The art of bartending is exactly that—an art. Much like any creative pursuit, tending bar requires discipline, passion, imagination and patience. And since the COVID-19 pandemic forced most restaurants and bars across the U.S. into purgatory, bartenders have found new ways to channel their creative energy.
Whether it’s picking up an old hobby or learning something new with or without the help of the internet, these are some examples of how bartenders across the country are spending their time creatively. Perhaps they’ll inspire you to try or revisit a new creative pursuit of your own.
Lauren Darnell, Seattle: Hanging Planters
“I’ve been a big plant person for a long time. My mom has the green thumb. I do not, so I had to learn. That passion to watch things grow has grown, and with that came the need for new planter ideas. They are hella expensive, so I wanted to come up with a way to recycle and make something cool. Hanging planters are fairly simple, so I was like, I can make this better. I love copper and brass because the tones are so rich and warm. I had been lightly collecting vintage baking pans for general container uses, so then I started making planters. It’s kind of cool and boho at the same time. I did my first pop-up in early December and sold two-thirds of my stock. I was stoked. Then I opened a new bar, [so] time for a new passion was dismal. Given the whole virus and stay-at-home request. I’ve been able to return to making more planters and getting caught up on stock for maybe another pop-up.”
Danielle DeMent, Sioux Falls, S.D.: House Flipping
"Two years ago, I started my house-flipping journey. I was bartending on a part-time basis, and I needed a little something extra to focus my energy and creativity on. I’d become slightly obsessed with the house-flipping shows (you know the ones) and started paying close attention to the real estate market in my area. I ended up finding ‘the worst house in the best neighborhood’ and with the financial help of my dad bought my first house to flip. Going into that project, I had literally no building skills (or really any construction knowledge, for that matter) so I found a contractor with the means to help carry out my visions. I spent hours researching design ideas and trends and even more hours searching for building materials and cool features to incorporate. Months (and a few headaches) later, the first flip finally sold, and I was hooked.
“I love combining different colors, patterns and materials to make an otherwise-ordinary space stand out. Similar to crafting a drink while bartending, it’s amazing to combine things together and watch them turn into something beautiful and unique. With the current pandemic forcing my bar to close for the foreseeable future, I’m thankful to have this extra outlet for my energy and creativity."
Jena Ellenwood, Queens, N.Y.: Poetry
“I've been writing poetry pretty much my whole life. My grandmother just gave me some pieces I wrote for her in elementary school. Sometimes it's just a phrase that circles in my brain and I need to write that down; sometimes I don't even remember writing it. Lately, I've been writing with my coffee every morning. I've been dating them for reference, which I don't always do. In college, Elijah Miller turned one of my pieces into a song, [and] it was so emotional for me that I left him a sobbing voicemail. Pretty sure I cried when we talked about it a few years ago at Dutch Kills. I've always been drawn to nature themes and reading haiku. The simplicity of Japanese poetry is very beautiful to me; I was really looking forward to my trip there next month.
“My writing daily has been helping me process a lot of that sadness and anger. I do not ‘pause’ well. Being paused on my birthday was especially hard; I had planned on taking a trip and exploring more than the inside of my apartment and many Negronis. Sometimes I'll write little pieces at work, usually on receipt paper. I have piles of them all over. I read a poem a few years ago for an open mic—something I had never really done and felt pretty good about it. I don't always share what I write. Sure, I think about how it could fit into a book, but I don't tend to let people see my thoughts on the page. I guess it's a bit like having someone read your journal or your notes from therapy.”
Luis Hernandez, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Painting
“I’ve been drawing since I can remember. I used to make large posters with “Dragon Ball Z” characters to sell to my classmates when I was 7. I drew for most of my life, drawing out of magazines, comic books and real life. In 2009, I attended school for animation and character design, where I got a lot more serious about drawing and learning actual technique, never working on painting, focusing more on computer and traditional animation. A few years ago, the feeling of wanting to create art creeped in, and I wanted to do something besides drawing, to do something where it was more of a flow and less constrained. This led me to work on acrylic pouring. The best thing is creating some of these things and then working on them on Photoshop to change it further, putting both worlds together.
“During these past four weeks, I have been working on creating more artwork to channel some of these creative outlets that I’ve been missing without being able to bartend and cook professionally. I also hope to share some of my artwork online and inspire other people to try some art during these times and discover some hidden talents they didn’t know they had. The most important thing with art is to just start doing it and your voice will come through at some point.”Continue to 5 of 10 below.
Beth Martini, Chicago: Collaging
“I have been a maker for as long as I remember, but I started really getting into collage right before I moved away from Seattle. I started work on a set of collage tarot cards. I take my inspiration from a lot of places. Lately, I’ve been really inspired by the esoteric and mysticism; I take a lot of inspiration from mythology and folklore. Being able to tap into my creativity during this time is a blessing. I have good days and bad ones, of course, but working on a project helps my anxiety immensely and gives me a sense of accomplishment that I otherwise wouldn’t have. I have probably four active projects going at any time, from writing to model building to collages. The variety is also very nice to have.”
Sofia Present, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Jewelry
“What I chose to do to get an outlet for my creativity was picking up never-fully developed hobbies that had slowly made their way into my life right before our jobs shut down. For my birthday, I was given some beads, and I invested in some materials and tools to start making jewelry. It’s not where I would have put my money if I could’ve predicted what would happen, but at the same time, I’m very glad that I did. Old necklaces and broken jewelry, together with some new materials, inspired me to make a series of bracelets to start. To me, it was an outlet and metaphor for what is happening to us. I’m taking the old and broken and matching it with new ideas to create something (hopefully) beautiful.”
Breanne Rupp, St. Augustine, Fla.: Ceramics
“I got into ceramics when I was living in San Francisco. The chef (and my friend) where I worked was in a class and brought in some plates he made to serve his dishes on. He invited me to take the class with him, knowing I have a BFA and art background. I fell in love immediately with shaping something functional where I could also apply graphic and print-making techniques via surface design. I moved to Florida two years ago and have struggled to get my practice steadily going since. Now, with all this home time and no more excuses, I'm finally organizing my space and throwing again. Blasting my favorite jams in the shed while covered in mud is bringing some structure to my days and is a little emotional escape from the reality of this situation.”Continue to 9 of 10 below.
Katie Schanz, Cleveland: Cross-Stitch
“I started cross-stitching when I was five years old. A couple of years ago, I taught myself to embroider so I could do a greater variety of projects. As a bartender, I'm used to creating things every day, but now that I am out of work, crafting has let me continue to create. It helps me fill my day and feel productive. I stitch pretty quickly, so now I have a huge stack of [finished] projects. I've also been trying to turn it into a source of income by trying to sell my work. Hopefully that can catch on.”
Chockie Tom, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Photoshop Posters
“I have a background in graphic design. It's actually what I went to school for. I used to design rock posters and band merch in college. I started with a few posters of [me and] my partner as a way to deal with canceling our surprise wedding. We were going to throw the ultimate April Fool's Day prank and get married at our engagement party (he's based in the U.K. and basically had to turn right back around and fly to me before the flight ban expanded to the U.K.).
“People really responded well and it cheered up my friends, so I started customizing them. Most of the posters have a dystopian slant, just because I think by creating my worst nightmare I can feel in control and process how upside-down the world is. I've since started doing posters based on vintage aesthetics as a way to hone what I've been working on more so for fun. I've been using Adobe Spark Post and my favorite editing app, PicsArt, on my phone. When I was on bedrest, being able to concentrate on making posters and cheering up people I adore was a great distraction from COVID-19 and emailing wedding vendors for refunds.”