Excitement runs through South Okanagan bars and restaurants with a return to dancing and socializing – Penticton News

Casey Richardson

Bars and restaurants across the South Okanagan are celebrating the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions by the BC provincial government that went into effect at midnight, ready to go ahead at full capacity, mingling and dancing.

For now, mask mandates and the vaccine passport program remain in place. The measures will be reassessed by BC’s top doctor in mid-March, before spring break, and again in mid-April, before the Easter long weekend.

Slackwater Brewing in downtown Penticton was pleasantly surprised to learn that dancing was allowed again, although people must keep their masks worn while breaking a move.

“We didn’t expect the dance to come back so quickly. So our team is losing its mind right now,” said Liam Peyton, one of the co-founders of Slackwater Brewing. “I just can’t wait to dance again. It’s gonna be really awesome.

Banning dancing is the oldest COVID-19 restriction in the province, banned in places like nightclubs and bars since the restrictions were first put in place in British Columbia in March 2020.

It also means Penticton’s only nightclub-style venue can once again welcome its fans. While the Barking Parrot was opened as a bar, its dance floor had to be closed.

“It’s been years since anyone’s been able to get up and mingle or dance, and obviously there was six foot spacing and six foot tables, even though you’re sharing the room with lots of other patrons, they’re somewhat distant neighbors,” said Keith Corbett, catering manager of Penticton Lakeside Resort.

“We are thrilled. We are pleased. We can’t wait to start booking groups and hosting larger scale events. St. Patrick’s Day is going to be a lot of fun here.

Some spots have already jumped at the chance to book bands and gigs, to really party.

“We’re talking to dozens and dozens of really great, fantastic actors and artists. We’re hoping we’ll get back to where we left off before this and establish this place as it was. [before], over 20 years of heritage entertainment, good times and celebration. So that’s what we love to do and it looks like we could do it again pretty soon,” Peyton added.

In the hills above Penticton, the Gunbarrel Saloon at the Apex Mountain ski resort has already invited DJs from Vancouver to play.

“A ski bar is supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to mingle, you’re supposed to tell stories of your day and go to someone’s table and random people over. Sit down and sit on the floor, sit on your lap or whatever you can just to get people to the place,” said Jesse Ritchie, founder of the Score Pub Group.

There are big plans to make sure this ski season ends with a bang, with a special après-ski for Spring Break and the Brewski: Craft Beer, Cider & Spirits Festival on the hill, as well as a outdoor vodka bar, which will be advertised on their Facebook.

It also means that their Summerland restaurant, Shaughnessy’s Cove, will also be able to entertain more.

Restaurants like Pizzeria Tratto and Loki’s Garage can now also breathe a sigh of relief, being able to bring in more tables and accommodate guests as they wish.

“We are very pleased that these restrictions have been lifted and optimistic that the remaining restrictions will soon be lifted,” Loki’s co-owner Luke Walsh said via text message. “Our main priority right now will be adding more tables so we can handle more capacity and avoid waiting lists for our weekend brunch.”

They will be expanding outdoor seating within weeks and looking to relaunch their dinner program in early March.

Christopher Royal, one of Tratto’s co-owners, explained that while the pizzeria is often a dinner spot for couples and small groups, now having the option to allow large tables is a nice change of pace.

“What we’re hoping to see is a bit more of a push of people going out and feeling comfortable going out again,” he said. “Spring is in the air and I think people are ready to get out there. Everything is positive right now, so that’s great.

The South Okanagan Events Center has announced its return to 100% capacity starting with the Penticton Vees’ home game on Friday night. From there, all upcoming events and concerts at the resort will go to full capacity.

However, there is still a sense of foreboding, seeing a trend over the past two years where restrictions have been lifted and pushed back multiple times.

“The big problem with the ripple effect is that every time we see the restrictions change then consumer confidence is hit because people aren’t going there as much knowing it’s become so serious that they had to impose all these restrictions,” Peyton explained.

Corbett withholds his full confidence, saying he hopes the continued easing of restrictions is real.

“It is almost difficult to understand what this will mean for staff and the public. Just because I feel like we’ve been back and forth so much over the last two years,” he said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic in that I don’t want to celebrate too soon and see the province start celebrating and people start coming together and then there will be an unforeseen impact on the medical system. Then we kind of have to go back to other restrictions, before the summer.

He rather hopes that everything will come back slowly, to bring a little pleasure to the younger generations too.

“I just can’t imagine what it’s like for young people right now who haven’t been able to meet people… Peeking across the bar and making eye contact that feels a bit special, then take a risk and go meet someone.”

Social interactions build a big part of what these bars are about, whether it’s mingling with old friends or new ones.

All owners shared a sense of optimism.

“It was a long journey. So I think everyone is really tired. And whether you support mandates or not, I don’t think that’s really relevant. I think everyone, regardless of that, is tired. And it would be nice to feel that we have a light at the end of the tunnel that might not be a train,” Royal said.

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