Baton Rouge bar owners talk shutdown, keeping spirits high for the future

    Just a few weeks ago, locals were drinking their favorite craft beers and cocktails at The Radio Bar’s happy hour and sipping mimosas at Olive or Twist’s brunch. Since the COVID-19 shutdown in March, everything has changed for the Baton Rouge bar scene. Doors are closed, bartenders and servers are laid off and regular customers are homebound indefinitely. 

    Though times are tough, it’s not all doom and gloom in the Capital Region. Some Baton Rouge bars, such as MID Tap and Mid City Beer Garden, are using this time to give back to local health facilities and their staff with fundraising events. Other bars are using online platforms to raise money for their crews, creating Facebook fundraisers, GoFundMe pages and a virtual tip jar system that allows people to “tip” servers and bartenders at local bars and restaurants. 

    Every bar is affected differently by the shutdown. Here’s what a few local bar owners and managers had to say about the coronavirus crisis: 

    How has COVID-19 affected your business so far? 

    George’s Place assistant manager Jeremy Longmire: “I’ve been here for 13 years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen it close for more than two to three days at a time. We had to basically let all of our employees go. We gave them the option to still get regular pay with no tips, but bartenders don’t make that much. So most of our bartenders have chosen to go the unemployment route.” 

    Uncle Earl’s co-owner Jordan Piazza: “The shutdown happened on the heels of the largest event of the year that we throw, the annual Earlapalooza, in conjunction with the Wearin’ of The Green parade. We had a bunch of pre-sold tickets to the event, artists lined up and vendors booked. So with us having to close, we’re having to work to try and get back all those funds that we have paid out already for this event, on top of reimbursing our customers.” 

    How are you and your staff staying afloat now? 

    The Radio Bar manager BJ Greenwood: “My employees are all out of work right now. We started a fundraiser on Facebook for the Radio Bar staff so they can pay their bills, buy groceries and pay rent because unfortunately, that stuff doesn’t stop just because you’re out of a job.” 

    Piazza at Uncle Earl’s: “We’re still paying our employees even though we’re not receiving income. These are tipped employees. So we went through and basically took the average of what their average paychecks have been for the last few months and are paying them that.” 

    What are your plans for the future of your bar? 

    Longmire at George’s Place: “We are going to call a 2020 reset the day we open up. We’re going to have a New Year’s Eve party to restart 2020.” 

    Piazza at Uncle Earl’s: “It’s a small setback for a large comeback. We’re just hoping everyone will do their part to help minimize the spread so we can return to normalcy sooner rather than later.” 

    How do you think COVID-19 will affect the local bar industry long term? 

    Greenwood at The Radio Bar: “It’s kind of scary to think that all of these bars can be in different financial spots. Being shut down and not being able to sell anything is going to hurt a lot of people.”  

    Longmire at George’s Place: “I’m hoping that everyone can recover. We know the other bartenders; it’s like a little bartender family. I’m hoping that we can pull together as a community and support each other.”  

    This story originally ran in 225 magazine. To keep up with Baton Rouge food and events subscribe to the free 225 Dine e-newsletter. 

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