Roberto Suárez is the captain of waiters at Sambuca, a place for drinks and music in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City. Between Latin rhythms, neon lights and disinfectant gel, he finally responds to the insistent calls from his mobile, which rings for the second time in less than five minutes. “I’ve told the waiters to run everyone,” he tells his manager at 9.20pm, 40 minutes before closing. Roberto’s place returned to activity less than 90 days ago after six months with the blind down thanks to the Reabre program, an economic aid plan for bars, canteens and clubs to resume their activity as restaurants. Sambuca, in addition to drinks and drinks, serves fast food, but it has not been enough. Given the increase in hospitalizations, the local government has suspended its permit and that of hundreds of other places in the city that will close again, as it happened in March. “People don’t come here to eat, they come to celebrate birthdays and graduations,” he laments with a nervous look around the corner, where a patrol car is alert to his presence by compulsively moving the lights. You know that this Friday, the last party allowed until further notice, there are operations to monitor closing time. Initially the suspension will last 15 days, but many night hospitality workers are almost certain that it will be longer.
The head of Government of the capital, Claudia Sheinbaum, was very blunt: as of this Saturday the permits of the bars, canteens and nightclubs that had to be converted into restaurants to operate are suspended. Despite the little margin, most hoteliers were already waiting for it. The change to a red light has haunted the capital for weeks and in the last report there have been 375 more hospitalized than the previous week, an alarming figure.
As a premonitory gesture, La Villa de Sarria, one of the oldest breweries in Rome, lowered the blind last Monday. Two neighbors chat in front of its façade, with their backs to the poster that the brewery improvised on cardboard that reads “Restaurant”. They comment on how sorry they are that the economic crisis of the pandemic has forced them to close down. More than 110,000 direct jobs depend on the night sector in the metropolitan area, in addition to 35,000 indirect jobs, according to the Mexican Restaurant Association (AMR). However, many operate informally and the economic dimension of this industry is much broader.
Óscar, manager of the traditional Los Ultramarinos cantina, has been advising his employees for some time to save their salary money. “If we go back to the red light we can only help them with 50% of the salary,” he says with regret. He will be able to keep the place open because they operate as a restaurant, but he does not know how long it will be. “There are fewer and fewer people on the street and with these measures there will be fewer.” Óscar points out the carefree attitude of the population and believes that the upturn in hospitalized is due to the Day of the Dead celebrations. “We Mexicans had a wrong idea of what it was to leave, we ourselves caused these situations,” he says. In the background, three girls sing in chorus on the stage of the bar with iron furniture and worn walls. It is the last night they will have live music, the restrictions force them to cancel the concerts.
Emmanuel, manager of the famous Clandestina mezcalería, heard the news that same Friday morning. By candlelight, he rushes to pour the last drinks to Carlos, Felipe and Alfredo, three friends who laugh in front of empty beer bottles on the bar’s garden terrace. “That’s why we left today,” they say, “because we won’t be able to do more, it’s a shame.” The group has chosen this place for its outdoor tables, far from the risk of contagion from closed spaces. Emmanuel will be able to continue working thanks to the establishment’s investment in a menu of appetizers and a kitchen service that accompany his bombastic drinks for a month and a half, when they reopened. “We have lost 85% of our clientele, which is foreign. I only have six of the 20 employees that we were left, ”he details. Even so, he does not criticize the new measures that suffocate neighboring premises. “As long as it’s for the better …”, he says resignedly.
Dulce works a few meters from La Clandestina, in the La Llorona cantina. “Well, we used to be a canteen. Now we are operating as a restaurant ”, he clarifies. Their establishment joined the ReABRE program, their food offering was reconditioned and strengthened. Of the 1,040 bars, cantinas and clubs registered in Mexico City, in addition to the 504 party halls, only 3% have been able to adapt as La Llorona, according to AMR data. However, the blow of the new measures has reached them fully and they hope to be able to fight to overcome it. “It was a cannon to find out this morning. My boss is meeting to see if we can stay open from tomorrow, we are checking it ”, he says optimistically.
The only music that plays on Medellín street on a Friday night comes from Be Bops Diner, a portal that teleports you back to the 50s. A band plays rock live in front of old show cars where some families dine. In this place you no longer dance to the rhythm of swing and the festive atmosphere of another era is off. Capacity reduced to 30%, less than 60 decibels and with restrictions that frighten customers, the new measures once again threaten the premises. The manager is called Marilú and, like Dulce, she does not know if they will be able to open beyond this weekend. “Tomorrow they may appear with the new news that we have to close,” she says resigned. He accompanies some customers to a table and explains that when they scan the QR code on the letter, the system will record their phone numbers. It is another of Sheinbaum’s new measures: monitoring confined spaces to be able to contact customers who have been in the same premises with a positive. “It is a good measure. So we can take care of those we have here and workers can take care of those we have at home, ”he says.
The Be Bops Diner music will stop playing at 10pm, the curfew for bars. However, muted festive rhythms echo from inside closed black doors, hidden in the Roma Norte neighborhood. The terraces have been emptied due to the possible threats of fines for the locals, but the clients continue the night in the clubs that manage to hide their activity. Suddenly the lights in the living room come on and the music stops. The doormen begin to ask everyone to vacate the premises little by little. It’s twelve o’clock, and two hours ago they should be closed. As soon as the threat of the police passes, who seem to leave them alone, the activity is resumed: the loudspeakers sound again and the laser beams illuminate the track. Hopefully, they will be able to last a couple more hours without being evicted.