Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the closure of Los Angeles’ bars and restaurants on Monday in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The shutdown happened almost immediately, leaving restaurant, bar owners and staff to swiftly exit their venues in preparation for the pandemic mandate. Restaurants were allowed to serve takeout, delivery and drive-thru to customers. However, L.A.’s top mixology haunts and popular watering holes were forced to shut down, leaving them with few to no options on how to continue a stream of revenue for their establishments. L.A. bar owners and staff scrambled to be resourceful and nimble as Los Angeles and the world enters this unprecedented period.
The consensus of the local bar community is that the public safety and customers’ greater needs are paramount, but bar folks are hopeful Garcetti takes a page from the NYC playbook and allows pre-made individual cocktails to be served to-go. Jeremy Allen of Minibar in Hollywood shared, “It’s a great way for people trying to support the bars and restaurants to spend more money. I know a lot of people are asking how they can support. I have customers texting and hitting me up to ask how to contribute.” Lance Stacey, director of operations at 1933 Group, on behalf of the Formosa Cafe agrees that Garcetti should “let L.A. do the thing we do best — serve the public in whatever way we can.”
Whether or not Garcetti allows the sale of single cocktails to-go, the bar community is attempting to salvage wages for staff, maintain some general business health and keep their customers’ attention. Allen has set up a GoFundMe for his staff and communicated that his staff are available to act as “mobile bartenders,” creating custom cocktails for Minibar’s regulars to enjoy at home — all at the request of some of Minibar’s customers. Allen shares, “It’s one way to make a difference for one person and at least they can say ‘hi’ safely. This isn’t for strangers; this is our regulars trying to contribute.”
Jar on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood has highlighted their Jar Cocktail Kits To-Go. The kits include a sealed bottle of a premium base spirits with a house-made mixer. Along with your takeout food from Jar, you can pick up a Margarita Kit for $60 that includes one bottle of Maestro Dobel Tequila and house-made margarita mix, with the option of a side of deep-fried jalapenos “if you need a kick.” Other options include a Naughty Martini Kit, Serengeti Kit or simply a bottle of vodka, whiskey, tequila or wine. The profit margin is much lower than the per ounce cost while pouring ready-to-order cocktails, but Jar is attempting to capitalize while they still have the option of keeping their doors open for takeout.
Other venues are using this opportunity to engage with their customer base electronically by utilizing social media and other digital platforms. Louise O’Riordan, VP of Allbright U.S. shared, “It is our intention to keep engaged with our members through all our social channels including our app, Allbright Connect.” Brynn Smith, Allbright U.S.’s beverage director, shared, “I shot some digital content for our app on how to make a couple of drinks: How to Make a Martini Quarantini, How to Make our Most Popular Menu Cocktail, The Rosa Margarita, and How To Make a Festive Matcha Irish Whiskey Collins.
1933 Group is also taking a similar route. Stacey shared, “We are looking at building a digital program to have our star bartenders offer live training and classes to demonstrate how to recreate the Formosa’s classic and tiki cocktails at home.”
In the short term, to handle the immediate mandated closing, Formosa Cafe cut up fresh fruit meant for juices and garnishes and handed them out to local civic servants and homeless shelters. MiniBar donated perishable items like ruby red grapefruits and lemons to their sister shop 101 Coffee Shop. Allbright U.S. used many items left behind the bar to whip up milk punches that will last for the next few weeks. The closures may or may not last past April 1, but every bar in L.A. is eager to re-open as soon as possible and greet their customer face to face. Allen admits, “Our bar is built on handshakes and relationships, it’s gonna be hard not seeing all our favorite people for a minute.”