As temperatures drop, hospitalizations increase, and cases rise, Brooklyners are bracing for a highly unusual Winter season. The pleasures of outdoor dining are soon to be marred by the cold, and according to Governor Cuomo, indoor dining may soon be shut down.
For some restaurants and bars, remaining open for the season could mean losing more money. The choice to close for the season, once an unthinkable possibility, has become a reality for many.
Johnny Griffin, one of the owners of Prospect Bar and Grill in Park Slope, noticed a downturn in business.
“Business was way off. The fact that it’s getting colder, less people are coming out, so rather than leaking money, I decided to close for the Winter,” Griffin said. The last frigid weekend, where temperatures dropped to the thirties, was a good indicator of the future for Griffin.
“I was around the neighborhood yesterday, and there was nothing. It was a really cold weekend, and there was not a lot happening. That’s a good testament to how it’s going to be for the next three months,” he added.
Jeremy Andre, the owner of Barely Disfigured in Carroll Gardens, hopes that closing for the Winter will allow the bar to reopen in warmer weather. If they had stayed open, he says, it may have actually forced them to close down for good.
Andre, who says his rent is “fair” for the area, received a break from his landlord and received PPP loans earlier on in the year.
“Our landlord was kind enough to give us a break on the rent, a little discount for the next six months,” Andre said. “For us, it was a no-brainer to just take some of the money that we have left to reopen in the future. Looking at the numbers, even at 25%, it doesn’t make sense for us.”
He adds that he’s surprised that at the time of this interview, indoor dining hadn’t been shut down yet. Once the state has five days without hospital rates stabilizing, Cuomo plans to close indoor dining in New York City.
The New York Hospitality Alliance says that this would cause “irreversible harm,” adding that Cuomo himself has said that personal, at-home gatherings cause a majority of the spread.
When Andre announced to his regulars that the bar would be closing after Halloween, at first, they were disappointed and suggested that he get heat lamps or cover the spot’s luscious and jungly backyard. When he looked into a custom cover, he found that prices were near $60,000.
“I’d rather use that 60k to try to reopen,” Andre said, adding that his customers have now been reaching out to tell him what a good decision he made.
Barely Disfigured is using the time off to spruce up what they have, adding a full countertop bar and an oyster bar to their backyard.
The President and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Randy Peers, acknowledges the potential benefits of a closure.
“With the looming uncertainty of another shutdown, some business owners for the first time are temporarily throwing in the towel for winter and banking on a return to normalcy in Spring 2021,” Peers said.
“Some business owners with enough reserve capital will use the time to plan strategies for the coming year or will undertake renovations they’ve put off. For some restaurateurs, the decision is more obvious: the cold weather may be too much of a bear for outdoor dining to overcome, and the overhead costs for staying open as delivery and takeout only aren’t financially viable, so they are essentially being forced to close their doors until warmer weather returns.”
Griffin says that another round of loans will be necessary for him to reopen Prospect.
“Another round of PPP is necessary, just to get us restarted again. January and February are going to be really tough months for anyone trying to stay open,” Griffin said. The business has begun to slow in recent weeks for the bar.
“It was promising at the beginning, and as it got cooler, the business just dropped off,” he said. “I thought I would do roughly 50% of what I was doing [before], and I got close a couple of weeks. But, especially in November, the last few weeks were just way below what we targeted.”
Starr Bar, in Bushwick, also made the choice to close for the season, they announced on their Instagram.
“Like virtually every other bar and restaurant in the hospitality industry, we have been trying to navigate how to stay afloat in the middle of a pandemic. We are incredibly proud of all the hard work our staff has put into making the best of this, and we are so deeply moved by the community that supported us when things were hard,” they wrote. “Even though we believe this experiment was a success, we are deciding to close seasonally.”
The spot cited a lack of additional government aid, the lack of safety when it comes to indoor dining, and the curfews that accompany outdoor dining as reasons for the closure.
For Andre, the opportunity to close brought some additional benefits.
“It’s a hard, hard business. We work hard for years and years. This is the first time, and probably one of the only times in my whole life until I retire that I’ll be able to take a few months off of work and think about something else. Don’t get me wrong, my head is always about Barely [Disfigured] because that’s my baby. I work so much for it, but we also are taking the time to reflect, refresh, reset, and come back with some ideas and inspiration,” he said.