COVID-19: Montreal nightlife venues elated, relieved as dancefloors set to reopen

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COVID-19: Montreal bar owners and promoters basking in glory over lifting of restrictions
WATCH: Montreal's nightlife community is in celebration mode after Tuesday's long-awaited announcement softening the COVID-19 restrictions for bars, clubs and other venues. With dance floors and karaoke returning, excitement is growing. But as Dan Spector reports, so are certain concerns. – Nov 3, 2021

Montreal’s nightlife community is celebrating after Tuesday’s long-awaited announcement from Quebec, softening the COVID-19 restrictions for bars, clubs and other venues.

Meyer Billurcu, co-owner of Bar Le Ritz PDB on Jean-Talon, said he felt “total elation” when he heard dancefloors will soon be reopening in Quebec.

“I was very relieved, because we’ve been waiting for this announcement for basically for 18 months now,” he said.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced as of Nov. 15, there will be no more capacity limits for nightlife venues and people will be allowed to stand up and dance again.

Since he was allowed to reopen his small venue, Billurcu has been reluctantly putting on seated shows.

“It just didn’t feel right, you know? A lot of our events are rock shows, or dance parties. Dancing thing was obviously a big thing,” he explained.

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Seated events also meant significantly lower attendance at small venues, causing many shows to be cancelled altogether.

“They were totally not profitable,” he explained.

Things will not be entirely as they were pre-COVID. People will still need to show their vaccine passport to enter venues, and masks will be mandatory on dancefloors.

Billurcu finds it “weird” that masks will still be needed in a crowd of fully-vaccinated people, but says he will absolutely enforce the rules.

“If it lets us open, then so be it,” he said.

At Sala Rossa in Mile End, co-owner Mauro Pezzente says he is happy standing concerts will soon be back, but he is having “mixed feelings.” Pezzente hopes patrons respect mask rules, because he thinks enforcement will be difficult.

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“It’s almost impossible to enforce the mask wearing when you have 300 people, potentially, in our room all dancing. You’re not going to be able to tap people on their shoulders to say, ‘Hey, can you put your mask on?'” he told Global News.

The concert promoters recognize some people may not be ready to go back to a packed venue yet, but both said ticket sales are not a concern.

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“Judging by the other promoters I’ve spoken to and DJs and bands, I think there’s a huge part of the population that just is ready to go out and to dance and to see shows and to have a good time,” said Billurcu.

He said shows that were on hold are being greenlit, and his phone rang repeatedly while Global News was at Bar Le Ritz PDB.

“There’s a big desire from people to come and see shows live and to come see shows in the way you were able to two years ago, meaning standing room only and shoulder to shoulder with a stranger,” said Pezzente, who is also a member of renowned Montreal band Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Both Billurcu and Pezzente acknowledged their venues would not have survived without government help during the pandemic.

“Through grants and bursaries and stuff, we were able to pay our bills. They had the rent relief program, which means we were able to pay our rent,” said Billurcu.

Pezzente gave a lot of credit to Quebec for helping save his business and many others.

“I know that most venues in the city and in the province wouldn’t be able to be open if it wasn’t for SODEC (Société de développement des entreprises culturelles) and the provincial government,” he said.

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Read more: Quebec bars and restaurants can operate at full capacity starting Monday

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Some wonder if post-pandemic nightlife in Montreal will be different than it was before.

“It’s going to be interesting to find out if the big, kind of expensive clubs of yesteryear survive,” said Will Straw, professor in McGill University’s Department of Art History and Communication Studies.

He wonders if smaller venues outside the city centre — Bar Le Ritz PDB and Sala Rossa, for example — will be more attractive than traditional nightclubs in the downtown core.

“I think people have gotten used to sort of improvising nightlife and entertainment, going to smaller places, perhaps in their neighbourhood,” Straw said.

He wonders if big, expensive nightclubs will be less attractive to people who have become accustomed to getting together with friends outside of them.

“People, I think, like sociability, they like hanging out with their friends more than sort of going into rooms full of mostly strangers, and that’s been a long-term trend,” Straw said.

Steve Siozios of the Crescent Street Merchants’ Association said though many people may have less disposable income these days, he sees plenty of enthusiasm from downtown partiers.

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“Even under restrictions, you see that the public is looking for entertainment, they’re looking to get out,” he said.

Siozios said when bars were recently allowed to open until 3 a.m. on Crescent again, people packed night spots until closing time.

Some night spots on Crescent, however, either did not survive the pandemic, or became other types of establishments.

“Nightlife was going through very significant changes before COVID,” said Straw. “The decline of the nightclub, the rise, I would say, of sort of brewpubs.”

Siozios hopes the easing of restrictions entices investors to snap up some of the open real estate downtown, and brings people back to long-standing clubs like Jet and Electric Avenue.

“There’s going to be a balance. There’s going to be like a pendulum going back to downtown, because people still want that,” he said.

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