In some places like Los Angeles and New York City, it appears some version of a stay-at-home order will remain in place through at least July.

Even as officials promise to gradually loosen restrictions along the way, the bartending community remains in this one day it’s surreal, the next day it’s not, purgatorial glut of uncertainty. While most of us support the City and County response, it still sucks.

At the same time, we’re seeing restaurants and bars in other parts of the country and world reopen, most often with guidelines such as physical distancing and reduced capacity.

For most bartenders the questions continue: “Will hospitality ever be the same? Will there be space for me and the people I care about in whatever the new normal looks like? When will we be able to spray champagne from the bar top again?”

To help calm anxious bartenders about their uncertain future, Mike Capoferri, bar owner pushing through Los Angeles’s lockdown better than most, and operating partner at Thunderbolt in Historic Filipinotown informs Chilled’s readers and offers some advice. Tales of the Cocktail recently nominated Thunderbolt for a Spirited Award in the Best New American Cocktail Bar category.

Mike Capoferri

Mike Capoferri

Will the boisterous form of hospitality we love so much ever come back?

We might not be dancing on bar tops together for a while, but people are still going to patronize the spots that make them feel good, like they’re part of something special.

Good hospitality can survive this. I’m already seeing it in our to-go-only operations. Everyday there are opportunities for us to make people feel special, or blow their minds with a drink we made just for them, or go out of our way to make a delivery happen for someone who can’t leave their place to come see us.

As a bar owner, what are you doing besides trying to pull off takeout?

Every day is a new puzzle to solve; it’s what’s keeping me sane. I think the biggest thing setting us apart right now is that we’ve taken some risks in investing in this new future. We’ve brought in equipment to make our to-go cocktails the best in town. We’ve invested in graphic design to give us killer, marketable labels and social assets. We built out a sexy new website with online ordering capabilities making it so much easier for people to spend their money with us.

My sad, but somewhat obvious hunch is that there will be way fewer bartending gigs to go around moving forward.

Almost certainly, and it’s heartbreaking. I’m trying not to be pessimistic about the return, but I’m guessing we’re only going to get half of LA’s bars and restaurants back. Those that do reopen will have to make really tough decisions regarding how to staff in the midst of very likely capacity restrictions.

Your advice for bartenders?

Bartenders need to take advantage of the unemployment they’re receiving and start promoting themselves. It’s the perfect time to educate yourself. Become an expert on something. Polish your social media presence. Start participating in some of the brand-sponsored content that is happening. The folks that set themselves apart now are the people that will be working in this industry in six months.

At your first staff meeting or pre-shift upon reopening what will you say?

I’d ask if any of them still remember how to bartend, because I’ve completely forgotten how.

But, really, I think that first pep talk would be something along the lines of reminding them that we’re a family and that we love each other and that their safety is the first priority and that the second they feel that safety being compromised, they can let me know, and I’ll take care of it.

– Mike’s last answer provides hope and comfort. Mike is leading bar communities in Los Angeles and elsewhere, while Thunderbolt has found a way, almost everyday, to partner with brands, other companies, and individuals to provide free meals to out-of-work hospitality professionals.

What we’re going through sucks. No doubt. But it has shown how resilient, resourceful, and caring so many people in our bar communities are.