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They’ll Be Drinking in the Street

June 29, 2020

Story: Clay Williams

photos: Clay Williams


They’ll Be Drinking in the Street

June 29, 2020

Story: Clay Williams

photos: Clay Williams

Photographer Clay Williams surveys how Brooklyn is drinking this summer, from Carroll Gardens to Bed-Stuy.

Just as sunny spring transformed into muggy summer, New York City kicked off its reopening process after three months shut indoors. The timing is perfect for New Yorkers to resume that favorite summer pastime: day drinking.

During the lockdown that began in early March, bars were allowed to sell beer and cocktails to go—a first for New York—but customers were banned from congregating, removing the social element of bars that so many prized.

With the rules eased up over the past couple of weeks, drinkers headed outdoors in droves. Images of maskless patrons in the dozens, crowding East Village sidewalks, earned drinkers a reprimand from the governor and a threat to the licenses of establishments that failed to manage their clientele.

Seeing those scenes play out on TV and social media, I wondered what the bar scene was going to look like in Brooklyn, my home borough. In my neighborhood of Sunset Park, we’ve gotten by with deliveries of cocktails, and beer and wine served to-go from our local bars, but what about the more bustling sections? Over the course of two weekends during Phase One of reopening, I checked out the sidewalk scene in Carroll Gardens, Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights to speak with bar patrons, and find out what’s bringing them out, what they miss, and how they’re staying safe.

CJ at Bar Tabac

Do you live in the area?

Yeah, walking distance.

How’s it different than before the lockdown?

Aside from not being able to go inside and sit down? It’s the same, I think. Not as many people obviously, but it’s coming back. People who have been supporting these businesses [since] before everything changed are trying to come out and support as best they can.

Do you think it’s more about supporting the businesses?

Probably also about being a little cooped up a little bit, you know, a perfect storm in that way.

Is there anything you miss about The Before Times?

Going into a bar and having sports on the television. That whole experience.

Have you been comfortable talking to folks?

Yeah, but I realize and am sensitive to the fact that not everyone else is.

Richie (left) at Angry Wade's

Mind if I ask a few questions?

Oh, I dunno. I might say the wrong thing and lose my job. I gotta be careful!

What brings you out today?

I’ve got cabin fever after being cooped up for three months.

What’s that you’re drinking?

Whiskey, I’m watching my figure.

Are you worried about being outside with all these folks around?

I got my antibody test, I’m not worried.

Vinny at Kittery

You live around here?

Yeah, I live in Downtown Brooklyn. This is definitely like a neighborhood spot for me.

Have you been coming out here a lot?

I’ve only been coming out and being active outside of the apartment for like two weeks. I’ve been taking social distancing very seriously and continue to do it, but now I feel comfortable that others are as well and there’s a collective effort.

And what are you drinking?

I’m drinking sangria, they have pitchers of sangria here. I have a friend visiting from California, where I’m originally from, and so we decided to walk the street together.

Arthi, Bonnie and Ravi at Abilene Bar

Have you been out to a bunch of places since reopening started?

Arthi: I’m pretty sure this is all our first time. We actually had a Zoom baby shower for our best friend Ancy over here, and then we thought we would maybe go out.

And how has the experience been? I see the seating is limited.

Ravi: They have these signs that say no chairs til Phase Two.

Bonnie: We’ll take anything at this point. But at the same time we’re super excited for Phase Two.

What are you looking forward to as things start opening up again?

Bonnie: I think outdoor dining. ... It reminds us of old times.

What do you miss from the pre-COVID times that may or may not being coming back soon?

Ravi: Just going to a bar, you know? Just sitting at the bar.

Christian and Tuuli at King Tai

What brings you out today?

Christian: We live in the neighborhood, just a block or so away. We have been out of town for three months.

Tuuli: We wanted to come and support the local businesses—and also to enjoy this weather.

Were things locked down where you were?

Christian: Yeah, but not as bad. We were in Eastern Finland.

Tuuli: They had a state of emergency and bars and restaurants were closed as well, but I think something like 350 people have died in Finland out of a population of 6 million, so it’s nowhere [near] as bad as here.

Is there anything you miss about the world before?

Tuuli: For sure, going out for coffee and running into friends and acquaintances there. Just the sort of spontaneous interactions that are a big part of the neighborhood and our life here.

It’s hard to know if you’re running into anyone with these masks on.

Christian: Haha, it takes a little while to recognize actually.

Everton and Richard at Bed-Vyne Brew

What brought you out here today?

For me, this is the spot that I always patronized more, so I think part of it is keeping those spots open, supporting. And also just being outside—they’ve got great outdoor space.

How long have they been reopened?

They’ve been open for a few weeks now, and I’ve been here at least once a week.

What are you drinking?

I’ve got a beer, he’s [Richard's] got a sangria.

Have you seen the pictures from out in the East Village?

That seems a little bit much.

Have you been in Manhattan much?

Just to protest.

Jim and Artemis at Glorietta

What brings you out here today?

Jim: We wanted to take a nice walk. ... We live about 10 minutes away. I’ve lived over here since I was six and she moved to the neighborhood a little while ago.

What are you guys drinking?

Artemis: Sour beer.

Jim: And I’ve got an IPA.

Have you been going out much?

Artemis: We both actually got sick in March. We both had it, so we’re antibody-positive. We know the verdict is still out on what that means.

Jim: And we’re still wearing masks just because it’s polite—people don’t know that we’ve already had it.

What do you miss of the world before—in terms of bars and such?

Jim: There was something kind of carefree about running down the street and going into some place where they’re playing good music and there’s a few people there to talk to.

Artemis: It’s the social aspect that I miss the most.

Jim: I think people are finding ways around it and finding it’s way cheaper, but there’s something nice about going to a bar.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to in Phase Two or whatever comes after that?

Jim: The big one, barbershops. I could use a haircut very soon.

Artemis: I’m just waiting for movie theaters to open up, I think that’s like Phase Four or something.

As far as bars and restaurants, they’re going to have more outdoor seating and such.

Artemis: I think that’ll be nice. I went to Prospect Heights yesterday and all of Underhill [Avenue] is closed and all the restaurants have seating outside. It sort of feels like a block party. There’s a nice feeling of community.

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Clay Williams began photographing food and drink for blogs, newspapers and magazines in 2007. In the years since, he's hung off the back of food trucks in Paris, sweat it out in tight kitchens with Michelin-starred chefs and wandered through cattle farms with a team of butchers. He has shot assignments for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The James Beard Foundation and Imbibe Magazine.