Thursday, July 15, 2021

Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars

I spent a lot of time at Arthur’s Tavern and the Jazz Standard, but I won’t be spending anymore, because neither will be reopening. In the case of Arthur’s, the building owner sold it out from under them, but presumably that decision was prompted by the long Covid shutdown. Of course, it isn’t just the musicians out of a job. The bartenders and wait staff we used to recognize were also rendered jobless. Johnny Sweet follows the impact of Xi Jinping’s pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home orders on a handful of New York City bar employees in Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars, which releases virtually tomorrow.

Sweet focuses on a small group of bar employees, primarily in Queens, who all seem to know each other, but of course, they haven’t seen each other (or hardly anyone else) since Cuomo issued the shutdown order. Naturally, they are all deeply concerned about the victims of the disease, especially in hard hit Queens, but the financial repercussions of the shutdown are severe and increasingly pressing for them.

Last Call
has been dinged by critics for concentrating on a relatively small sampling of impacted bar workers, but that is actually the film’s strength. Several interview subjects reluctantly liken the Sparrow Tavern to Cheers—and their point is taken. We get why people kept coming in. Jena Ellenwood, the Sparrow bartender turned online cocktail guru, is particularly frank and engaging in her segments.

The truth is we really don’t need the background context from healthcare experts. After more than a full year of Covid’s realities, most viewers should understand the basics. (However, Sweet and his talking heads get credit for identifying Xi’s Mainland regime as the source of the virus.) However, what a lot of East Coast viewers working in finance, communications, and politics might not get is the severity of the shutdown on average service economy workers.

Last Call
is literally a small film, clocking in just under an hour, but it holds a great deal of value. The employees of the Sparrow and Diamond Dogs (and Arthur’s) do not often have a chance to tell their stories in the media, but they deserve to be heard. Recommended for perspective on what we’ve lost (or at least have yet to fully recover), Last Call releases virtually at the Laemmle Cinemas this Friday (7/16).