How Hurricane Sandy Brought Big Business to New York Bars

by Robert Moskowitz

3 min read

During a hurricane — particularly one as dangerous as Sandy — most people have the no interest in venturing out. To encourage more of them to weather the storm inside their establishments, at least two intrepid New York City bar owners extended their hours amid the impending rain, winds, and floods.

In Brooklyn, Freddy’s geared up for Sandy by removing outdoor decorations and furniture, elevating goods off the basement floor, and clearing the backyard storm drains. According to Ellen O’Shea, the bartender who worked Oct. 29 and 30, through the brunt of the storm, “We didn’t have time to order extra supplies. But it’s a point of pride with us: Unless it’s totally impossible, we’re always open. No matter what.”

Located on Fifth Avenue in hilly Park Slope, Freddy’s neighborhood escaped any serious flooding from the hurricane’s downpour and tidal surge. “Things were blowing around outside, but we had no problems inside,” O’Shea says. “The main issue is that we were running out of everything because we couldn’t get our usual deliveries.”

Freddy’s drew crowds both days, ringing up at least 10 times its usual sales, O’Shea says. “Some people were in here using our power and Wi-Fi to get in touch with people they cared about,” she explains. “For others, it was like a snow day. They were off from work, they knew they were safe, and they were just having a good time.”

O’Shea adds that “we try to stay open as long as there’s no physical danger.”

Another New York bar, the Spring Lounge (pictured) in SoHo, often attracts its largest crowds during the city’s most adverse situations. Owner Bryan Delaney points with pride to his decision to keep the Spring Lounge open after the 9/11 disaster. Since then, he’s tried to keep serving customers during everything from snowstorms to power outages.

Delaney claims the Spring Lounge did twice its usual business during Hurricane Sandy, though he says he’d stay open without the financial incentive. Two bartenders worked nonstop from 2 PM to 10 PM every night of that whole week, and Bryan had to pitch in behind the bar some of the time.

Bartenders like to work the storms and other problem periods, not only for the cameraderie, but for the bigger than usual tips.

Delaney actually spent a lot of time outside in the storm at Spring and Mulberry Streets, working the door to keep drunks and other undesirables from entering. “Aside from a few strong gusts, there wasn’t much wind and rain,” he says of that Monday night, October 29th, when his bar lost power around 8:45 PM. “The emergency lights came on and we were able to stay open until almost 10 PM. Next morning, I got up and went to the bar. We had ice and no damage, so I decided to open.”

By Tuesday night, bartenders began bringing in their camping lights and the atmosphere turned festive, “like a frat party,” recalls Delaney, “very young, very collegial. The bar looked great. We have these big windows and you could see the trees blowing in the park across the street. But with all the noise in the bar, you couldn’t hear anything from the storm.

“We managed to stay open during most of the storm,” Delaney reports. “In fact, we were very busy,  a helluva lot busier than I thought we would be, local residents coming in for drinks and neighborhood talk. For a few hours, we got so jammed that I had to leave the door and help work the bar.”

By Friday, with power and phone service still out for most homes and businesses in Manhattan, Delaney says the mood began to change. People were starved for information, hearing things only second- and third-hand, eagerly conversing with their neighbors about how to survive a little more comfortably. Newcomers to the neighborhood were leaving town, while longer-term residents were more resilient about the hardships.

Photo courtesy Stuart Schuffman.

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