On Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all bars in the state of California must close. That was quickly followed by the Bay Area's shelter-in-place order, which was extended to the entire state as of last night.
While restaurants are still allowed to offer delivery and takeout (including pre-mixed cocktails with a secure lid, provided they're sold with food), bars with no food component are in a much tougher place. They can only sell sealed bottles of beer, wine, and spirits, and only if they possess specific types of liquor licenses with the state.
That puts them in direct competition not just with restaurants, but with grocery stores and liquor stores, which are also now allowed to offer drive-through windows.
Some are forging on anyway. Oakland's Heart & Dagger Saloon is planning to open a bottle shop this weekend, allowing customers to pick up beer, wine and spirits to go from 3 – 5 p.m. (Other bars that serve food, like The Monk's Kettle and City Beer Store, had already shifted into bottle-shop mode, as have many craft breweries' taprooms.)
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It’s official! Heart & Dagger Saloon Bottle Shop will be open for business! Starting Saturday and Sunday from 3-5pm come pick up beer, wine and spirits by the bottle to go! Including many hard to find products and things you can only find in bars, like our own Heart & Dagger Saloon Private Select Woodford Reserve Bourbon! Come check out our menu and support your favorite neighborhood bar! Bottle shop hours and menu will change daily so keep checking in! Note the bar will not be open and we will not be serving individual beverages to go. Please have cash or be ready to pay via Venmo. #heartanddaggersaloon #oakland #oaklandbars #bottleshop #booze
But most bars have been closed since early this week, facing the prospect of weeks, and possibly months, without revenue. Many service staff have already been laid off, and rent is coming due shortly.
“We are all starting from scratch here, these are unprecedented times,” said Eric Grenier, a board member of the SF Bay Area chapter of the United States Bartenders' Guild (USBG). “Everyone is trying to wrap their head around the new normal and figure out the best way to help.”
“This is about to become a financial nightmare in the Bay Area for service industry workers,” agreed Paul Bavaro, owner of Mission-based bars Thieves Tavern (496 14th St.) and the Blind Cat (3052 24th St.) He paid employees all the funds he had, he said, but has already had to lay them off.
“I have zero income, as do they," he said. "They are getting a pittance in unemployment, and I am getting zero."
Bavaro is fortunate: his landlord at Thieves Tavern has given him two months rent-free to stay afloat. “They were super generous and initiated without an ask,” he said.
But paying vendors and other expenses during the lockdown will be impossible without income. “The true disaster financially will be in the recovery."
Grenier, who works as a brand ambassador for Jack Daniels whiskey, said many of his USBG colleagues are already unemployed as well.
"Living paycheck to paycheck is a mental weight in of itself, but now you take away the ability to make money, and the immediate future seems pretty bleak," he said.
Nonetheless, he and other volunteers have come together to help the industry. Nationwide, the USBG is offering emergency relief grants to individual bartenders and servers (there's no need to be a member to apply). It's also connecting them to health and mental health resources, which Grenier said is something that needs to be addressed.
“In this industry, we have an innate need to help people, whether good times or bad, so this is a good place to start,” he said.
Here are some supplemental resources shared with us by the Bay Area USBG chapter and local bar owners: