Death of a Bartender, Part II

Photo owned by author

By Crista Jakacky
BANGOR, ME — Monday July 27, 2020

Many of you read and shared (and related to) my last article about COVID and it's effect on the food and beverage industry. And I am humbled by that.

I am disappointed to be writing a follow-up story.

A story of another long-time business closing due to COVID. But this story has a twist...

I tend bar for a "hole in the wall" pub in Brewer, ME. It is adjacent to a sit-down restaurant. They both have their own identities, but are are owned by the same people, working under the same license.

I worked there from 2008-2010, and the owner called me a little over two years ago and asked me to come back. These businesses have been open for 14 years. A few of us have been there a very long time. Some since the start. Seven employees in the kitchen, three on restaurant waitstaff (we usually staff more, but a couple of them quit during this pandemic), and six bartenders.

The restaurant was very popular for breakfast, and the bar was always full of regulars. It truly was a neighborhood bar, much like Cheers. We also had live entertainment on occasion, and karaoke every Friday night. We were almost always busy.

Then came COVID.

The bar regulars were so excited that they came back full force. And they were spending money and tipping generously. We were often at capacity (which wasn’t much, it's a tiny bar... but even at capacity it was busy!). Our huge back room was at capacity every Friday night for Karaoke.

The restaurant suffered. The customer demographic for the restaurant was mostly older folks, and many were too scared to come back. There were some that didn't care, and still had their weekly cribbage gatherings, or other miscellaneous group socials.

The bar, however, was doing exceptionally well. Especially considering the circumstances.

We were dotting all our i's and crossing all our t's when it came to mandates and being careful.

The boss started carrying less and less stock. She told us she was afraid that the state was going to shut restaurants down like in other parts of the country, and she didn't want to get stuck with hundreds of dollars worth of inventory. We all understood that.

Then this morning came...

And we all received this same text message at 3:30am:

"Hi (insert employee name). I am very sad to say that I have closed the business as of today. Thank you for your hard work."

Sixteen of us with the rug pulled out from under us. No warning. Never saw it coming.
This from an employer who was supposed to care about us. Care about the employees who pulled that little bar back up and made it great again. Who scrubbed on our hands and knees for hours to get it ready for reopening. Employees who came in every day and risked our health, our lives. Who covered extra shifts and worked extra hours. Who dedicated ourselves to her, to each other, and to our customers.
And then, didn't even have the courage and decency to tell us all in person.

This morning there was a sign on the door for customers-
"To all our loyal customers and friends, After 14 years we have regretfully have decided to close our doors. Business has not been enough to sustain expenses since reopening. We want to thank you for your friendship and trust over the years. We wish you well and hope to see you around town. Be safe."

And so my customers will show up today expecting to see me, and will be nearly as shocked and upset as I am.

I hope that was all coherent, I am still processing it myself.