I personally never went inside The Longbranch during its highly-anticipated grand opening on Thursday night. Once the Saskatoon country bar’s doors opened to fans who had been chanting “Let us in!” and the taxis kept rolling in, the line to enter grew increasingly long.
“It’s going to be busy tonight, that’s for sure,” patron Gary Winthorpe correctly predicted, long before a red Longbranch school bus pulled up and deposited about 45 more bargoers at the entrance.
This was the first Thursday “Ag Night” at The Longbranch in almost a year. Agricultural students at the University of Saskatchewan and a “plus one” can enter on this weekly occasion for free.
“Thursdays, it’s definitely one of the most popular [places]….” Winthorpe said. “My buddy bought an Ag [admission] card this morning. They went on sale [Wednesday] night and he’s already number 219.”
At about 8:15 p.m., a Longbranch bus pulled in with more bargoers. The driver said the bus prevents impaired driving. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)
Located at The Ramada Hotel on Idylwyld Drive, The Longbranch closed its doors last October during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, after featuring “redneck dance cubes” that were bolted to the floor and held room for four people.
The bar was flagged as the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak. Public health officials neither confirmed nor denied they had approved the contraptions, but said dance cubes were prohibited.
“I don’t think they were as effective as planned,” Winthorpe said.
The Longbranch posted this photo of its ‘redneck dance’ cubes on Facebook on Sept. 12, 2020. The bar later closed after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared. (The Longbranch/Facebook)
Ten months later, after a series of promised reopenings, The Longbranch returned during the fourth wave, at a time when bars are no longer legally required by the Saskatchewan government to cap their attendance and vaccines have been available for months.
Four of the five waiting patrons I spoke to were fully vaccinated.
“We feel like most of the people coming here have been vaccinated because you have to be vaccinated to be at the university,” said Paris Volk of she and her friend Brianna Bakken.
Brianna Bakken and Paris Volk were among the first to show up to get in line at The Longbranch on Thursday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)
The University of Saskatchewan is requiring students and faculty to show proof of a first vaccination by Sept. 7 and a second dose by Oct. 18. “Individuals who are unable or who are unwilling to get vaccinated will be required to provide regular and frequent negative COVID-19 test results,” according to the policy.
Server Matt Bonneau has only received his first shot. He said he should be ready to take his second in two weeks, though he’s been eligible to do so “for a long time.”
I asked why he hadn’t followed up with his second shot by now.
“Family members, people walking away from it, telling you not to get it,” he said. “For me, for school, it was more of a thing where, you get the email and you don’t want to be taking 60 COVID tests a year. So you just kind of have to get it.”
‘Everyone’s pretty excited,’ said server Matt Bonneau, middle. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)
‘The risk is up to you’
Volk and Bakken were among the first to line up outside The Longbranch on Thursday night. They said they were excited to get in.
“I was here the last night The Longbranch was open before it closed for COVID and I did see the redneck dance cubes. I danced in them, even,” Volk said.
Any qualms about being out amid the fourth wave? I asked.
“I feel safe because we had to wear a mask in our Uber and we’re both [fully] vaccinated,” Volk said.
Colby Larson took this photo inside The Longbranch on Thursday. (Submitted by Colby Larson)
“I probably won’t mask when we’re in there because we’ll just be drinking and talking to people,” Bakken said. “So it’s probably easier not to. And since we’re vaxxed then, I don’t know, I trust it.”
“I think we’re just less likely to wear a mask,” Bakken said.
“And I already had COVID,” Volk said. “So I feel like maybe that helps me not get it again. I didn’t get that sick, but I wouldn’t want anybody else to get it.”
Winthorpe brought a mask with him, and some hand sanitizer, he said.
“So if I get in close contact or go up to the bar or the bouncers or I’m talking in close quarters, I can put that on if they request or I can if I’m going dance with someone.”
Gary Winthorpe shows the mask he brought with him. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)
Like Volk, Bakken and Winthorpe, Brayden Cline is fully vaccinated. About a half hour after the bar doors opened, he was near the back of a line that had grown very long, and would grow longer.
“It doesn’t bother me too much,” Cline said of being out during the fourth wave.
“I’m double vaccinated. I’m pretty confident. I’m a pretty healthy guy. If I did get it, obviously I’d take all the precautions and whatever else. But I agree, if you are indoors and stuff in the classroom, maybe wear a mask. But when you’re doing stuff on your own time, it’s really your call,” he said.
“The risk is up to you.”
Colby Larson also took this photo inside The Longbranch on Thursday. (submitted by Colby Larson)