The pandemic upended the city’s hospitality industry. Some bars and restaurants adopted takeaway or outside-only service, others began selling provisions and dried goods. Some switched to virtual programming, and lots of people ended up unemployed. Although the sale of alcohol was deemed an essential service, bartending took a major hit: One in four jobs lost during the pandemic were in bars and restaurants. The impact hit New York’s restaurants even harder, as they are closing at higher rates.
But Brooklyn, being Brooklyn, won’t go down without a fight (or a few laughs). Some of Brooklyn’s more innovative bartenders have come up with clever solutions to pandemic-induced financial distress, fundraising for their peers through podcasts, apparel and pin-ups.
Now hear this
Keith Carter had just started a job in Dumbo at a new place that opened in March 2020 just as the shutdowns went into place.
“I worked that Saturday and that Sunday, and then I was at work and we’re like, alright, well we’re closing early,” said Carter. “And then I never saw them again. Haven’t seen many people since.”
So Carter switched gears from bartender to podcaster. Each week on “The Unemployed Bartender,” he hosts an old regular or someone “interesting he’s met along the way” to talk about sports, politics, and life. On every episode, a guest bartender comes on to make their specialty cocktail. (If listeners like the drink, they can tip the bartender at their Venmo or Zelle provided in the show.) The transition to podcasting felt natural to Carter: He particularly missed the conversations that he used to have with patrons and regulars.
“I knew after everything shut down that I wanted to do something to bring awareness to this situation, what a lot of people in the hospitality industry were going through,” said Carter. “We all have a responsibility to give back as much as we can.”
Carter said when the summer’s enhanced unemployment benefits went away, it hit workers in the hospitality industry especially hard. So he’s giving back where he can: selling “Unemployed Bartender” hoodies and tees and donating all proceeds to the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation and Feeding America. According to Carter, they’ve been able to donate about $500 so far. Shirts are available on Shopify.
Bushwick’s Bar Babes 2021 Calendar is another Shopify-based initiative to support local bartenders. It’s a pin-up calendar featuring 13 of Bushwick’s … “hottest” … bartenders in fun and sexy poses at their bars.
“One of the other bartenders and I were spitballing at the end of a shift and it came up as a joke: What if we did a sexy bartender calendar like the firemen do?” Leslie Hong, calendar creator and floor manager at Our Wicked Lady, told the New York Post. “When we were sober the next morning it still seemed like a good idea.”
The calendar was shot by Jeanette D. Moses and Michelle Ma of The Babes of Bushwick and supported by Fernet. The apt price of $20.21 must have been low enough for sellers since pre-orders have sold out. Fear not, copies remain for bars to distribute in person. If you still want to support Bushwick’s nightlife, their GoFundMe is still around. We’ll drink to that.
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