Tomorrow Will Come

29 Apr. 2020
The Incredible Resilience of Bar Folks

Here on BarNews we have been telling the multifaceted stories of the bar industry for the past eight years. We would never had thought it could come to a brutal, grinding halt globally. As a collective, a community, we are all currently trying to grasp what is happening now and what will happen next. This is why reading the experiences shared on Bar Entrepreneur Frontline, the collaboration between Difford’s Guide and Havana Club during this crisis, feels so essential. The playbook is being written in front of our eyes. 

But while there will obviously be a before and an after the pandemic for the bar community, the past still hods tremendous value. And so we’ve been thinking a lot about stories we’ve told over the last few years. Great drinks, tremendous success, inspiring learning experience and, of course, struggles.

Take Carina Soto Velasquez, from Quixotic Project, owner of four bars and restaurants in Paris and the first Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur of the Year. She’s now a fixture of the global cocktail scene, but if French bureaucracy had had its way, she would never have made it. Originally from Colombia she moved to Paris as a student. When she decided to graduate from bartending to bar owning, she found out that there a few hurdles to clear before she could open Candelaria, her first bar. « In France, you can’t get a licence for a bar if you’re not from the European Union », she said. « I didn’t have papers at the time, and trying to get a visa to operate a business was a nightmare. » She finally received it in June 2011. Candelaria had opened in March of that year… Last year, she officially became a French citizen — after only 15 years…

Take Ali Burgess, from Happiness Forgets and Original Sin in London. He had his own paperwork issue — working on a somewhat fishy visa in New York back in 2006 — but his real struggle was opening Happiness on a shoestring budget of £25,000, a ridiculous amount for London. « All our money went into it », he told us. « At first, we went through our Facebook friends list, checking the upcoming birthdays and we offered them a space to celebrate ». Had he been shown the site a couple of days later — when he was meant to buy the plane ticket that would take him back to work (legally this time) in New York — Ali probably wouldn’t have had the funds to launch the bar. They’re now regulars in the World’s 50 Best Bars List.

Take Kevin Demers, from Coldroom in Montreal. He had all the finances in place and had — finally! — found the perfect location. But everything that could go wrong with building the place went wrong. 12 months in, he had no bar and had been on the brink of bankruptcy not once but twice. He got the money he needed because the old Italian guy from the deli where Kevin had his daily lunch during the whole ordeal decided to bet on him. He’s showing no regret.

Take Richard Wynne, from Callooh Callay in London. In 2008, he had everything to open the bar of his dreams, or so he thought. A few days before he signed the bank loan, the world’s economy crashed — and the bank reneged on its word when he, personally, was already committed with landlord and providers. He still managed to source enough money to pay what he owed but there was nothing left for refurbishing.« I found a shop selling discounted Christmas wrapping paper so we papered the walls with Christmas wrapping paper », he recounted.

Take Diego Cabrera, from Salmon Guru in Madrid. Ten years ago, he was on a roll: he co-owned Le Cabrera, one of the coolest bars in Spain — and, probably, in the world — and had dozens of projects. But the relationship with his partners broker down and he found himself squeezed out of the business that bore his name. It took him four years to get back on his feet — emotionally and financially — but once he did there was no stopping him: opened with full control, Salmon Guru war the first Madrid bar to break into the World’s 50 Best Bars. He now owns two other venues.

We could go on and on and on.

Of course, none of those circumstances do compare with the current crisis. What is in front of us is completely unknown and we don’t want to trivialize anyone’s experience or struggle today. But people need the solace of a well made drink. Bars — however changed — will come back. It might take a year, it might take more. Businesses will disappear and we will have to find ways to cope. That is inevitable. But what we’ve come to understand over the years is the incredible resilience shown by the brightest minds and souls of this industry. They have been knocked down before and they have stood right back up. Tomorrow will come. And we’re looking forward to telling you about it.