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Regular customers enjoy free beers during a happy hour at the Hill Top Restaurant and Bar in Debe yesterday, ahead of today’s new COVID-19 lockdown restrictions which will prevent consumption of alcohol at bars.

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As the hour drew closer for the new phase of COVID-19 restrictions to kick in, bar owners in South Trinidad gave free beers and cutters to loyal patrons.

Rather than allowing stocks to expire as they did during the last three-month lockdown, the bar owners said they wanted to show appreciation to loyal customers in the hope that they will return to buy once the new restrictions take effect today.

At the Hill Top Restaurant and Bar, along the SS Erin Road, over a dozen patrons were seen enjoying free beers when Guardian Media visited yesterday.

Owner Vishnu Ramraj said although bars will be allowed to stay open for takeaway service, this would still lead to a loss of income.

“We know that people will go to the supermarket to get their drinks rather than come to the bar, so instead of stocks wasting away like the last time, we are giving a happy hour. Free drinks for our loyal customers,” Ramraj said.

He added that the bar drinkers also made a big cook to celebrate the last time they will be allowed to congregate together.

Bar manager Farida Lalchan agreed that many bar owners will have no choice but to shut down.

She said, “We have rent to pay and I feel that many bar owners have been responsible for maintaining social distancing and ensuring the place is clean. They could have allowed people to continue to operate.

“As it is, I have no plans in place to deal with the loss of income. I don’t know what I would do.”

Patron Andre Manoo said most people would prefer to buy beers in a supermarket rather than a bar if they are denied the opportunity of sitting down to enjoy the drink.

“It cost $7 for a beer from the supermarket and $10 in the bar. If you have to buy and go, people will go to a supermarket rather than a bar,” Manoo said.

At Bomb Scare restaurant and bar, Rachel “Dumpling” Lalchan said she was not in support of the new COVID-19 regulations. She said although Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had said bars could open, there would be no point in staying open if nobody comes to buy.

“I think lots more workers will be on the breadline. We think that they could have reduced hours,” she said.

She said because they expected a large turnout of patrons coming to the bar yesterday, she made a big cook.

“We did some curried duck and chicken and a whole lot of cutters. We are giving away the cutters for free,” she said.

Meanwhile, there continued to be an outpouring of patrons at several other bars.

Along the Southern Main Road in Rousillac, Frazina’s Bar was overflowing with people. Loud music blared from the speakers. There was a similar scene at Ralphie’s Bar in Oropouche. Other bars such as Rumedy and Limelight Restaurant and Bar, as well as Mano’s Restaurant and Bar, also had a healthy flow of customers.

During the last lockdown, many bar owners complained that their stocks expired and they suffered losses because of their forced closure. At the time, many operators called for bars to stay open and offer takeaway service.

In July, over 316 bar owners and operators were given the green light to sue the State over a recent move to reduce the opening hours for their businesses under ongoing COVID-19 public health regulations. Lawyers representing the Barkeepers and Operators Association of T&T (BOATT) and 316 of its members filed the judicial review lawsuit before Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams. Days later, the claim was partially withdrawn after lawyer Anand Ramlogan, SC, indicated that his clients would no longer be pursuing the judicial review aspect of the case because of the Government’s move to allow bars to close at 10 pm.