The city of Paris faces new restrictions, such as the closure of bars and restaurants, as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the region. Photo: AFP/Jacopo Landi/ Hans Lucas

After bursting back into life over the summer months after the coronavirus lockdown in March and April, the shutters came down again for bars in Paris on Monday evening.

Half-empty bottles of wine were lined up on counters at the end of the evening, ready to be poured away, while fridges were emptied and cleaned. Anything open won’t be fit for consumption when the capital’s nightspots eventually reopen.

Omar Allik, the 41-year manager of the Touller bar in the city’s ninth arrondissement in the north of the city, surveyed the handful of bottles lined up for emptying.

“We’ve learned about this,” he says. “With everything we had to throw away in March (when the lockdown started), this time we were ready.

“It’s disheartening, and we don’t know how long it’s going to last,” he added. “No salary, 15,000 euros in rent and charges – and nothing will be coming in.

“Small businesses like mine don’t get access to the compensation funds,” he said. 

He will spend the coming weeks looking after his daughter – and taking stock of the situation.

‘No more drinks after work’

The summer months in Paris’s bars were different from previous years, as city officials authorized expanded street terraces to help them increase their business and make up for the lost weeks during the lockdown in March and April.

It also encouraged clients to stay outside in the open air, safer than enclosed spaces in terms of minimizing the risk of infection.

Now, however, as a second wave of rising infections crashes over the capital, those terraces, for the bars at least, will be empty for at least two weeks. Restaurants will be allowed to stay open. 

“We’re here for Omar,” said Romain Carillon, one of the locals, standing at the bar a beer in his hand. “To support him on this last evening after a terrible year,” the 34-year-old architect added.

“It’s sad, we’re a bit down. Drinks after work, that’s finished: now it’s commute, work and home to bed.”

‘We’re the scapegoats’

On this street, usually buzzing with night-life, several of the bars are already dismantling the terraces built up only months earlier, wooden pallets piling up under the heavy rain.

Inside, in the last hours before an indefinite closing time, the bars are filling up.

There are a lot more people in than for a normal Monday night, says David Gamrasni, the 44-year-old owner of the Pili Pili. The tiny bar has an eccentric decor and blasts loud rock music.

With the enforced closure, he laments, people are losing proper social contact, “the possibility to be who you are – everything that makes our world, and there will only be restrictions, no fun moments.”

None of these bars has any way of satisfying the health protocols now in force to slow the spread of the virus: too small, too crowded, too hard to control with everyone busy having fun.

“We’re the scapegoats, we’re a pretext … when you see the jam-packed metros,” says Gamrasni.

“When you do what you can to respect the guidelines, in a place where – when all’s said and done and unlike the metros – people aren’t forced to come.” 

The bars of eastern Paris have joined forces in recent days. They are planning meetings, symbolic protests to keep their plight in the public eye.

“People are going to end up going crazy,” says Gamrasni. “And we small business-owners, we’re not exactly revolutionaries – but that’s what we are going to have to become.”

AFP

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