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Out-of-work bartenders now mixing up illegal cocktails in NYC parks

Out-of-work bartenders now mixing up illegal cocktails in NYC parks

Meg Moorhouse was recently enjoying her daily homemade cocktails in Prospect Park when the unthinkable happened: She ran out of alcohol. The 42-year-old designer and restaurant-industry veteran was about to pack it up when, like a mirage, there stood a guy with a cooler. “It was full of what looked like nutcrackers,” she said, referring to the popular and potent summertime drink, typically hard alcohol mixed with fruit juice or Kool-Aid. “But these were margaritas.” Surprised at the sophistication of the offerings, she purchased one, and her summer afternoon was saved. “It was perfect timing.”

With the indoor space of the New York’s bars currently closed for business, the city’s more social citizens are now seeking spots beyond their homes to safely imbibe. As a result, the 526 acres of Prospect Park has been transformed into the city’s boozy new hot spot. Some, like Moorhouse, bring the drinks from home, but to-go cocktails are readily available from local purveyors, too. And while nearby spots such as Nitehawk and Krupa Grocery offer drinks in accordance with New York’s newly lenient liquor laws, within the park, more clandestine transactions are happening via mobile bars.

A few steamy Saturdays ago, 24-year-old eye-bank technician Hannah Flaig was lounging in Prospect Park when she noticed a man with a cooler in the distance, dressed in full protective gear, flanked by customers.

Intrigued, she called him over. It turned out to be the Brooklyn Vagabond, a 32-year-old furloughed restaurant server who launched his cocktail service early in the pandemic. His cocktails sell for $15 ($10 for his peach and mango sangria), which are packaged in 12-ounce plastic bottles bearing the logo of an anonymous face with a baseball cap and glasses.

Flaig bought a sangria and happily sipped. “It was a great, unexpected bonus to the day,” she said.

Vagabond, who asked to keep his identity private, as it’s illegal to sell liquor without a proper license in New York, says he was inspired by seeing his restaurant co-workers make income baking and selling bread.

Typically on the weekend, he nets about $500 to $600 daily with choices like the Kachumber Basil, mixing citrus and pureed cucumber with honey gin and vodka infused with basil. The drink, he said, was inspired by his friend, celebrated New York chef Floyd Cardoz, who died on March 25 from the coronavirus.

Vagabond, who markets himself on Instagram, says that his customer base is largely composed of childless millennials. “Sometimes they’ll buy twice in one day,” he said.

City dwellers can also get their fix from newly launched cocktail delivery services by out-of-work professional bartenders.

One such business is Boomerang, run by 31-year-old Shane Smith, formerly of My Friend Duke and Beauty & Essex, and Carlos Alejandro of Red Rooster. The pair offer drinks in a range of sizes — from 16 ounces ($20) to half-gallons ($80) — and have even featured a four-booze drink called FOH Nutcracker. (FOH is industry speak for “front of house,” the group of restaurant employees who interface with customers.)

“It was just for s–ts and giggles, but also an homage to the streets,” said Smith.

To get delivery from Boomerang, customers choose from the menu posted on Instagram and DM their orders, which are then fulfilled by a partnering restaurant with a liquor license.

“I remember this lady at Walmart, she was laughing like, ‘I just saw you count out about 70 limes. What’s going on?’ ” said Smith.

To supplement income, he also teaches Zoom cocktail classes and is brainstorming other ideas for the brand. “We might try to do cocktail kits,” he said. “We want to keep it going in some way as long as we can.”

But Vagabond will be happy to see his business wind down as brick-and-mortar spots reopen. “It’s very hard work,” he said. “I spend the whole week preparing the alcohol, sourcing it, getting alcohol I like, getting ingredients, doing infusions. And then physically going to the park with the ice and the cocktails.”

“It’s not easy, or glamorous,” he added.

He may not have to worry about it much longer: He just got the news that the Soho restaurant where he worked will reopen by September.

About the author

Vicky Sequeira

Vicky Sequeira

With more than 6 years of experience working as a media professional, Vicky flaunts prowess in bringing the juicy tit-bits from the entertainment industry for the readers of News Brig.

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