Before the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the food and beverage industry, bars were the default backdrops for many people’s lives: first dates, heartbreaks, celebrations, bad days. There was the comforting embrace of bar stools and leather booths, the warm buzz of lively conversation, and soothing banter with bartenders. Even if only for a night, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers and friends alike was a balm. Bars were a third space that offered a fleeting sense of solace. Then, it all came to a screeching halt.
Nearly seven months later, bars that once provided consistency are changing. Here, we’ve compiled stories from across the country of how these institutions and the people who love them have responded to the tragedy that further exposed the industry’s issues with discrimination, gentrification, and fair pay. Despite these quakes, the beverage world is slowly, albeit unsurely, resuscitating itself — whether through to-go cocktails, outdoor-dining pivots, or meticulously curated wine clubs. In Nashville, honky-tonks known for live country music and dancing are fighting to survive in the face of reduced tourism and limitations on the entertainment that’s central to their very essence; in Detroit, bar owners and entertainers are turning to alternative venues to make up for canceled performances and lost income, while working to make the entertainment industry more equitable. Meanwhile, Miami nightclubs have roared back to life, but with an unclear future on the horizon, and in the Twin Cities, bartenders struggle to make the slimmest of margins last as they wait for bars to reopen. And over in Chicago, the combination bar/liquor stores known as “slashies” serve as reminders of the ever-innovative spirit of businesses committed to survival, even if it requires reinvention.
Drinking in America explores the ways bars have suffered in the face of the unthinkable, but also the creativity and adaptability of people across the country who are weathering the storm. While the future of these third spaces may be uncertain, there’s hope in knowing that there will one day be an open seat at the beloved bars that feel like home.
Editorial leads: Jesse Sparks, Missy Frederick, Nicole Adlman
Art direction: Alyssa Nassner, Brittany Holloway-Brown
Editors: Amy McCarthy, Ashok Selvam, Brenna Houck, Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Erin Perkins, Gabe Guarente, Gabe Hiatt, Joy Summers, Matt Buchanan, Matthew Kang, Nadia Chaudhury, Olee Fowler, Rachel Vigoda
Contributors: Alex Frane, Alicia Banaszewski, Angela Burke, Ashok Selvam, Avery Stone, Ben Perrone, Bill Esparza, Brenna Houck, Brittanie Shey, Candice Woo, Chelsea Cirruzzo, Cinnamon Janzer, Clair Lorell, Delia Jo Ramsey, Erin Perkins, Erin Russell, Farley Elliott, Gabe Guarente, Gabe Hiatt, Jaya Saxena, Joy Summers, Kathryn Campo Bowen, Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé, Maggie Hennessy, Matt Lardie, Matthew Kang, Meghan McCarron, Micah Anderson, Mickey Lyons, Mona Holmes, Nadia Chaudhury, Naomi Waxman, Nick Mancall-Bitel, Olee Fowler, Ryan Sutton, Sarah Engstrand
Copy editor: Emma Alpern
Engagement: Adam Moussa, Milly McGuinness
Project manager: Ellie Krupnick
Special thanks to Amanda Kludt