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With COVID-19, weekends spent downtown in Halifax aren’t what they used to be

There is no information yet as to when restaurants and bars will be back to normal hours

7 min read
caption A quiet and empty Friday night on Argyle street. Every two to five minutes, a cab drives by.
Alexandrea Guye

Argyle Street. Normally one of the busiest streets in the city on any night during the weekend, and now there’s no one outside.

It’s 11 p.m. A cab’s lights shine in the distance as it drives down the quiet bar scene in the hopes of finding anyone looking for a ride.

There are so few people, cars can comfortably drive down the street without having to worry about intoxicated pedestrians. Downtown life has become quick.

Despite a lack of community spread, Nova Scotia restaurants and bars are still under tight restrictions, with dine-in services stopping by 10 p.m.

People aren’t able to loiter around for long in the cold, bars and dine in restaurants are closed by 11 p.m. leaving not much to do. You eat, you drink, and you might even be home before midnight.

Economy night light

caption Economy Shoe Shop’s neon red sign shines brightly despite the patio and inside lights being off.

In the summer and fall, before the current COVID-19 restrictions, places like Economy Shoe Shop would have people dining in late or staying for late-night drinks. Despite the sign lighting up the street in a warm red glow, they are closed for the night.

In late November in response to increases in cases, the province of Nova Scotia shut down restaurant’s dine-in service and bars. Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said in a COVID-19 briefing the “trajectory” of increasing cases could not continue.

“We are starting to see community spread,” he said.

Late-night break

caption A worker steps onto Argyle Street for a short break after closing, as a cab drives by on Friday, Jan 29.

Cabs continue to drive through Argyle after 11 p.m. when potential customers are walking to their preferred food places.

Some workers are finally getting a break after a long shift, or step out for fresh air before completely closing for the night.

By Jan.4, restaurants could reopen their dining rooms and bars for in-person service. In a media release from that day, former Premier Stephen McNeil said “I’m pleased that the recent low number of cases in the greater Halifax area means that restaurants can reopen today.”

But as of Monday, the restrictions on hours are still in place despite there being no evidence of community spread, with one new case being reported and eight active.

Adapting to new hours

caption A person walks by a completely deserted Rogers Square on Friday, Jan 29.

Used as a quick walk-through between bars, on a regular weekend night Rogers Square would be busy, and quite loud.

Gahan House, on the other side of the space, is one of the many restaurants and bars in the downtown core that has had to adapt to the changing hours.

One of their staff, Sarah Currie, said that due to the restaurant’s size, they didn’t have a lot of issues getting set-up to meet COVID-19 protocols.

“I feel like everybody is so used to getting started, especially a younger crowd, around 10, so it is sometimes a little harder to get people out. But people are also respectful, and wearing their masks and they do leave at an appropriate time,” she said in an interview.

No lines in sight

caption Two people walk down the street towards the downtown Halifax core on Jan. 29.

Walking by the Keg on a weekend is normally not such an easy feat.

The Alehouse right next door usually has weekend music events and a lineup of patrons waiting to enter that stretches around the corner. Just next to the Halifax Alehouse on Brunswick, is the HFX Sports Bar & Grill, which on Sunday, would have been a place for people to watch the Super Bowl.

But with the restrictions still being in place, and the game starting at 7:30 p.m. AST, it would have been impossible to stay for the entire game. In a statement released Sunday, McNeil said, “I know a lot of people are going to come together tonight to watch the Super Bowl. Let us not forget that our caucuses must be limited to a small number of players and that we must follow other public health measures.”

Pizza after a night out

caption A customer walks out of King of Donair with a pizza on Saturday.

With bars closing early, food is the next stop before the night ends. Halifax is home to many late-night pizza joints, so there are lots of choices. But when in-person dining service closes, delivery and take-out are the only options.

The state of emergency in Nova Scotia has been extended until Feb. 21.

Unusually quiet

caption Pizza Corner on a Friday night at the end of January.

Leaving Pizza Corner empty-handed after 11 p.m., two people walk down the street past Willy’s. A late-night BBQ stand is propped up, hoping to nab some extra customers during the potential late-night food rush.

This corner is normally packed with people, waiting in line for poutines and burgers from Willy’s, or heading up to Sicilian for a slice.

On Monday, some restrictions were eased, but there’s no sign as to when this will include restaurant hours.

“I ask everyone to respect the new rules and continue following all of the public health practices that have got us to where we are today,” said McNeil in a statement.

Take-out or delivery

caption Two people wait patiently at the cash of a McDonald’s for their orders on Saturday.

If you can make it in before 10 p.m., most restaurants are still open and will allow dine-in service. If you can’t, take-out is still an option.

A quick bite to eat on the way home after a night out is essential to many Haligonians. This Quinpool McDonald’s is one of few places in the area you walk into and get food after the 11 p.m. no dine-in restriction takes effect.

Although Monday’s loosening restrictions don’t affect restaurants and bars, places like retail stores and fitness facilities are now allowed to operate at 75 per cent capacity. The list of restriction changes is in effect until March 7.

The way home

A landscape street view of Quinpool at night, with one car. Silhouette of a man on the right side of the image.
caption A man walks down a dark section of Quinpool on the way home Saturday night after leaving a bar downtown.

Normally a well-lit area, as soon as restaurants and stores are closed, the only light on Quinpool comes from cars, buses, and intersection lights.

The city has gone to sleep, and it’s time to wander home.

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About the author

Alexandrea Guye

Alexandrea Guye is a journalist with The Signal located in Kjipuktuk/Halifax. She loves the outdoors and is interested in local stories, human...

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  1. m

    michael creagen

    wow these are good pix! its hard to shoot at night but you got great colour and a neon feel to the city
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