Erick Castro Contemplates the Year That Wasn't - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Erick Castro Contemplates the Year That Wasn’t

The COVID crisis has had an unprecedented effect on the hospitality industry, and will
likely permanently reshape the way bars and restaurants operate. Throughout this year, we’re turning to bartenders, bar owners, and other industry figures, asking them to share their stories about how the pandemic has affected their lives and livelihoods, and what’s giving them hope and direction for the months to come.

For this second installment, we spoke with Erick Castro, an owner and partner in bars including Polite Provisions and Raised by Wolves in San Diego and Boilermaker in New York City, and host of the Bartender at Large podcast.

This interview has been edited for space, clarity, and context.

Oh man, 2020 was going to be my year.

It was the culmination of everything I’ve been working toward. With Bartender at Large, we had tours planned, with events in Singapore, Australia, Europe—I was supposed to bartend at Disney World! And then, you know, it all fell apart.

My wife and I were in Europe in late February [2020], doing events in Dublin, London, and Paris. We got home on March 7th—on March 11th or 12th, we were diagnosed with COVID. We were both really sick, and we knew it wasn’t the flu. I never get sick, but I got really sick for about two weeks, and I didn’t have my lung capacity back for three months. That’s when we realized, “This is going to be bad.”

At that point, everybody was talking about it like it was temporary, over in three weeks or something. But I knew we’d be closed for a long time. I felt like there was toxic positivity going around at that point. We have a natural inclination toward optimism, and it’s important to be optimistic, but it’s important to be realistically optimistic. I think what hit us psychologically and was so damaging was that our expectations didn’t fit the reality of the situation.

I’m very fortunate with my bars. We were doing well financially, we were able to mitigate the losses, but my heart goes out to people who aren’t in as good a position. They might be watching their life’s work go down the toilet, and a lot of people don’t know how they’ll feed their families. People you’ve worked with for seven, eight years, they’re doing a great job, but you have to lay them off. And in your heart, you’re wondering, “How are they going to pay the bills?” Because unemployment isn’t working. It’s infuriating. It’s all very, very tragic, and so much of it was avoidable.

And in the middle of all this, my dear friend and business partner, Chris Patino, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Chris is one of the most deeply decent human beings I know. When I first chatted with him, I was devastated—it reminded me of how unfair things can be. It snapped me back to reality and reminded me that just because all this has happened, the rest of our problems haven’t been put on hold.

But as it unfolded, it really inspired me—because if Chris can pull through this, and be strong and keep a level head and remain optimistic, then I have no excuse to not do this myself.

I’m a big advocate for routines. I have a daily routine that I follow, and it gives me a sense of normalcy and consistency. Today I woke up at six, I did about 45 minutes of stretches, I took a shower, and I had a cup of coffee. I meditate. That’s helped me keep a good headspace. Many years ago, I was in a bad car accident and couldn’t work. I didn’t do much besides physical therapy, and at the end of that nine months I looked back and thought, “I didn’t accomplish anything—I just sat at home watching movies.” I knew I didn’t want to waste this time—time is valuable—so I’m learning to do things to keep myself challenged. I’ve been learning guitar—I’m terrible at it, but I play about a half hour every day. I’ve been learning color grading for videography; I bought a soldering iron and I’m learning how to use that. They’re all just little projects I took on, because I don’t want to look back on this as dead time. Wasting time can be nice, as long as it’s deliberate—I didn’t want to feel like it was stolen from me.

I’ve been making very deliberate attempts to not argue with people, and to treat people with dignity and respect. Because when you take all these other problems and then compound them with the year of 2020, it puts all of us in a position to not take for granted what we have, and to not assume that other people are going through the same things we are.

Now, we’re starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel—the vaccine is going out. It gives me a lot of hope, and I finally feel like we have a reason to be optimistic. I’m not taking anything for granted, but there’s one thing I feel is important, and that’s how we have a responsibility to the community, and to each other. I’m inspired by the people I see around me, who are doing great things, and I feel what we have is worth fighting for. It’s important to us to make sure we can celebrate our tiny accomplishments in the meantime.

Enjoy This Article?

Sign up for our newsletter and get biweekly recipes and articles delivered to your inbox.

Send this to a friend