Owners of bars and discos “stunned” by government advice to convert to ‘coffee shops’

Following six months in which they have been prevented from opening at all, owners and managers of Portuguese bars and discotheques heard last week that they could finally open … as coffee shops – with absolutely no chance of dancing unless on an outdoor dance floor.

Their hours in Greater Lisbon are still being strictly-controlled (they must be closed by 8pm every night), but in the rest of the country they will be able to run until 1am.

How can this be enough for a segment that traditionally only gets ‘started’ after midnight and operates habitually into the wee small hours?

The short answer is that it isn’t enough. It’s not even workable. Most premises say they will stay shut through the summer – and yes, there will be a cascade of redundancies unless financial measures are put in place fast.

Said one clearly bemused bar owner interviewed by RTP in Lisbon: “Who is going to come to a discotheque after work, to sit in a close space like this one when there are open air terraces nearby before going out to dinner? Who is going to come here to eat, what… a croquette?”

None of it makes sense, stresses António Fonseca, president of the association of bars in the historic area of Porto. Indeed Fonseca has dubbed the decision: “the greatest legislative mistake in living memory”.

What’s needed, he says, are grants (not loans) to get businesses that have no choice but to remain closed through this ‘wasteland’ moment to a point where they can reopen and function normally.

In the Algarve, Liberto Mealha –  owner of Albufeira’s iconic Kiss Disco Club and president of the regional association of discotheques – branded the development as “an insult to the sector”.

Discotheques are not even made to ‘compete’ with restaurants/ coffee shops. The notion is “out of the question”, he said.

For now the government has not ‘reacted’ in any meaningful way to the sense of disbelief in a sector that had been holding out for ‘good news’ to help it recover through August.

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