HOTELS that reopened on Monday were buoyed by strong "freedom day" trade with one operator saying "it wasn't as big as New Year's Eve, but it wasn't far off".
Some venues were at capacity, which is restricted to one person per four square-metres indoors and per two square-metres outdoors, from mid-afternoon.
The Kent Hotel owner Stephen Hunt said his venue was at capacity with "one in, one out" from 7.30pm until shortly before close at 3am, but it had been flat chat for lunch and into the afternoon.
"It pumped all day," he said. "There was no mad rush, it was just solid. Our normal capacity is about 500 and we were probably sitting at about half [that]."
The venue had no dramas with people who aren't fully vaccinated trying to get in and Mr Hunt said turnover was four times greater than a typical Monday. He put the successful reopening down to staying connected with customers during lockdown.
"Our chef was pumping a new menu, so that helped fill the restaurant, and we did a countdown on social media [the reopening]. But what was really helpful was, we kept trading through [lockdown] just doing takeaways; we were selling growlers and squealer. All our locals would come up and say when are you opening and we'd say 'not long now', and that's what we're all about, the touchpoints with locals."
Other venues to hit capacity on Monday included the Prince of Wales in Merewether, Young Street Hotel in Carrington, Commonwealth Hotel in Cooks Hill and The Bennett in Hamilton.
Newcastle City Police District commander Detective Superintendent Wayne Humphrey said patrons were well behaved at licensed venues across the city, and both venues and punters were "all very compliant" with COVID-safety plans, the use of QR codes to check-in and vaccination status checks.
"It's great to see the people of Newcastle out and enjoying the city once again, but it's also a time now to venture out with caution as we know the Delta strain is still circulating," he said.
"NSW Police will continue to enforce the public health order to ensure the public can engage in the eased restrictions in a safe manner.
"Police will also be targeting alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour as the weather continues to get warmer and more people are able to socialise."
It wasn't just Newcastle pubs which had a windfall on Monday with multiple Lake Macquarie hotels booked out for lunch and dinner.
Pippi's at the Point licensee Stephanie Grace said she did not put on live music like some other venues but locals responded in numbers to "probably double" the level of typical Monday trade under COVID-restrictions.
"It was good, it was consistent," she said. "It was quite spread out, there wasn't any initial rush or anything like that. But we did have a fully booked restaurant for lunch and dinner. We're starting to fill up for all services throughout this week and getting bookings right through into December."
Ms Grace said the requirement to check vaccination status had caused some delays for patrons accessing the venue, but she expects this will improve as the government merges the certificates into the check-in app.
"There was a couple of people who had only had one shot, but they understood. There was no conflict at the front, we've got someone allocated there to help people," she said.
"It was more just a little bit more time consuming with people wanting it on their phones, who weren't linked, being able to access their Medicare. I think definitely when the integrated system is sorted, it will be a lot easier and more streamlined."
Mr Hunt, who also owns the Seabreeze Hotel, said the Nelson Bay venue "went well" on Monday but was reliant on mainly locals. He expects the pub and others across Port Stephens "will go nuts" once travel restrictions ease even further.
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