PUBS and restaurants in Oxford are gearing up to let customers inside today for the first time this year.

Lockdown rules are easing again to allow groups of six, or two households, to enjoy meals and drinks indoors and groups of up to 30 people to meet up outside.

The move will also see venues with no outdoor space reopen for the first time since the third lockdown hit - like independent businesses in the Covered Market without outside dining tables, and even bars like Plush.

Olli Gauntlett, co-owner of The Cellar Door in the Covered Market, said he was ready to welcome customers for the first time after the shop opened just weeks before the first lockdown.

He said: “We’re excited about having people back in. “We opened at the worst time ever in February last year and we never got going how we wanted to.

“It was entirely closed down.

“So now we’ll have some tables outside the shop, and we’ll host evening events so people can come for a glass of wine or buy a ticket to a champagne and oyster night.”

Mr Gauntlett, who has been a wine merchant at Eynsham Cellars for the past 11 years, is also gearing up to use his new wine cooler for the first time – it keeps expensive and vintage bottles of wine fresh so that visitors to the shop can buy it by the glass to enjoy sitting on benches in the market’s historic alleys rather than pay for the whole bottle to take home.

Other pubs across the city will also be welcoming customers inside for the first time since October.

The Masons Arms landlord Chris Meeson said it had been ‘amazing’ since restrictions eased on April 12 and allowed customers to sit outside for a pint – but said there was nothing quite like ‘banter over the bar’.

He said: “It’s been honestly incredible. We’ve got a big marquee with some heating and there’s probably more space outside.

“We’re opening inside on Tuesday and we’re really looking forward to it. Friday’s nearly booked up which is also amazing.

“It’s the first time we’re reopening properly since October. It’s going to be nice to have a bit of banter over the bar again. We’ve just been running around the garden going back and forth and it’s been hard to have chats with customers.

“Hopefully, this will be nice getting back to some kind of normality.

“The next restrictions are meant to ease on June 21 and I can’t see that happening so this is the best of a bad situation.”

Night-time venues like ATIK Oxford will be dusting down the glitter balls in preparation for the next easing of restrictions in June – when Boris Johnson has said all social distancing measures could be scrapped.

However, there has been growing concern this weekend from scientists that restrictions should not be easing today amid the rapid spread of the Indian coronavirus variant.

Matt Hancock said in a statement that it was still ‘appropriate’ to push on with the changes and urged people to get vaccinated.


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