Local bartenders out of work worry about their futures and the fate of their industry

Two weeks ago, Beth McRae's bar was open and all was, for the most part, pretty normal.

Between doing the bookkeeping and marketing for Berserk, the downtown Spokane bar she co-owns with her husband and two other business partners, McRae was also tending bar part-time at Hunt and Eyvind.

By March 16, McRae wasn't working at all.

As it sweeps across the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic is simultaneously wreaking havoc on the hospitality industry. While Washington Gov. Jay Inslee mandated that all bars and restaurants close to in-person service for at least two weeks, many in the industry, like McRae, are bracing for a much longer stretch of unemployment.

"When the ban hit, we were actually having a business meeting because we knew it was probably coming since other states had already done it," McRae recalls. "About five minutes into the meeting, Inslee announced the closing, and I immediately thought 'this is a good call for Washington state.' At the same time, it's terrifying as a small business owner."

Adding to the avalanche of bad news is the fact that just days before the governor's order, McRae had cut her hours at Hunt and Eyvind over concerns she'd be exposed to the coronavirus. McRae has lupus, an autoimmune disease.

"I had talked to Crystal [Bertholic, Eyvind and Hunt's bar manager] the week before and told her that with a compromised immune system I am going to start taking time off to get out of the public. But that was fine then because my husband was still working," she says.

McRae is now weighing whether she should apply for disability benefits. She hopes to bring in a little bit of income selling vintage clothing on Ebay.

"I have a feeling this is going to be extended to mid-April at the earliest, so it's a little scary," she says. "We can't get unemployment as owners. Fortunately, we have some savings, but still, you never know how long it's going to last."

Cabby Barnard (above) works alongside McRae at Hunt and Eyvind in addition to stints at local spots Tiny Tiki and Pacific Pizza. Barnard's husband, Tyler Aker, is also in the industry.

Barnard went from working 40 hours a week to zero, while Aker is getting between four and five hours a day at Pacific Pizza doing carryout orders.

"So there's a little bit of income coming in, but nothing close to what we need," Barnard says. "We don't have savings."

In the meantime, she applied for an emergency assistance grant from the United States Bartenders Guild National Charity Foundation, a nonprofit supporting the hospitality industry, but won't find out if her request was accepted for another month. She also applied for aid through the Spokane Hospitality Workers Emergency Relief Fund organized by local social services worker Ted Munat, with help from Bertholic, who's Barnard and McRae's boss at Eyvind and Hunt.

"There is a lot of unknown right now," Barnard says. "I've been in the industry for so long and I'm very qualified for it, but not qualified to do much else.

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About The Author

Chey Scott

Chey Scott is the Inlander's food and listings editor. She compiles the weekly events calendar for the print and online editions of the Inlander, manages and edits the food section, and also writes about local arts and culture. Chey (pronounced Shay) is a lifelong Spokanite and a graduate of Washington State University...