures to keep them safe.

San Yoges was also pleased to see customers returning to the Office Pub on John Street to watch the Jays, but said COVID-19 measures mean the crowds aren’t what they once were.

Yoges’ three patios at the location can only hold 50 per cent of the people they would have before the pandemic.

“We are only putting like 40 people maximum on our patios, which is not the same as 400 capacity,” said Yoges.

“We are really waiting for stage three to open up, so we can put an additional 50 people inside.”

The lower capacity barely puts a dent in the money Yoges must come with soon.

He incurred plenty of bills when he wound down his second location on King Street East, which became too hard to continue with during the pandemic, and owes roughly $30,000 to his John Street landlord next month.

Meanwhile, Peter Sergakis, the owner of several Montreal sports bars, said he was looking forward to the NHL resuming.

“Montreal is hockey,” Sergakis said on Saturday. “We want hockey to start again, we’re excited, but you have to understand we only have 50 per cent capacity and without hockey, business is terrible.”

Sergakis is getting about a quarter of the business his establishments attracted pre-pandemic and is worried because hockey games will be played sparingly for a short time.

“It’s not enough for our survival,” Sergakis said. “But it’s better than nothing.”

Sergakis said bars will need government help to get through the coming months to avoid major closures in Montreal.

Adding more customers will bring a bit of zip to the atmosphere, which he described as akin to a funeral parlour.

But it’s a big job keeping tabs on customers, ensuring public health orders are being followed and that tables and bathrooms are frequently cleaned.

Screaming fans are not great from a COVID-19 perspective, but Sergakis said the priority is the health of employees and customers.

“It’s tremendous amount of responsibility,” Sergakis said. “But we’re excited for when hockey comes back for however long it is.”

Next weekend is shaping up to be a big one for Canadian sports fans — and potentially sports bars.

Six Canadian NHL teams open qualifying series in Toronto and Edmonton, the Blue Jays face the Phillies in a weekend series in either Philadelphia or Buffalo, N.Y., the Raptors open seeding round play in the Orlando area, and Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps hope to continue play at the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida.

— With files from Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

MLBNBANHLSports

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Did those election signs change anyone’s mind in Langley? Something did. (Joti Grewal/Langley Advance Times files)
Painful Truth: Demographic transition an election fairy tale

It turns out people in Langley actually can change their minds

Walnut Grove’s Shawn Meehan (front) has started another band, Trigger Mafia. This local country rocker has put country on the shelf, and is going hard-core rock with this group, releasing their first single last Friday to radio. It started as a way to pass the time during the COVID lockdown, and evolved. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Langley musician drives rock revival with COVID twist

Trigger Mafia goes straight from the garage to radio with raw lyrics

Statue of Lady Justice outside B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (Black Press Media files)
Accused mother was sad, frustrated, not eating before daughter’s death, court hears

The accused’s ex-boyfriend talked about her state of mind

Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or in writing.
LETTER: Newbie Conservative candidate split Langley East vote and allowed socialist ‘hordes’ to win seat

Letter writer suggests candidate should have ‘earned’ his political stripes before running for office

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Never before seen painting by famed B.C. artist Emily Carr gifted to Victoria gallery

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

It’s free to park at White Rock waterfront now through the end of January 2020. (File photo)
White Rock waterfront parking free this winter

City’s relaxation of fees will continue until Jan. 31

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

Most Read