After the Unthinkable Happens in Dallas, Local Bars Became a Port in the Storm
At City Tavern neighbors gathered this weekend to decompress. "Everybody kind of checks on each other and wants to be together when things happen," says bartender Alicia Alexander.
Jonathan Everidge nurses his cocktail, eyes trained on the TVs above the bar, watching as CNN reports live from two blocks away.
"This feels weird," I mutter into my beer, and Everidge responds without taking his eyes off the TV.
"It's beyond weird," he says, sounding deflated. "It's surreal."
It's 5:30 p.m. on a Friday at City Tavern downtown — prime happy hour in a dark, wood-paneled bar that, by this time of day, is usually filled with suits and the downtown office crowd. But not today. With entire blocks still a crime scene after Thursday night's shooting, downtown feels more like a sleepy Sunday than a typical Friday. Even still, the bar is starting to fill up at City Tavern.
"It's mostly locals," says bartender Alicia Alexander. "Everybody kind of checks on each other and wants to be together when things happen."
At this bar, a person could live five miles away and still not be considered a local — much of this bar's core demographic resides in the apartment buildings nearby, and for many of them, their backyard is still cordoned off by yellow police tape.
Everidge lives across the street, he says, and walked his dogs through the peaceful protest early on Thursday night before hunkering down at home, blissfully unaware of the flurry of gunfire outside until his phone lit up with text messages. Later that night, he ventured to the bar to check in with his friends and neighbors.
"We didn't know where else go to," Everidge says. "It's family."
But when he got to the bar and found a somber, unfamiliar crowd, he decided not to stay long. He'd come out for the company, not the booze.
"I have alcohol at home," Everidge says. "I don't come here for the alcohol."
In times of uncertainty, when the world feels heavy and there seem to be more questions than answers, there are a few things people tend to seek out – the comfort of loved ones at home, spiritual guidance at church and the warm embrace of the neighborhood bar.
At 4:38 a.m. on Friday, as the city was just starting to realize the weight of what had happened, Mate Hartai posted a passionate rallying cry to local bartenders on Facebook. Hartai, the beverage director at HG Sply Co. and a popular face behind the bar at Remedy, felt a sudden call of duty.
"Our greatest gift is that, regardless of what happens, people come to us," he wrote. "In times of joy, sadness, celebration, mourning and all the shades of human emotion. They come to us. Now it's our time to do our job."
A bartender, he argues, is the everyman's psychiatrist, comforter and wingman. And, in times of turmoil, a shoulder to cry on.
"People need to know their role in this," Hartai says. "We can't let ourselves give in to the panic. Our job only becomes more important in times of tragedy. We can calm and comfort people away from a rash decision like no other profession."
Hartai's call to arms was shared nearly 400 times on Facebook, obviously striking a chord with people in a city that spends more money on drinking and eating out than any other city in the U.S.
"You have a job to do," Hartai wrote. "Help your city heal. Do your fucking job."
At The Grapevine in Oak Lawn, bartenders put up posters on Friday in a show of support for both Dallas police and the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Friday afternoon, as people gathered on City Tavern's tiny sidewalk patio to smoke cigarettes and greet passing neighbors, Thursday night's shooting was a frequent topic of conversation. It was pretty hard to avoid, considering police had shut down the nearest intersection after spotting a suspicious package.
Jeff Windhorst, who lives around the corner in Manor House, was drinking a beer on the patio — his sleepy black lab, Chela, at his feet — after police evacuated his building. For Windhorst and some of his neighbors, City Tavern is quite literally a port in the storm. He's holed up here during ice storms and thunderstorms, and he was at the bar on Thursday night, when staff locked patrons inside until the gunfire subsided. When it became apparent they wouldn't be going anywhere for awhile, Windhorst said, the bartender poured everyone a shot and they waited, together, for the all-clear.
Now, Windhorst was back at City Tavern, sipping a beer while once again waiting for the all-clear. A neighbor passed by and told him police had cleared his apartment.
"Well," he said, looking down at his napping dog, "I guess I'll go see what CNN says about my building."
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