The owner of a Liverpool nightclub has said lockdown restrictions feel like a "kick in the teeth" after dealing with closures and rule changes for a year.
Avenue launched on Victoria Street, in the former Midnight Lounge, in March of 2020 – just one week before the first national lockdown was introduced in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The eye-catching venue was designed to offer party-goers the ultimate selfie-spot, kitted out with a baby pink bar and catchy quotes emblazoned in neon signs.
Guests were able to enjoy a swing as they entered the venue and there was glamorous ball pit included to provide the fun-factor.
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But people were only able to enjoy the features for one night – Avenue's successful launch night – before the club had to shut its doors.
Avenue owner Amy Gwynn spoke to the Echo about the "challenging" time facing the nightlife scene while the pandemic continues.
Amy, 33, said: "It has of course been a very challenging and surreal time for us. Adapting to life in a tier system was very stressful as a club owner.
"Trying to meet customers' expectations of a nightclub and follow guidelines during a pandemic has been somewhat impossible at times.
"All we tend to hear is people complaining they can't have a night out and you feel for them, it's frustrating but it's so frustrating for us too – no one wants us open as much as we do."
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But Amy said it's important to remain positive.
She said: "You've got to count your blessings, we're all healthy, our staff are healthy but it has been hard.
"We did a big press launch with Propel when we opened and it was amazing – I wanted to make the club so unique but then it was difficult with suppliers to get everything ordered on time for the launch because we didn't mass order anything, and we wanted to make it somewhere people really wanted to come to.
"We put all this effort and energy in to it [the opening] and we only got one Saturday, which was the launch night of it being open."
Amy added: "At first it was absolutely devastating but as they say, nothing worth having comes easy."
Amy owns Avenue with her husband, Karl, and the pair are keen to keep the momentum achieved during their opening weekend alive as restrictions continue.
Amy said: "We went back into lockdown – it's difficult because you've got a new team, you want to keep the momentum going, you've had interest from the public then all of a sudden, nobody is interested and its like, 'oh my goodness, how are we going to come back from this?'
"When we went into the tiered system, there was thousands of messages and you want to get open; you want to get life back into the club; get your staff working and so on.
"We've had so many messages from people wanting to book in but all the rules made it so difficult – we were bringing food in, then that didn't work, you're constantly adapting to try and keep up.
"Then the curfew came in – at first, a curfew was crazy because Liverpool city centre is busy of a day time – you had elderly people doing their shopping then young girls taking selfies in hot pants, it was mind-blowing.
"We were trying to think about how we'd encourage people to come to a club in the day time. Half the cellar now has been turned into a fully licensed kitchen with a chef, and we're doing food to try and keep up."
Amy continued: "People are so desperate to get out, they've been locked up for so long, and you're then trying to enforce that they can't mix, they can't dance, they've got to have food whether they want to or not and I feel sorry for them.
"It's just a totally strange scenario and you feel like you're being a party pooper but the rules are so strict and we've put so much into the club, you want to protect it."
The club's famous ball pit is not allowed to be in use and the owners have tackled the ban with humour, adding a cut out of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a sign saying not to use the pit.
But the restrictions have still taken a toll on Amy.
She said: "Throughout December, some nights I'd come home and just want to cry because it was so draining and hard.
"A nightclub has always been close contact, it's that culture of drinking together and dancing and when that's taken away, it's hard."
But the support from the city is what keeps her going.
Amy said: "It's part of Liverpool culture to stick together and be understanding. We've had some customers come in who wanted to know how we were getting on and coping, a lot of the customers are really understanding and genuinely care about us.
"They're so restricted and they want a good time and we want to survive as a brand – we understand one another.
"It's difficult for everyone but within a nightclub, it's [the restrictions] pretty much impossible. The demand is there, the customers want to come, they're really understanding so that's what keeps you going. You've got to give them the best night you possibly can."
New Year's Eve dealt another blow to club owners.
Amy explained: "For New Year's Eve, we had a waiting list for people to get in, people were still booking even knowing they were likely going to be kicked out at 11pm then the day or two before, we were told it was cancelled.
"It was absolutely devastating, you're putting everything into it – even doing bookings, it's a time consuming process because you need all their information for Track and Trace, they need a disclaimer sending to them, then you have to print them out and make sure people sign them so general bookings take a lot longer.
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"You put all that effort in then it's cancelled – it feels like a constant kick in the face, to be honest but a lot of the customers have been so understanding.
"It's not all doom and gloom but we're really grateful for people who have been so supportive and understanding – it is frightening though because no one knows what's going to happen."
But Amy remains optimistic.
She said: "I think if we can survive this year, I'm really positive for the future of Avenue. We've had the most testing start, we're still coming through it though.
"We've kept the staff happy, we've been hit with everything – no one could have ever imagined we'd be hit this hard but it's made us more hungry.
"People are so desperate to get out, it makes us appreciate being open more. We want to put more energy into the club and we've got through these 12 months, which is a massive achievement.
"We've survived and although I don't know when we're going to open or what's going happen, we can get through anything.
"Hopefully these vaccines don't take too much longer – I'm not being naive and thinking normality will be here by the summer but if we can get through what we've got through then when we are open and give people the full experience, it'll feel like a breeze.
"We're ready when the world's ready to go."