I have had some amazing conversations with bartenders over the last several weeks.

So many of them have used the four-plus months we have spent mostly at home to reflect, try new things, and change behaviors.

I should note that as late May morphed into June, many of these bartenders took to social media and the streets to protest not only the murder of George Floyd, but the systemic racism and inequality that permeates our societal, corporate, and civic institutions. This is of paramount importance at the moment and going forward. With that in mind, I collected the following thoughts and observations over the first three weeks of May. I hope they help you connect with the Los Angeles bar community, which has been sitting on the sidelines longer than most.

Perry Brown, Melrose Umbrella Company, kneeling in front of car

Perry Brown, Melrose Umbrella Company

This has taught me a lot about how fragile life really is.
– Perry Brown, Melrose Umbrella Company

As it ends up, the stay-at-home orders came at an interesting time. Because we were living life at a relative standstill, we had time to reflect on what we saw in Minneapolis and decide how we, at the individual level, wanted to react. And, as Perry indicates, he was already in an introspective way:

“I have never had so much time on my hands to be able to reflect on myself and my choices. All I have done is work to pay bills week after week. For the first time in my life, I have time to reflect on decisions and choices I have made. I have been able to drop bad habits and learn to replace them with new ones that I find are beneficial to my wellbeing.”

Rony Gonzalez, Bartender, Melrose Umbrella Co.

Rony Gonzalez, Bartender, Melrose Umbrella Co.

Rony Gonzalez, also from Melrose Umbrella Company, said he’s in bed now at four in the morning. That used to be the time you could find him eating a less-than-healthy meal after a shift. There appeared to be a pre-pandemic trend toward wellness among bartenders that the lockdown amplified. Rony, who has been in the industry for 21 years (and he’s not even 40 yet), says “long hours, heavy drinking, not sleeping enough, and not having time for workouts” can be “life-threatening.” And he’s right.

Gianna Johns, The NoMad, Downtown Los Angeles

Gianna Johns, The NoMad, Downtown Los Angeles

I’m not just dumping liquids down my throat now.
-Gianna Johns, The NoMad, Downtown Los Angeles

There’s not much opportunity to “do a shot” with your team or a regular, but a reduction in the random, almost wanton behavior of dumping liquids down your throat has something to do with a greater sense of self-awareness.

Gianna made that point simply by reflecting on her new day-to-day:

“I don’t ‘have to walk the dog’ anymore, I GET to walk the dog. And it’s a domino effect. Wow, what a beautiful flower, oh, that reminds me – I love nature, what can I do to protect it? I have time to ask myself that question. Ok, reading doesn’t automatically put me to sleep because my eyes and brain are so tired from working all night or whatever. So I’m reading books quickly and it’s all tying in together. This is what makes a better world! Learning through reading, staying informed, being aware of who and where we are and not where we need to be and at what time. We are so distracted and it’s understandable but this has shown me how things can be and I don’t know that I can imagine ever going backwards again. We all need balance.”

I’m continuously inspired by how people have mobilized in the face of a pandemic that has been overshadowed by something so much more important. But inspired by the seemingly meaningless things.

Like the one bartender I talked to who is running an adult lemonade stand in the front yard of his suburban Los Angeles home. He also applied to be a mail carrier because he wants to be more connected to the community. And the bartender who now delivers veggie boxes for a local farm.

Taken together, it feels like the stay-at-home lifestyle will prompt lasting change for members of the hospitality industry. With time to think deep thoughts and be creative, I’m convinced we’re all becoming better, more self-aware versions of ourselves. During this time, that’s exactly what we need to create and contribute to a more caring, compassionate, just, and equitable society going forward.