Around noon on Wednesday, June 17, Long Beach fans of England's Arsenal Football Club sat at socially-distanced dining tables at the Auld Dubliner to watch the first Premier League game since COVID-19 suspended all restaurant dining in the city.
Sharone Best, founder of the area Arsenal fan club — called Beach City Gooners — walked in that morning and waved hello to about 20 members who showed up for the game, beers already in hand. On a regular game day, up to 50 fans show up to watch those games together.
"We've been waiting for this game for the last three months, so I wasn't sure how many people would show up," Best said. "For some of our members, it's the first time back in restaurant in months."
It was the first week that the Auld Dubliner opened for in-house dining since March. The opening was originally scheduled for two weeks earlier, but after the space was looted at the end of May, management said they needed more time to prep for a reopen.
"We were looted along with other businesses in the area after the Black Lives Matter protests started to gain traction (on Sunday, May 31)," Janeen Pisano, general manager, said. "Luckily we were able to clean up and open fairly quickly."
The restaurant removed all bar seating, re-positioned tables to sit at least 6 feet apart and added numbers to the tables to keep easier track when ordering. There's no paper menus — instead customers can scan a QR code that allows them to access the menu on their personal mobile device. Other additions include hand sanitizer stations and a plexiglass wall at the front of the bar so that folks can order food themselves, eliminating extra trips for staff.
"Our goal was to limit how often staff interacts with customers, and that was an efficient way to do it," Pisano said about the plexiglass and order method. "Our priority is to keep our staff and our customers safe."
And customers agreed that the Auld Dubliner felt like a safe bet to watch the game and grab lunch.
"It's fun to be back here with everyone," Steve Contos, Beach City Gooner member, said. "It feels comfortable here ... and I think the staff has done everything they could to keep us safe."
Anton Arrache, another Long Beach fan, said he wasn't worried about his first day back at the restaurant to watch a soccer game.
"It's great to come back and have a community to jump back in and watch the games with," he said. "I didn't feel nervous coming back, the pub has done a decent job, and it's just really nice to be reunited with my pub and fellow Arsenal supporters."
While everything isn't entirely back to normal, the Auld Dubliner is offering dine-in specials every week, including $1 street tacos on Tuesdays, half off Irish whiskey on Wednesdays and $1 oysters on Thursdays. Menu favorites like the Shepherd's Pie and a full Irish breakfast are still ready to order.
For now, Pisano said that hours will vary, but folks can expect the restaurant and pub to be open daily, including for late night brews.
"It depend on the night and how many people are here, but last call can be as early as 10 p.m.," she said.
For more information, or to view the Auld Dubliner menu, go to aulddubliner.com. For information on the Long Beach-based Arsenal fan club, Beach City Gooners, go to facebook.com/lbcGooners, or Instagram and Twitter (@beachcitygooners).
Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.