From Behind the Bar: On the Aftermath

Alice Gao

About the Author: You may have seen Michael Neff behind the bar at New York's Ward III and The Rum House. He stops by to share insights on cocktails and the life of a barman.

Alice Gao

What I'm Drinking: Old Speckled Hen (Half-pint, Room Temperature)

I am currently in a bar, writing by candlelight in the aftermath of the catastrophe named Hurricane Sandy. Lower Manhattan was devastated by the storm, and we're still reeling from its effects. Many of my neighbors are without hot water—or water at all. People huddle over random electrical outlets in the few stores that have power, hoping to cadge a bit of battery in computers and cell phones. Life and work are paused for the moment, and no one is sure what is going to happen next.

We're all sitting in the dark, and have been for almost four days. Now that the Hudson and East Rivers have retreated back to somewhere near their normal levels, we have had plenty of time to contemplate the impact that this super-storm will have on our city, our livelihoods, and our lives.

Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Caribbean and up the Atlantic coast, then joined forces with an unfortunately timed Nor'Easter bearing down from the West. Homes were evacuated. Businesses taped their windows and sealed their doors. We didn't quite know what would happen, but the predictions were dire and we knew that two storms were colluding to collectively jump us in a back alley.

We spent Monday glued to the radio, listening to reports from the Governor, the Mayor, and the President. The worst-case scenarios were happening as we listened, and the wind rocked the windows and trees fell on cars. There wasn't a thing we could do but wait it out.

The next day, I showed up at my bar, fully expecting any number of disasters. Maybe the basement was flooded. Maybe the wind shattered the windows. Maybe the more discerning looters broke in and drank all the good bourbon.

We were luckier than many. No water damage at all. Our windows were intact. The power was out, but we had water. After a brief discussion, we broke out a few extra boxes of candles and opened the bar. There was no other choice, really.

We knew that people were in the dark and that they would need somewhere to go for a bit of respite, a bit of beer, and a place to connect with people who were in similar straits. I have written before that bars are the centers of communities, and it is times like this where that shows itself in stark relief. Where else could people go to commiserate? What else could they do while contemplating the future but have something to drink and take a few minutes to let it all sink in? The bar was illuminated by hundreds of candles, and every person who walked in the door said the same thing: "Thank god you guys are open."

We're open. That is what bars are for. When it is pitch black outside, and you've been cooped up in your lightless apartment with no one to talk to, when you have lost whole swaths of the City that you love and everyone around you is unsure of what will happen next, the glimmer of candlelight though a bar's window is one of the most welcome sights in the world.

Now, with uncounted acres of the state of New Jersey under water, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers without power, nearly everything in the bottom quarter of the most famous island in the world in the dark, tens of thousands of people displaced or unable to work, and thousands of businesses boarded up, perhaps permanently, we all have to fill a glass, toast the person next to us and figure out what to do about it.

I have received messages from people around the country, expressing their support and asking if there is anything they can do to help. After any event of this magnitude, anywhere you happen to live, there is always something you can do.

Support your local bar and the bartenders who work there. In places like lower Manhattan, New Jersey, and all of the other communities affected by Sandy, it will take a while to get back to normal, and your patience and patronage are essential to their recovery. In the meantime, the men and women who you rely on as your bartenders are effectively out of work. If a bar you love is under water, it will need your support to open the doors again.

As the days and weeks go by, more joints will shake themselves dry, light their own candles and open their doors, and they need customers to fill those stools. Stop in for a drink or two. When you think about it, it's a pretty painless way to help.