Before getting to lighter fare, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge that one of the biggest stories relating to the bar industry at the moment is actually an important sports story. In fact, we even touched on this very topic last month, when a Chicago publican vowed to no longer air NFL games in his two establishments in a show of solidarity with free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, to briefly recap, attracted wide attention in 2016 for kneeling during the pre-game singing of the National Anthem as a means of protesting state violence against minorities. And now we’re dealing with the flipside of that coin.
This past Sunday, in response to President Donald Trump’s controversial comments on the matter, more players than ever participated in the Anthem protest. And in turn, bars all over the country have made news for swearing off the NFL as well. This time, though, they’re not doing so in solidarity with the players protesting. Rather, boycotting is the bar industry’s way of protesting the league itself for allowing its players to kneel in the first place, something many perceive to be a slight against the flag and military.
There seems to be no geographic pattern to bar industry boycott. Bars in the northeast in Massachusetts and New York, down south to Louisiana and South Carolina, and heading west from there, first to Texas and ultimately California, and elsewhere, are all making their own positions on the matter clear.
“If people don’t come in to watch football, that would have a huge effect on business,” said one bartender in Texas. Another in New York said, “I can sense a slight drop off in bar attendance since this [protest] started.” That said, bars elsewhere claim business has gone on as usual and they expect as much going forward. If week three in the NFL provided any indication, though, this issue isn’t likely to go away soon. So bar owners that rely on showing games to bring people in the door should think deeply about their own positions on the issue if they haven’t already yet.
GQ, for instance, polled four bartenders on the subject of distinguishing a good cocktail bar from a bad cocktail bar. The piece is ostensibly meant to help educate drinkers, but the wisdom therein should resonate with those on the other side of the bar as well. It’s doubly useful because while implementing some of the tips contained might require a good bit of effort, there are tidbits that require next to no effort at all. JD Quioco of the Fainting Goat in Washington, D.C. advises, “If someone says ‘hi’ to you within the first 10 seconds…give that bar a chance. That attention at least shows they care. Then you’ll just have to wait and see.”
They should take a look around and see some of the crazy and unique things their brethren mixologists are doing across the country.
Take Creepy’s, which recently opened in Portland, Oregon. The bar has garnered considerable buzz for both its menu and the surreal décor befitting its name. Writes the Willamette Week: “The new Southeast Morrison Street space from the owners of White Owl is less horror house than sideshow—a design-happy display case of dolls, deer heads and big-eyed kitsch, presided over by a giant painting of John Quincy Adams with moving eyes.” Or how’s this, from Travel & Leisure: “This laundromat is actually a secret cocktail bar.” Or even this from the Los Angeles Times: “Owner of Burbank’s new esports bar wants it to be ‘better than being at your friend’s apartment for game night’”
The point is, reimagining and innovating what the bar experience can be doesn’t merely have to happen behind the bar itself. It can come from how one decorates, or paradoxically, conceals itself from plain view, or even how it serves to bring in new aspects to establish the feeling of hanging out with friends at home.
Of course, good drinks will never hurt either.