Is a 'virtual pub' what we need to see us through the lockdown?

We're all making the most of apps like Houseparty and Zoom to see our mates – but are virtual pubs the next step in our isolated social lives?

Hands up who misses their local? All of us? I thought as much. Like everyone else, I am cursing my former introverted ways and craving a night of pints with my friends, with all the soaked beer mats, packed bathrooms, and pushy queues for the bar that I formerly tried to avoid.

The pub is probably the place that all of our minds go to when we think of what we're missing about the outside world. A space that is purely for socialising and relaxing, that is equally suitable for a quiet pint while reading a book and for a night-long piss-up. It's exactly what's missing from our lives these days, where our work, eat and sleep spaces have all been squashed into one inside our homes. We all miss the pub, so it's no wonder that it's been the first place resurrected in an online form for the Covid-19 generation.

So-called 'virtual pubs' or 'ePubs' have been seeing a spike in popularity since the outbreak began, with lonesome former pub-goers seeking out new ways to socialise. While we're all loving our Zoom calls with close friends and family, these virtual pubs go a step beyond, and invite anyone and everyone to join and emulate the atmosphere we've all been missing.


The Corona Arms

Many of these virtual pubs, most of which are stemming from the UK, started out as typical small gatherings of friends, but quickly grew in numbers. The Virtual Pub Facebook page, for example, was set up by ex-pub landlady Jo Bowtell in Derby in the UK, and runs quizzes, live music and open mic nights.

The Corona Arms, another virtual pub, began when landlady Emily Huyton shared her Zoom chat details on social media, and attracted hundreds of patrons. You can now gain entry to the pub by completing quizzes on its Instagram page, which reveals the link to the Zoom chat to join in.

It remains to be seen if such an idea will make its way across the water to Ireland, where, as it is well known, we're all fond of a night in the pub as well. Will we latch onto the idea of a virtual night in the local?

Is it for us?

Virtual hangouts are great, yes, and any way that you can socialise with friends and keep your mental health well is brilliant. But to me, this virtual thing doesn't really cut it when it comes to what the essence of the pub is.

Pubs are messy, and warm, and crowded, and filled with voices, and smells (some better than others) and shouts and laughter. They're an escape from an otherwise orderly world – where we commute in silence, work with polite conversation, and sit at home to decompress before sleeping and doing it all again. The pub is the place to let loose, for shoulders to lower and tension headaches to melt away, even though the atmosphere may be far from serene. Trying to emulate that atmosphere through a webcam, with a half-hearted attempt at a Guinness in hand, doesn't seem very exciting.


For me, I'm keeping things separate. Zoom and Houseparty calls will still be a staple of my new, unsocial social life – my need to see and spend time with friends and family hasn't changed. But I'll keep my desire for a pub night out to myself – it'll make the sweat, dirt and loud laughter all the sweeter when it comes back for real.

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