NYC bars, restaurants pursue adaptations to survive pandemic

A band member, left, joins Olivier Conan, center, as the pair strum baglamas, stringed instruments from Greece and Turkey similar to lutes, outside the entrance to Barbès, a popular neighborhood music venue and bar that Conan recently converted to a bottle shop, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK (AP) — Olivier Conan didn’t see how it was going to work, keeping Barbes, his Brooklyn bar/performance space, open through the pandemic when live performances and crowded spaces have been at the top of the DON’T list.

“The whole idea of this place is the opposite of social distancing. It was social proximity,” he said.

So, Conan adapted — taking his approach of curating what he wanted to expose his customers to and turning it from music to wine.

The venue has recently turned into a bottle shop, focusing on small producers and wineries.

“Honestly, that’s what will keep this place surviving,” he said.

He’s not the only one, of course. The months of pandemic have meant nothing but change for the city’s restaurant and bar owners, who have had to deal with limits to what kind of service they could offer, how many people could be inside when indoor dining was allowed to return, and how to adjust to the rise of outdoor dining.

That roller coaster of change is continuing as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that indoor dining in New York City would be shut down today because coronavirus hospitalizations have not stabilized.

The industry has been hit hard, with closures and lost jobs.

Wade Hagenbart has closed down a restaurant he had just opened in late 2019, as well as Angry Wade, a Brooklyn bar he started 20 years ago, leaving him with his Gueros restaurant focusing on takeout.

“Everybody got hurt, there’s not one person who hasn’t, from the landlord to the dishwasher, everybody is getting hurt by this pandemic,” he said.

He was resigned to the turn of pandemic events.

“My attitude from the beginning was there’s not much you can do about it, and if there’s nothing you can do about it, you really can’t get too angry about it. You have to figure out what you can affect, how you can affect stuff and you work toward that,” he said.

He was committed to his restaurant future, though, and said he was hoping to find good spaces for new restaurants when the pandemic has passed.


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