There’s been a few “last nights of normal” this past week: the night the national emergency was declared, the last night of church services, and on Monday, the last night of regular bar and food service. And it was a brief one. Every bar I visited on Monday was observing the 8pm statewide closing and regulars came in for less-than-social-distanced drinks before what would’ve been the biggest drinking day of the year.
With three hours to go I started at Williamsburg’s Skinny Dennis, usually one of the most packed music bars in the neighborhood. The few folks I saw there on Tuesday were calm and collected as I spoke to bartender Ben Mann who, with no other job, is going to have a lot of free time on his hands. “I plan on going to the park around my apartment in Crown Heights,” he said. “And I’m sure the staff will get together to hang out, eventually.” The bar’s owners, who also run nearby Lucky Dog and Horses and Divorces, have set up a Gofundme for staff members. Contributors get a free beer and shot combo with every donation $20 and above.
Mann’s friend and regular Ed Fordham, a local currency exchange trader, was taking a break there as he works from home. With his free time he plans on watching children of government and hospital workers through the Big Brother, Big Sisters of NYC program. “My wife and I are active with them and helping out the kids of our first responders is the right thing to do,” he said. “With 9/11 there was a definite end to everything, with this we have no idea how long it’s gonna go.”
Down the block at The Levee, whose cheeseballs alone have a following, I ran into two regulars, Tommy Amado and his friend Ryan. They had just caught their last workout across the street at Willyb Fitness, which will be closed during the crisis. “We come here every week after the gym,” Amado told me. “I’m gonna try to stay fit at the park and by packing boxes for the next two weeks before I move outta my apartment in Flatbush.”
Inside, I spoke to 12-year-Levee veteran Jeff Moore, who could only say that “I don’t think anyone has seen anything like this before. It’s a global thing.” With Moore was Sven Wechsler, owner of Sven Moving, who has still been working until he hears he can’t. “I haven’t been shut down yet,” he said. “it would be up to the buildings themselves.”
Over at fellow neighborhood staple East River Bar, the last of its pool-playing crowd kept the lonely table occupied while other local bartenders put their tears in their beer while they still could. ERB’s weekend manager Jill Namaga, 29, was drinking with her one day off before the she starts delivering food on her bike this week. “I have no idea what to do to pay rent,” she told me before we downed a pair of whiskey shots. Namaga slammed the shot glass down, sighed and said to me, “but I’ll figure it out, I always do.”
Across from them were bar servers Dillon Ross and Val Segal. Ross has worked at Wythe Hotel for over a year; he started as Segal’s barback and now they’re boyfriend and girlfriend. Segal had just finished training for new jobs at nearby OTB and Walter’s in Fort Greene but now the couple says they’re heading out of town to stay with Val’s mother in Washington DC. “We’re telling each other it’s gonna be two weeks but it could go on for months,” Ross said. “I’m not gonna eat mac and cheese that whole time when over in D.C. we’ve got Mama Olga’s borsht.”
Val smiled at her boyfriend’s affinity for her family but then returned to the heart of the matter. “We’ll be down there waiting and I told my boss I’ll come right back up. We’re ready to work, and service people are the hardest working people I know. It’s the small businesses we work for that I’m worried about because they’ll suffer the most.”
Around 7pm I headed over to the see if anything was still open on Stuyshwick’s rows of bars on Broadway and Myrtle Ave. but everything was already closed. While trying to find one last drink on the neighboring side-streets, I came upon a warm group of friends at Rajel’s Bicycle Repair on Central Ave. Owner Sylvester Lazare, welcomed me in and the Puebla, Mexico native immediately offered me a shot of his favorite Montezuma Tequila that he said “kills all the germs.”
Lazare has run his shop in Bushwick for 10 years and one of his four sons was there with him. “We fix the electric bikes but I also sell many hand trucks and weld custom carts for the ice-cream vendors. Right now I’m doing repairs for the delivery riders but after 8pm they need to call me at 347-423-2689 and I’ll meet them outside.”
As Lazare gave me a tour of the shop and offered me more shots of his “aqua bendita“, his friend called to him from the front. “We have to lower the gate a little, it’s almost 8pm!”