Early in the pandemic, a slew of COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions threatened the livelihood of local bars and restaurants.
But April 2020 saw an opportunity for financial and operational relief when the Ohio Liquor Control Commission passed an emergency rule allowing the sale and delivery of to-go alcohol. The rule was set to last 120 days until the Business Expansion and Safety Act was signed into law in October. The law made permanent the ability for bars, restaurants, breweries and wineries (and certain-sized distilleries) to sell takeout drinks in a sealed container for consumption off-premises.
It also allowed establishments to sell alcohol in their parking lots or adjacent outdoor areas, which led to the swift popularization of “streateries” and “parklets.”
Capitalizing on the law, these six establishments managed to navigate new business models that highlighted their distinct personalities — and changed the way they intend on operating for good.
1233 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, longfellowbar.com
February marked Over-the-Rhine bar Longfellow’s fourth birthday, but owner Mike Stankovich is waiting to celebrate until it can happen in person. In the meantime, the craft cocktail bar will continue to prop open its new DIY carry-out window and serve a limited number of guests with outside seating.
“(The window) allowed us to have a little bit of a platform and talk to people and it felt safe because of the barrier,” he says. “And people showed up, they would just pull up and jump out of their car and grab (their order) and go on their way.”
Stankovich notes an initial reluctance to change up the business model.
“We could have gone into hibernation to preserve our future,” he says. But before the new carry-out law was even heard of, Longfellow was offering a voluptuous food menu and eventually began curating food boxes.
Stankovich and his team are beginning to discuss what fully reopening will look like. The outside space lends itself to 11 tables, he says, and the carry-out window isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He plans to resume early pandemic, weather-permitting practices until completely reopening feels safe.
He’s also looking forward to a new opportunity. Set to open this year, Oakley Kitchen Food Hall will house eight local chef-driven food concepts. Stankovich will head the hall’s bar of rare and imported beer, cocktail specials and an extensive wine list. The Cutaway will be the kitchen’s only bar and operate as an extension of Longfellow’s spirit and staff, but with an identity of its own.
Northside Yacht Club
4231 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, northsideyachtclub.com
The Northside Yacht Club is famously known for its Rock & Roll shows, wild sense of humor and peanut butter tequila shot. But without live music to lean on, co-owner Stuart MacKenzie instituted some seriously unserious — but highly successful — food-and-booze schemes that he says largely wouldn’t have been possible without the new law.
“We try and give people experiences to keep their hopes up because I think we’ve all been feeling a little bleak,” he says. “So next thing you know I’m looking up roller skates for grown men’s feet on the internet.”
Before this February saw the return of NSYC’s famous deep-fried cheese coneys (complete with a new coney-eating challenge), January bestowed curbside service delivered via roller-skating employees — a riff off of Sonic drive-thrus. MacKenzie also added a meat slicer to the kitchen to execute a Nihilist Arby’s pop-up. But the satirical approach doesn’t mirror the expert method of preparing the actual food.
“We’ve got a pretty rockin’ carry-out business now,” MacKenzie says. “I think that is going to stay a healthy part of the (bar) that we kind of grew from nothing.”
After struggling to reimagine operations that swayed from shutdowns to carry-out, and patio seating to the current limited indoor seating, the team is excited to eventually reinstitute karaoke and live music. “The mosh pits will be back,” MacKenzie says.
Lost & Found OTR
22 E. 14th St., Over-the-Rhine, lostandfoundotr.com
Lost & Found is a cocktail bar with a trademark aesthetic and atmosphere. A distinguished splash of yellow behind some tastefully collaged, funky art sets the scene, which is typically energized by some eclectic tunes. Co-owner Camilo Otalora favors Brazilian Psych Rock from the late ’60s and early ’70s, but lately he is assembling sounds to complement whatever theme their pandemic-devised Booze Box is portraying.
“The second that the carry-out laws changed is when we immediately pivoted and built our Booze Box,” Otalora says. Inspired by a bar in Seattle, Otalora and his team decided to make the carry-out box concept their own and devise a plan to be able to deliver within the I-275 loop.
Updates to the website make for a very user-friendly ordering experience (click on the Booze Box tab). The box includes housemade cocktails paired with a snack. The Polynesian Pop Box is the current flavor, but there’s always a build-your-own option or an option that includes classics with a Lost & Found twist. Each box also has interactive labeling and stickers, a zine with art and staff commentary, and its own Spotify playlist.
The boxes have proven to be extremely popular and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Otalora says.
1660 Blue Rock St., Northside, artifactbeer.com
These fruit and sour beer specialists had a bit more of a challenge than the average brewery facing the pandemic. Catering to a niche crowd without the ability to lean on their usual live music and events to bring people in was tough, but only at first.
“For pretty much the first chunk of the pandemic it was just about surviving,” says marketing coordinator Hannah Rogers. “We mainly focused on pushing the online store as much as we could. Once we kind of got our feet under us and we had more staff on hand we decided to create a subscription service, or rather, a ‘beer club.’”
Rogers says the store was a long-term goal but there was no rush to get it off the ground because taproom and retail profits were high. After the taproom closed, it didn’t take much for online ordering to gain traction.
The beer club got 300 members in its first three months of operation. The membership includes quarterly shipments offering one rare four-pack, one seasonal six-pack and three separate four-packs. The offers are customizable and, currently, those seeking new membership are being waitlisted.
While the taproom and courtyard have officially reopened, online ordering and delivery will continue.
1438 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, maizeotr.com
Maize pivoted quickly as changes allowed the Latin American eatery and bar to sell cocktails with its authentic dishes. Owner Louisa Reckman designed their signature labels herself, embedding QR codes that linked to Spotify playlists.
“We wanted to make it fun, having a little piece of the restaurant you used to go to and bring that tropical vibe in,” she says. “We are known for being unapologetically loud, both in flavor and the music and just our atmosphere in general.”
39 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, homemakersbar.com
Even though owner Julia Petiprin began HomeMakers’ bottled cocktail program pre-pandemic, it couldn’t be employed during early shutdown stages. At first they focused on food carry-out.
HomeMakers leaned into dishes like mac and cheese, sandwiches and dips. The bar also marketed virtual cocktail classes that taught customers how to work with signature styles involving modern cocktails with aperitifs, digestifs and bitters.
“I remember when they first said we could do it,” Petiprin says of the carry-out law. “It wasn’t permanent yet, but that was great for us.”
Deep in the winter, HomeMakers attracted business through to-go food and drink, revised their website to include online ordering, published a book (HomeMaker’s Guide to Entertaining, Holiday Edition) and offered igloo reservations in their backyard “Outpost” aimed at use for patrons’ “core pods.”
HomeMaker’s signature glass carry-out cocktail bottles resemble antique medicine bottles with simple labeling that reveals the ingredients. The most recent and popular release is the Clear AF Daiquiri. Petiprin says it was inspired by the process of clarifying lime juice, which makes it last longer — an obvious advantage for a to-go item. HomeMakers is currently looking into broadening the bottle program by canning some of their sparkling cocktails.