© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Bar In Mexico Realized What They've Been Missing Amid The Pandemic


Here's a sound you probably haven't heard in a while...


CORNISH: ...A packed bar full of people. While many countries are still struggling with lockdowns and quarantines, one bar in Mexico is bringing that experience online to anyone who will listen. NPR's Kat Lonsdorf takes us there.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: In 2012, Oscar Romo, along with a couple of friends, started a bar in Monterrey, Mexico. Back then, the city was just starting to recover from horrific drug cartel violence. People were reemerging, reconnecting. Romo and his friends called their bar Maverick, and they gave it a slogan.

OSCAR ROMO: (Speaking Spanish) How do you say it in English? A place for encounters or something like that.

LONSDORF: A place for encounters. And for the next eight years, Maverick blossomed into a cornerstone in the neighborhood, a spot where artists and writers and musicians, the community could thrive - until March 2020, the pandemic.

ROMO: I mean, everything was closed. We were not allowed to sell anything for two months. So the impact, it was tremendous.

LONSDORF: The bar was hurting both financially, obviously, but also because that sense of community, the thing they'd worked so hard to build, was gone. Romo says it was painful.

ROMO: It's like, oh, my God. I didn't realize how much I miss this and how important it was. Those normal things that you have in life, you have for granted and now are not there.

LONSDORF: Eventually, they were allowed to sell to-go cocktails, but it just wasn't the same.

ROMO: Then we started to think about how we can keep the feeling alive of being in a bar, you know?

LONSDORF: So they made a website, something for customers to use at home while sipping their cocktails to go. And they called it imissmybar.com

RENE CARDENAS: People come here because of the conversations, because of the atmosphere, because of the music, because of the sense of being with strangers.

LONSDORF: Rene Cardenas helped make the site. He realized it was the sounds of a bar that really helped Maverick feel like a community, so he recorded each of them individually, like a bartender working...


LONSDORF: ...Or people talking...


LONSDORF: ...Some street noise.


LONSDORF: Add some music.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

LONSDORF: And then throw it all together.


LONSDORF: Maverick, the bar, in full swing.

CARDENAS: But then as we were making it, we said, like, maybe this idea is bigger than us.

LONSDORF: So they modified it so anyone, anywhere can try to recreate the bar they miss the most.

ROMO: Maybe that would be a bar in London or Tokyo or anywhere in the world.

LONSDORF: This is a pain felt globally, after all. And Maverick has been getting calls from everywhere - India, Greece, Germany and the U.K.

MAX WOLFF: I think, at first, it seemed to me like it was meant to be funny. But it doesn't seem funny anymore. It seems absolutely tragic.

LONSDORF: Max Wolff is general manager of a cozy cocktail bar called Swift in London. For him, I Miss My Bar captures the chaos, something that has essentially evaporated during COVID.

WOLFF: There'd be no other time where you'd interact with those same people that you do in a pub, yet you get such a cross-section of society. And that's the fun and exciting bit. And there's no Zoom call that can replace that.

LONSDORF: Wolff shared I Miss My Bar with his customers to remind them of the good old days. London is in total lockdown. Bars like Swift are completely empty. The city has lost part of its spirit. And Wolff worries how long it'll take to get that back.

WOLFF: We've now spent a year being told we're not even allowed to breathe the same air as strangers. I don't know - when bars open again, are we still going to be programmed to think, oh, no, I don't want to share this table; I don't want to share this dance floor?

LONSDORF: And it's not just those interactions that were missing. Bars all over the world are in danger of disappearing.

MARCIO DUARTE: Business here is gone in - like anywhere else. Right? So 90% of the bars that were struggling, they will not exist.

LONSDORF: Marcio Duarte runs a bar called Machimbombo in Lisbon, Portugal, a city known for its raucous nightlife. Now nightlife has been largely banned, although that's slowly lifting. Duarte's bar has been hanging on. They've pivoted to food during the day, but it's been tough. He says that when he first found I Miss My Bar, he put it on surround sound speakers.


LONSDORF: The sound gave him hope.

DUARTE: It encouraged me. It's a beautiful thing. It's living. It's alive, that experience. We will chase that again. And I know, for God's sake, the day we open the bar, the happiest person there will be me equally with everyone.

LONSDORF: Oscar Romo, at Maverick in Mexico, says that's the point, to get people to remember that there's more to bars than cocktails.

ROMO: What we want people to realize how important are bars in our lives. Like, really - not just from the drinking perspective, it's just, you know, from the social life.

LONSDORF: But until we can all safely go out again, packed into those tiny loud spaces with the cocktail shaker shaking and the street noise rumbling and the strangers breathing, I'll leave you with this...


LONSDORF: ...To remind you that those places existed, and hopefully, soon they will again.

Kat Lonsdorf, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAR AMBIENCE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.