“Even when we go back to work we’re not going to be back to work. I’m not going to have 35 hours at the bar right away, and people can’t sit at the bar.”
If you’ve ever worked in a bar or restaurant, you know what “86” means: eliminated.
Whether it’s a nightly dinner special that runs out at eight o’clock or a regular guest who made one too many audible comments about a bartender’s body, the term (common variation: “86’ed”) denotes that something is no more.
Which is exactly where 86 Bartender got its name. Launched in response to the statewide closure of bars and restaurants in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the podcast, hosted by Eddy Shaw and Joe Mueller-Robinson of Allston’s The Avenue, aims to bring the energy and connection of sitting at a crowded bar to everyone holed up and responsibly drinking at home.
It’s also one of several homegrown enterprises launched—like Boston’s #BartendingInSweatpants video series, the Game Over COVID-19 live stream video games from Reboot Arcade Bar in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Virtual Happy Hour in Texas—to raise funds for the United States Bartender’s Guild emergency relief fund and for local bartenders who have, essentially, been 86’ed from their jobs due to the pandemic.
“Me and Joe work together a lot, usually on industry nights,” Shaw says. “You know, Sunday, Monday, the nights that aren’t typically filled with college kids or people who work a nine-to-five but are busy and fun in their own way. Some of the best customers we get are late night, other people in the industry just getting off of work, or who are on their weekend, and some of our favorite memories from work are just shooting the shit with those people.”
“We saw a lot of projects out there fundraising for people who are out of work, and Joe hit me up and was like, Dude, do you think we can do something too?
“And I was like, Bro, I was just thinkin that. For whatever reason, people like to listen to us talk. What about a podcast?”
The premise of the podcast is simple: You might not be able to go to a bar right now, but you can still bask in the glory of entertaining conversations with a boozy beverage, if you so choose.
And, you can help out an 86’ed bartender while you listen.
“The idea is that when you’re having a drink or you’re having a meal, log on, find a bartender you know, or a neighborhood you go out in, and send them a tip,” Shaw says.
Tips can be made directly to an individual bartender, or by tossing cash in the Tip Jar you can donate to an overall fund that is divided among affiliated bartenders. Every time $500 is raised, it is shared equally with all participants listed on the site. The first $500 payout was disbursed May 18, and Shaw and Mueller-Robinson are halfway to the second benchmark.
The show is also a way to bring people to a conversation they might not otherwise have the option to overhear. Guests have included local rapper Problemattik and professional wrestling referee and co-host of the Wrestling Soup Podcast Joey Numbas; much of the talk focuses on issues currently facing Boston’s bar scene, but Shaw stresses that the most important part of each episode is bringing people together at a time when they can’t do that at bars.
“It’s a way to recreate the community we all miss,” Shaw says.
It’s also a chance to hear from people who aren’t often sought out by traditional media or, in the case of this week’s guest, who are wanted by the FBI. If you’ve ever had your workflow interrupted by a shield alerting you to the need to secure your laptop, then you’re familiar with the business that made John McAfee a fortune. As for the man himself, just imagine if Hunter S. Thompson went into cyber security instead of journalism—he is uncensored, obsessed with firearms, and on the run from the United States government.
“He’s an aggressively polarizing figure,” Shaw says. “I happened to see a tweet from him at like 7am one day when I couldn’t sleep with directions of how to contact him for podcast appearances.
“And I said, Why the hell not?”
McAfee’s publicist noted that prospective podcasts must have existed for at least nine months. 86 Bartender has been around for about nine weeks, now but Shaw gave it a shot anyway.
“I was just sitting there thinking like, How do I convince this guy to waive that requirement and just come on? And I said I’m just gonna have to explain what I’m doing.
And as I’m writing an email back to McAfee’s [publicist], explaining what we’re all about, she emails me and says, Disregard my previous email, John read your site and he said because most of his life has been spent in bars chatting with bartenders and being thrown out by doormen he’d love to be on your podcast.”
Shaw’s conversation with McAfee will post at 8pm tonight and promises to be one of the more authentic interviews for McAfee aficionados and newbies alike:
“Most of the interviews with this guy are just so boring,” Shaw says. “He’s a big name, with a huge reputation, but I still wanted this to be what it’s always been about—having a chat with somebody.
“That’s what people miss right now, you know? Yeah, sure, you can drink at home, but it’s not the same.”
And it won’t be the same for some time: As Massachusetts enters “Phase Two” of Governor Charlie Baker’s reopening plan, restaurants can restart dine-in service, but with strict capacity and social-distancing guidelines. According to state safety standards, spring tables must be at least six-feet apart, there can be no groups of more than six people, all dining must take place outdoors, and sitting at the bar is prohibited.
The lack of bar seats alone signals to bartenders across the state that their work life—and earning potential—is going to be markedly different than it was in early March. To help combat the inevitable loss of income and prolonged hunger for a bar-like atmosphere, Shaw says the podcast, the tip jar, and the list of bartenders signed up to receive Venmo tips will continue.
“Even when we go back to work we’re not going to be back to work,” he says. “I’m not going to have 35 hours at the bar right away, and people can’t sit at the bar.”
Shaw continues, “There’s still going to be people hurting out there, so we’re going to keep at it, and try to help as many people as possible. We’ve had so much fun doing this that we’re going to keep it going, for as long as we can. This is a chance for us to still get in that bar banter, that conversation and connection. That’s really why we bartend. I think it’s important for people to know that.”
Listen and watch Eddy Shaw talk with John McAfee Saturday night at 8pm via 86bartender.com.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Pandemic Democracy Project. The Silver Dining Playbook series has been supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.