On April 20, The Grapevine reopened its main bar for the first time in over a year. The quirky Uptown dive, which was closed for a part of 2020, has taken careful steps in welcoming both employees and customers back through their doors. It's the only way owners Michelle and Ronny Honea would have it.
In the early days of the pandemic, Michelle lost her stepmother to COVID-19 and her father fell seriously ill; he’s still dealing with the long-term effects. He caught the virus at work one day, meeting with clients for the impending tax season. After watching the devastating effects the virus had on her family, the idea of putting her staff or customers in harm’s way wasn’t even a consideration.
So, when The Grapevine closed along with all other bars last spring, they used the time to fix a few things, slap new paint on well-worn doors. In the fall, when the state allowed bars to open under certain provisions, they took advantage of their large outdoor space dotted with well-distanced tables. Customers were allowed inside the main bar area only to use the restrooms. They hung large plastic liners around the bar to discourage loitering.
Last week when they pulled down that curtain of plastic, it was done so with dramatic flair, like the big reveal on a home renovation show.
“We waited until our staff was vaccinated, and after that everyone voted to go ahead and open,” says Michelle, who has all along made decisions involving her crew with their input. “We need to hire another bartender, but so far, knock-on-wood, that's the only hiccup."
Before the pandemic, their newest employee had five years of service. In the last year, however, restaurants and bars across the city (and country) were forced to lay off workers who have since moved on from the service industry. Some places are now even offering bonuses for just showing up at an interview. New restaurants hoping to open soon are sending out press releases for hiring events rather than the actual opening. (Can't open if you don't have a staff.)
“We had three employees leave the industry completely, so for the first time in 25 years we're interviewing for bartenders,” Michelle says. “Everyone else who's bartended here was either promoted from within or someone we knew or someone working with us recommended. Our newest person has been with us for five years.”
Michelle Masterson is one of the employees that held out. She’s relieved to have her spot back behind the bar at The Grapevine, holding court this past Sunday behind a “Bitch, Please” nameplate. Colorful slushy machines with Everclear-laced Bellinis hummed to her left.
“I cleaned houses,” Masterson says morosely of trying to stay busy when The Grapevine was either fully or partially closed. “I walked dogs. I did whatever I could.”
Maureen Krivanek, who was standing at the freshly reopened bar, chimed in, “This is like family. We’re family here. And look at how clean the floors are. Doesn’t it look great?” It did, in fact.
Honea has extended the hours to 2 a.m. again, as opposed to only midnight, which she'd been doing since reopening.
Perhaps The Grapevine bar being 100% is a sign of old times. An Everclear-laced Bellini of hope.
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