Monday 12 April 2021 3:50 pm

'It's the best city in the world': Punters flock back to the Square Mile as lockdown eases

Shoppers, pub-goers and those desperately in need of a haircut descended on the City of London today as lockdown restrictions eased.

Today marks the first major change in the lockdown restrictions England has been living with since early January.

Pubs gardens are now open, as well as restaurants with outdoor space and non-essential retail, although restrictions and rules around how exactly they can operate remain in place.

Mike, landlord at city pub The Grapes, prepared “all week” to get his pub ready for today’s opening, and is rewarded by an almost full outdoor area at around 2pm on a Monday afternoon.

“Today’s been good, but it’s a bit of a nuisance that everyone has to log in with a QE code – i’ve had one or two complaints about it,” he says.

The Grapes is nestled behind Leadenhall Market on Lime Street and in the shadow of insurer Lloyd’s of London. Despite a tough start to the year, Mike is optimistic about London in a post-Covid world.

The outside area at The Grapes was already nearly full in the early afternoon.

“London’s the best city in the world,” he laughs. “Of course it’ll go back to normal.”

Drinking at the pub are colleagues Pritesh and Steve, who say they work “in the IT side of things” at an insurance company.

Both are happy to see the back of lockdown, with Pritesh adding: “We don’t believe in this prison-level thing where you have to be alone. Being alone – solitary confinement – is what they do to prisoners for misbehaving, it’s not a human train to have. It’s great to be out and about.”

Pritish reckons City of London workers have an obligation to the economy to head back to work, pointing out those in hospitality need the pent up cash from those who have worked from home during the lockdown.

Steve enjoying a bottle of wine with friend Pritesh

The Grapes was the local watering hole for the men before coronavirus struck and closed down the city, and marks the first location they have met to socialise.

Steve is also one of hundreds of men to have rushed into the city to get a haircut as soon as he could.

“I went to R.W. Wolf (on Eastcheap). I had to pre-book to get in, and it was chock-a-block this morning, they had to keep turning people away and asking them ‘have you got a booking?’ They’re probably trying to fit in everyone they can.”

That was a sentiment and experience shared by this writer this afternoon. City A.M. tried to chat with a couple of barbers in the Square Mile, but was turned away because they were too busy with clients to talk.

Terry, who is found queuing for The Lamb Tavern in Leadenhall Market, has travelled all the way from Northwood in Greater London to go to a hairdressers in Tower 42.

“For 30 years i’ve worked with a hairdresser in town, and i’ve never changed the habits of a lifetime,” he says.

The queue to the Sky Garden.

Away from the pubs, a queue to The Sky Garden stretches the length of the Walkie Talkie.

NHS workers Jenny and Joe are visiting today for a treat. “I’m looking forward to doing something normal,” Joe adds.

For Raphael, who stands elsewhere in the queue, today marks the first can he can show his cousin, who recently moved to London, what life in the capital is like.

“We got the day off today because everything is opening, [and] my cousin is new in London so we decided to come to the city centre,” he says.

“I’m going to show him the Sky Garden because then he’ll see the whole city. After that we’re thinking of going to Oxford Street to see how things are going there, and after that I think we’re going to a pub.”