Expect a different nightlife when clubs and bars reopen in the distant future.

The national coronavirus lockdown  forced the temporary suspension  of the nightlife scene across the country, which has caused business to suffer financially. 

Alastair Bishop (35), the owner of Jolly Cool Parkhurst, said that the national lockdown has caused chaos for his business, which is normally one of the most vibrant social spots in Parkhurst.

“We had actually closed a week before lockdown, because of the high risk attached to continuing with business as usual. The extension of the lockdown has put us in a compromising position financially. I have even had to take out a personal loan in order to support my staff during this lockdown.”

The owner said his business has not received money from the loan scheme that the government had proposed for struggling businesses, because the process has had obstacles with regards to the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s (UIF) requirements.

“One of the requirements of the application is that at least 70% of your employees must be South African. We unfortunately have not reached that quota,” said Bishop. 

However, now that South Africa has eased into level four lockdown, sites that double up as entertainment hubs and restaurants have been partly resuming business through food deliveries. 

“The fact that we are now able to do food deliveries has made me a bit more optimistic about the future of my business, however, when it comes down to it, we are mainly an entertainment venue, and that is how we would get most of our income,” said Bishop.

The owner of Kitcheners Bar in Braamfontein, Andrew Clements, shares Bishop’s sentiments. He said that he has also been experiencing financial difficulty. However, his burden has been eased because he has already received help from the UIF.

“Things have been quite stressful financially, but thankfully the UIF pulled through, so I have been able to pay all my employees. I still worry about what struggles we will face in the next few months, because I cannot say that we are prepared for it. This is particularly difficult to say, because students in the Joburg area have been dependent on us for accessible entertainment,” said Clements.

Once lockdown has been lifted, businesses known for a vibrant nightlife will have to adjust to the restrictions around social interaction and distancing, and Bishop has already started thinking about the measures he could enforce in order to make Jolly Cool a safe social environment. 

“Aside from the obvious sanitizer dispensers, I have been planning on implementing a time-slot booking system for our busy nights. So instead of having people in crowds, we will have groups of people book tables and time-slots in advance, in order to control the number of people at our venue at any given time,” Bishop said.

However, certain clubs and bars may find social distancing more complicated, because their atmosphere is highly dependent on social interaction and physical touch.

“We are not entirely sure how we will be making sure that people stay sanitized in an environment where people are drinking. We also have no clue how we will stop people from hugging and kissing, because these are just normal occurrences at nightlife venues,” says Clements.

Pesachya Glixman (20), a bartender at Beefcakes bar in Illovo, said, “Beefcakes is quite famous for their body shots, which is when a customer drinks an alcoholic shot off one of the bartender’s or waiter’s bodies. This kind of physical interaction is an easy way to contract coronavirus.

“Even before South Africa had its first coronavirus case, we noticed that our customers started having reservations about taking body shots, because coronavirus was a major topic on the news. We probably all won’t be doing body shots for a while after lockdown,” said Glixman. 

Beefcakes is also known for hosting bachelorette parties and their weekly shows featuring performances by drag queens, and Glixman worries about the welfare of all the full-time drag performers. 

“Being a full-time drag performer can be quite an unstable profession in the financial sense, so right now I’m worried about all the drag queens that don’t have any savings in order to get through this lockdown,” said Glixman.

 On social media, young people have been expressing their need for social interaction and anticipate their return to the Johannesburg nightlife.

In response to these social media discussions, Bishop said, “If you look at it logically, people don’t actually miss us and our drink specials. What they really miss is the connections they make on our premises, and the social interaction. Right now people are being deprived of that.”

Kitcheners’ owner, Clements said, “Hearing that the youth is still thinking about going to clubs and bars is what is giving us hope. Students in the Joburg area have been dependent on us for accessible entertainment, so we are grateful that they are keeping us alive on social media during this tough time.”

Tharmaine Govender (21), a Varsity College student and self-proclaimed socialite, says that she would use nightclubs and bars as an outlet after a stressful week of academics.

“School work seems to be a lot more mentally and emotionally taxing ever since lockdown started, because I no longer have something fun to look forward to at the end of the week. My friends and I often wonder whether nightlife will ever be the same after this.”

As South Africans eagerly await their return to the streets, Bishop says, “We, at Jolly Cool, would just like to let everyone know that we are still here and we are still fighting.”

Clements hopes that they will be in operation by September. “We are hoping to give Johannesburg something close to the experiences Kitcheners offered before the Coronavirus outbreak.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Two students enjoying the social closeness that Johannesburg nightlife has to offer. Photo: Thobekile Moyo.