How the World's Best Bars are Coping with Coronavirus

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Who could go for a good drink right now? How about a long talk with friends? Or a quiet chat with a stranger? 

In a pre-COVID-19 world, you could easily find these now sought-after commodities at a bar. But as our worlds shrink to two-by-two-metre islands of isolation, the work of bartenders has been deemed ‘non-essential’ and establishments have been forced to close indefinitely. 

Some bars, however, just refuse to call for last drinks – and have subsequently adapted to this new global norm with breath-taking speed. 

This month on the Living Proof Podcast, we’ve taken a look at how some of the world's most iconic cocktail bars are retaining relevance and connection with their community – and how others can, too. 

Turning to takeaway

Around the world, many legislators have altered liquor licensing laws to allow bars to deliver drinks to people’s doors. This has been the case in cocktail mecca New York, says Liana Oster, who currently heads the bar program at the best bar in the world, Dante in Greenwich Village. She says it’s allowed the bar to stay afloat.

“It completely changed everything,” she says, in reference to the change in laws. “We’re probably trading at around 15% of our previous revenue.. being able to do takeaway and pick up which has been fantastic for us and our workers who want to work, and to provide  for the community as well.”

An example of Dante's takeaway offering. Credit: @dantenyc

Dante is offering pick-up delivery, where customers can collect their cocktail or food order from a small table in the restaurant with as little interaction as possible. For those who’d prefer having their drams delivered straight to their door, they’re working with third party platforms such as UpServe, who have minimally interactive delivery options.

“The first day that we gave the takeaway thing a go, the majority of our customers – actually probably 100% - were our regulars,” says Liana. “They were the people straight away calling up and saying ‘Have a couple [negronis] for me ready to go, I’ll be down in a minute’.”

“It’s been really lovely, this sense of community.”

Listen to our interview with Liana in the player below, or search for 'Living Proof' on your podcast app of choice.


Connect to Industry

Many people in isolation have turned to online learning to keep their minds busy and their skills sharpened. At the forefront of this trend in the bar industry is Maxim Schulte, Head Bartender at the Savoy’s American Bar, who turned his desire to keep learning into an online learning platform called The BoozeBrain. 

“[It’s] a non-branded educational platform to keep people’s minds sane and keep them healthy and keep them occupied and give them a platform to tune into,” Maxim explains. 

The BoozeBrain is easily accessible on Facebook and Instagram, where bartenders and bar lovers alike can tune in to talks conducted by industry leaders and ambassadors throughout the day.

So far, The Booze Brain has hosted seminars by the likes of Sim Edwards, Philip Duff, John Wayte, Sasha Filimonov and Lars Williams, covering everything from staying healthy in isolation, to kombucha homebrew, to bar photography and social media. 

And it’s proved to be quite popular. 

Listen to our interview with Maxim in the player below, or search for 'Living Proof' on your podcast app of choice.

“In the first couple of sessions we had over a hundred people tuning in live, so that was 100 more than we thought there was going to be. We were saying that with just 25 people we’d be happy,” says Maxim. “We tried to connect globally and get some guests from other regions. Trying to provide interesting stuff.”

“It’s a really nice thing that the industry’s adopted and it’s keeping me very occupied.”


Engage with Customers Online

If you can’t go to the bar, sometimes the bar can come to you. Marcus Motteram of Hains and Co in Adelaide is amongst a range of bar owners moving the experience of sitting down at a bar to online. 

“We’ve started putting up some virtual tastings online and using the stock we have in the bar,” Marcus explains. “[We’re] sending out little samples to people and then we’re going to have everyone on Zoom, and we’re going to do virtual tastings that way.”

Purchasing a ticket to these online tastings will see participants receive an online package of six Single Malt Australian whiskies and instructions to join a live tasting with Marcus himself. Amongst the first selection of whiskies on offer, are pours from Corowa Distillery, Spring Bay and Limeburners Sherry. 

It’s not exactly business as usual, but it’s a change that will help Marcus and his team weather the Coronavirus storm and emerge in good spirits on the other side.  

“It’s part of being relevant,” says Marcus. “It’s part of staying in contact with your customers, patrons and staff.”

There may no longer be any customers coming through the door to stir drinks and swap stories, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a demand for the joy and comfort bars can offer. The decision to continue operating a bar in these times is far from an easy one to make, but as Liana, Maxim and Marcus have shown, it is, in a sense, a necessary one. 

Because, now more than ever, we all just need a good drink.