New York | September 4, 2020 2:32 pm

What It’s Like to Be a Bootleg Bartender in Prospect Park

Legal? Unfortunately, no. But providing drinks to socially distanced park goers is a worthy venture.

propect park cocktails
Brooklyn's best new bar? You're looking at it.

While New York’s response to the on-going COVIDd-19 pandemic has been largely good and effective (comparatively, after a terrible start), the restaurant and bar industry here has suffered a great deal.

With city venues limited to outdoor seating, along with confusing and ever-shifting laws regarding takeout drinks and food requirements to even buy liquor (plus antiquated ideas regarding drinking in public), some bartenders have shifted to a more direct-to-consumer model: basically, selling cocktails in the park.

Not by any means legal, but certainly a worthy (and financially necessary) endeavor, out-of-work bartenders are increasingly adopting an entrepreneurial model to pay their rent. We spoke with one vendor — who will remain anonymous — we met in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park about her day-to-day cocktail-selling routine and her hopes for a post-COVID future.

The following account is in the vendor’s words, with minor edits for clarification.

I was bartending at a restaurant before the pandemic. I’ve been selling cocktails in the park since July — honestly, out of boredom more than a business venture. My business partner in this and I both been home, unemployed, since our spots shuttered in March.

We only sell in Prospect Park, due to the proximity. We don’t use marketing, social media, etc., since this is more of a temporary hobby than a brand we’re creating.

Prospect Park
Members of InsideHook enjoying drinks from our cocktail vendor friend (not pictured)
Kirk Miller

I usually work 1-2 evenings a week, depending on the weather. We offer 4 frozen cocktails at a time (the flavors of which change frequently) and charge $12 each. There are no signature drinks, but our customers seem to appreciate the variety and creativity. We make our drinks fresh just before we hit the park.

There’s competition, but we steer clear of it. It’s better for our sales and less annoying to the people of the park if we’re not all working in the same area.

We’re actually planning to wrap things up this month before the weather turns and frozen cocktails lose their appeal.

The best part: I’ve been blown away by the kindness and support from complete strangers, and I hope that can continue to be directed towards small and POC-owned businesses in the neighborhood. Some 1,300 bars and restaurants in New York City have already closed permanently due to the pandemic this year, and things are looking grim for some without outdoor dining this winter.

(Editor’s note: For some park and beach cocktail vendors who are somewhat advertising their wares, check out El Rey’s Cocktails and Drink Mules.)