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A Modern Speakeasy for a Modern Depression.

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

2020 was a year that was replete with reasons for a beer. With so much tumult in the world no one would blame you for seeking refuge in a nice cocktail. However, due to the pandemic, many states set strict social distancing regulations in place that barred patrons from frequenting their favorite watering holes, as was the case in my hometown in Florida. During the initial height of the COVID-19 pandemic bars were ordered to be closed and restaurants limited their capacity.

This all occurred synchronously with my sophomore year of college, at the time I was working in a popular bar/restaurant. However, the bar I worked in saw a profitable opportunity amongst all the chaos and showed no restraint in exploiting it. Despite the mention of the word “bar” in their name, my employers claimed restaurant status to keep doors open. The bar was undoubtedly the main attraction before the pandemic hit, with the surrounding clubs and bars closed our already large client base tripled.

When I arrived at work not a single customer wore a mask, and the owners didn’t care. With the competition quarantined, our bar became the secret spot, a modern speakeasy if you will. If you are unfamiliar with what a speakeasy is, it is a place that sells alcohol illegally. These underground establishments rose to prominence during the early 20th-century when America implemented prohibition. Speakeasies were fairly innocuous from the outside, but once inside the party lasted all night long. These illegal soirees were also a staple of the Great Depression. While not to the extent of the Great Depression, 2020 certainly was an economic catastrophe. It seems that history repeated itself, and Americans would find a way to keep partying—hell or high water.

When I first arrived at work during the pandemic, I wore a mask and expected crowds to be scant with social distancing protocols in place. However, the bar was jam-packed with people, most of them young, who dismissed the pandemic’s severity and refused to let their weekends be spent indoors or sober. The bar was undoubtedly a viral hotbed, the infection was almost palpable. The restaurant was so crammed I couldn’t walk from one bar to the other without either shoving, shouting, or dodging my way through the rambunctious crowd.

Despite all the animosity this story may bring about, there was a benefit. Albeit not one to justify the cost of creating a viral epicenter, but a benefit nonetheless. The restaurant staff gained much-needed income. To understand the bar scene you must understand those who work in it. The employees of such establishments, minus some exceptions, live tip-jar to tip-jar. The paycheck they receive is barely enough to pay for their commute to work, for some servers and bar-tenders their bill is paid by the courtesy of their customers.

The county eventually crashed the party and the doors closed for a few days. Upon reopening there were several social distancing measures put in place and masks were required for employees. This anecdote acts not as judge, jury, and executioner for the restaurant in question. I am simply making an observation of a peculiar circumstance and contrasting it to another point in history.

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