In This Together: Bartenders Offer Advice and Support During Uncertain Times

With bar communities across the globe suffering from shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, bartenders are finding themselves in unchartered territories.

So we turned to some friends and mixologists from around the world to find out how they are coping – and getting creative – during these unprecedented times.

John Neely, Bartender, Activist + Consultant

Detroit, MI

“Covid-19 has shaken everyone to the core. I have been doing everything to keep my energy positive but it is not always easy,” admits Neely. “I try to keep a schedule so that something seems normal. Waking up early and working out is how things start for me normally. I started an organization called Spilt Base Detroit, which is a non-profit community-based organization focused on creating solutions and pathways to help hospitality works of Detroit.”

Doing good for others has helped Neely find a positive purpose during this time. “I normally start working on food drive and essential goods, working with my team to get things to people that need things safely.”

Like many others, Neely has been finding solace right at home. “When it comes to staying busy around the house home improvement and cooking have been two big loves of mine,” Neely says. “I have been working to learn more about how to do DIY home improvement along with painting. I paint professionally so it has been great to kick off the rust and get back into it. Cooking is the one love that makes me feel normal in all of this; being able to mise en place to make an epic meal is freedom.”

Alex Jump, Head Head Bartender at Death & Co Denver

Denver, Colorado

“One of the most difficult things that our society as a collective is experiencing is that many of us are experiencing this form of grief and loss for the first time in our lives,” Jump explains. “I read recently that we are watching people go through withdrawal from the addiction to the myth of certainty. Learning that nothing is certain has been fairly difficult for me as I have spent nearly my entire adult life planning for the future.”

Jump continues, “Personally I’ve been working every day to learn to be more accepting of the day to day uncertainty, while also not beating myself up comparing my productivity to others on social media. Everyone processes grief differently, and all I can do is take the process day by day and try to not look too much into the future because it is all so uncertain.”

It’s important to just live each moment without judgment. “I know so many people feel like they aren’t doing enough and they aren’t being proactive enough,” says Jump. “I would just like to offer support to all of those feeling that way and remind you that not everything you see on social media is real or valid. It’s okay to feel sad or unproductive or to take a day lying in bed watching movies instead of working out. Be gentle with yourself.”

Paul Benkert, Co-owner of The Bluebird Cocktail Room & Pub

Baltimore, MD

“I think the greatest challenge has been putting this into perspective,” says Benkert. “My life partner and business partner, Caroline is pregnant with our first child, a little girl—we’re due in early May—and that has certainly brought along its own challenges. Canceled doctor’s appointments, canceled baby shower, not being able to see family: we’ve had to accept going without these normal comforts during a time in our pregnancy when normalcy is highly valued. Our restaurants being closed, twenty-five staff members unemployed, bills not getting paid, and financial assistance in limbo is certainly the opposite of the security we thought we had with our successful businesses.”

But Benkert is trying to keep a positive attitude – and finding ways to be there for the Bluebird team. “Is this terrible? Perhaps. But we haven’t lost anyone, and our employees are hanging in there,” admits Benkert. “Instead of paying rent, we paid them severance. We provide them with weekly groceries, and a daily take-out meal. You know, they text me every day, to thank me, to wish my wife and me good luck—one of them even bought us a baby book. They’re truly the most wonderful, caring, and thoughtful people. It really hurts us that we can’t provide them with more.”

The silver lining? “This pandemic has made painfully obvious what we truly value, and I have to say, I think I lost sight of that over the years of twelve-hour workdays and the vanity of trying to get nominated for whatever award,” he admits. “There’s no telling when this will end, but I take great comfort in the fact that I know our customers and staff will be there for us when it does, as they’re here for us now. And I take great comfort in the fact that my little girl is going to come into a far more empathetic world.”


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