Noel’s Arms Sets Up Virtual Pub for Town Patrons—But Welcomes More Than 14,500 Global Customers

This ex-landlady who set up a virtual pub to keep people entertained during the novel coronavirus lockdowns has been forced to employ bar staffers as a means of coping with her 14,500 online customers.

Jo Bowtell — SWNS
Jo Bowtell — SWNS

Since 40-year-old Jo Bowtell launched The Virtual Pub Facebook page just over a week ago, she has been regularly hosting live music, quizzes, DJ sets, open mic, and comedy nights.

She started the page in order to bring her local English community together after running The Noel Arms in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England for several years.

However, the group has become so popular, it has attracted members from as far away as Australia, the USA, Canada, Spain, and Italy.

The flood of visitors has forced the mum-of-two to enlist the help of international staff members to keep her customers entertained when she goes to bed.

She currently has a team of ten made up of “bar staffers”, who talk to customers, and “bouncers”, who moderate the people allowed into the pub.

Hundreds of people have been sharing selfies of them enjoying a tipple from home as they tune in to watch DJ sets on a Friday night or a comedy show on a Sunday.

Bowtell, who is from Spondon, Derby, says the pub is the biggest she has ever ran—and the page has turned into a full-time job during the COVID-19 outbreaks.

The Virtual Pub
The Virtual Pub

“It started as just a way for locals in Melton Mowbray who knew the pub to keep in touch,” she added. “Now, I’ve got people in Hawaii tuning in to watch a DJ set and people stranded in Italy watching comedy nights with their mum in Britain.

“It has completely blown up. We’ve got 3,000 members just waiting for approval—it’s like there’s a queue at the door to get in,” says Bowtell. “It’s the biggest pub I’ve ever ran and I can’t believe how popular it has become.

“It’s really nice to be able to bring people together in these difficult times in the most British way possible. It is pretty much like going to a pub, but doing it from your living room or back garden.

“It’s keeping communities entertained and friends and family connected together. It is like running an actual pub without the hassle of serving the booze.

“I have to delegate jobs to my team,” she continued. “I’ve had to ask a friend in Australia to moderate the page throughout the night to make sure there’s entertainment for patrons 24/7. I have people looking after the technical side of things and others doing online tutorials for new users.

“I’ve got moderators, who are like bouncers vetting who can come in, and the bar staff chatting to people over a virtual bar counter.

“A bit closer to the nucleus of the idea is a landlady of a pub in Melton is offering to deliver drinks to people. But most people are just drinking from home.

“We’re encouraging people to drink responsibly though. We have coffee mornings as well.”

Virtual Pub Bar Staff SWNS

“As a landlady you tend to be a pillar of the community, who people turn to in times of need. You’re there for the good, the bad and the ugly,” pondered Bowtell. “You almost have a moral obligation, the pub is an extension of the home for most people, but now their homes are the extension of the pub.

“There are key workers getting in from work at odd hours and it is a way to connect with people.

“We keep it light-hearted and there’s a lot of banter but I don’t tolerate bad language or derogatory comments. I’m a bit of an old-school landlady like that.

“But it means I need a team of people to moderate the page, and arrange artists to perform. We even have a private ‘green room’ group. Its like running a TV station.”

Music and quiz nights have been running through Facebook live video feeds, with answers posted in the comments.

Last Sunday, a comedy night was hosted by four performers communicating through Skype, which they filmed on YouTube and posted to the page—and this weekend, a Jo Wicks-style boot camp was hosted in the morning, followed by a cocktail-making class in the afternoon and live music and a quiz in the evening.

Performers have been able to share their PayPal details with viewers who can donate if they choose to.

There is even a “thought of the day” from 101-year-old Gentleman Jim: the stereotypical “old man in the corner who will sit with his half a pint of mild.”

“Everyone is buying into it as they can sit at home and be entertained as if they are in the same place. It is a haven,” says Bowtell. “Some members of the page have been playing it through their television. So its like having the pub singers right in your front room.

“Everyone seems to be really happy with it and I feel like something positive is happening in the world. I’m not doing it for profit and the team are working voluntarily.

“In such bleak times, it is important to find a positive—and with all the bad news going around I think it really puts a smile on people’s faces.”

37-year-old customer Dawn Richardson said: “It is keeping me entertained all day. I just love it. It has brought people together.”

Love in the Time of Corona: NYC Man is Now Dating His Neighbor After He Creatively Woos Her in Quarantine

Pandemic or no pandemic, love will find a way—just ask Jeremy Cohen, a quarantined New Yorker who is now dating his neighbor after using a drone to give his phone number to the young woman he spotted dancing on a nearby rooftop.

Cohen, a Brooklyn-based music photographer and filmmaker who has worked with the likes of Miley Cyrus and Lizzo, was just one of millions of Americans twiddling their thumbs in self-isolation last week when he saw an animated figure dancing with gusto on a neighboring rooftop.

“I thought she was really cute from far away,” Cohen told The New York Post. “During this quarantine, I think everyone is fiending for social interaction. I was like, ‘Oh my god, a girl. I haven’t seen one for so long.’”

Cohen then pulled out his phone to document the meet-cute that followed. In a now-famous series of videos, the two neighbors can be seen waving to one another—although the distance between their building made conversation difficult.

Necessity, however, is the mother of invention, and in a flash of inspiration, the video shows Cohen writing his phone number on a piece of paper, taping it to his drone, and using a remote control to navigate the machine through the air towards his brunette belle.

Tori Cignarella, the dancer in question, has also racked up thousands of views since posting her own Instagram post of the quarantine disco.

“I was actually hanging out with my roommate … and I was actually doing the dance from ‘High School Musical,’” Cignarella said, referring to the topically uplifting tune of “We’re All in this Together”.

“I was not expecting to get a phone number out of it,” she added. “We could see his balcony pretty clearly from where we were on the roof and he basically just kind of shouted over to me.”

As he narrated the TikTok video, Cohen admitted that flirting is “normally daunting” for him, but he is also apparently a hopeless romantic—a fact that is clearly evident in the footage that followed.

The second installment of Cohen’s video series shows the couple sharing a dinner date from across the street as they each sit down to an intimate meal, complete with wine and nice tablecloths, on their respective balconies—something Cohen had stealthily coordinated with Cignarella’s roommate.

“This date is going really well,” Cohen later confided to his social media followers. “Depending on how long this quarantine lasts, I might just end up in a long-distance relationship with someone who lives across the street.”

The couple can be seen laughing and clinking their glasses over FaceTime—and by the end of the update, Cohen says he has made up his mind. “It’s time to take this relationship to the next level,” he says to the camera, with a twinkle in his eye.

Cohen’s third video installment turned out to be the most impressive of all…

As a means of keeping himself quarantined, the infatuated Brooklynite steps inside of a giant inflatable plastic bubble before walking (and rolling) the short distance to Cignarella’s home. He even brought her flowers—although he later realized that he was unable to give them to her, trapped in a bubble as he was.

Upon emerging from her apartment building to see her rooftop Romeo ensconced in a plastic ball like a human hamster, however, Cignarella almost falls to the floor in delight.

The two of them were then filmed walking through their neighborhood, enjoying the sunshine and “holding” hands through the bubble. They even experienced a brief scare with a NYC police crew only to have the officers admit that they wanted a picture after seeing the couple on the news the night before.

“I can’t believe this actually worked, and yes, this is a true story,” Cohen tweeted alongside the video series, which have now been viewed millions of times.

If that weren’t enough, Cohen has also taken the opportunity to use his new internet fame to promote two worthy causes: a small-business booster called Help Main Street, and food bank organization Feeding America. He posted links to his Twitter page prior to his third video update, saying: “So I went kinda viral today, but there’s a real virus that is actually affecting a lot of people’s lives sooo while I try to figure out how to have a virtual date with this girl here’s a few ways you can help.”

So thoroughly has this lockdown love story captured the hearts of social media followers worldwide, we’re expecting a Hollywood adaptation of their story called Love In The Time Of Corona in the coming years.