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Toronto pub offers virtual meeting space, real food and drinks

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WATCH: A Toronto pub is once again welcoming customers, except the experience is now almost entirely virtual. – Jun 3, 2020

A long-time Toronto pub is encouraging customers to come together virtually while sharing real food and drinks.

The Imperial Pub, located on Dundas Street East between Yonge and Church Streets, closed to dine-in service in March following the provincial lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Recently, it launched a virtual pub to both boost business and community morale, a co-owner of the 75-year-old pub told Global News.

“It’s a time to come together,” Sammy Newman said. “It’s a time to look out for each other and this is a very, very small thing we can do.”

The pub uses the Zoom platform to allow customers to connect with friends and strangers. Patrons can order food and drinks through online bartenders. Virtual tables let participants have private conversations apart from the larger group.

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“I think that’s pretty cool,” said J.R. Perez, who was passing by the bar.

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“I miss the environment,” he said of dine-in restaurants. “I think just having the background noise of people in a restaurant, that’s what I miss the most.”

READ MORE: Restaurants may never go back to ‘normal’ after COVID-19, experts say

David Miller, who was also walking by, said he is open to the idea but unsure it would truly mirror the feel of restaurants.

“Part of the atmosphere is also just all the people there, all the smells, the sights,” he said.

To make it seem more real, photographs of inside the pub, available for download on its website, allow customers to set their backgrounds to look as though they are inside the establishment.

“Between the virtual backgrounds and the music, I think it really contributes to the experience of escape a little bit,” Newman said.

READ MORE: Will Ontario’s changes to layoff regulations amid COVID-19 leave lower-paid workers in limbo?

Cat Frank, a bartender at the pub, said the online option gives her and her colleagues a chance to re-connect with customers and bring back a sense of community.

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“I think a lot of people are feeling isolated, missing those new social connections that they were able to make pre-COVID-19,” Frank said.

She added while tips are appreciated, customers should not feel obligated.

“It’s certainly not a necessity,” she said. “It’s certainly not the only reason we’re here.”

In the coming weeks, Imperial Pub plans to host an open mic, spelling bee and book launch, all online.

“We’ll see how long the new normal lasts,” Newman said. ‘It appears to me to be here for a while.”