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

Nicole Charlwood represents the Green Party in the campaign for Nelson-Creston. Photo submitted
Nicole Charlwood represents the Green Party in the campaign for Nelson-Creston. Photo submitted
Election 2020: Nicole Charlwood

The first of four interviews with the Nelson-Creston candidates

Ski touring operators are changing how they plan to operate due to the pandemic. Photo: Curtis Cunningham photo
With winter looming, West Kootenay ski tour operators say they’ve adapted

COVID-19 has meant businesses are changing how the upcoming season will run

The crash caused a pole to be dragged down across the highway. File photo
The crash caused a pole to be dragged down across the highway. File photo
RCMP looking for driver who walked away from accident on Highway 3A

The crash dragged down a power pole across the highway

Rob Louie has formed a non-profit organization he says will assist band members in legal disputes with their councils. Photo: Submitted
UPDATED: Indigenous legal organization created to help band members keep councils accountable

Rob Louie has created Band Members Alliance and Advocacy Association of Canada

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

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

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Fort St. John councillor Trevor Bolin (B.C. Conservative Party)
BC Conservatives leader fights back after BC Liberals leak 2018 workplace harassment case

Sexual harassment case was connected to employee being terminated, WorkSafeBC found

Most Read