Quarantine has a way of upending the logic of time. For those self-isolating during the novel coronavirus pandemic, “so much to do, so little time” quickly became “so little to do, so much time.” The hours once spent lingering at bars and sharing plates at restaurants are now spent at home, with takeout margaritas in plastic cups and cacio e pepe delivered in paper boxes.
Although drinking and dining establishments are slowly reopening in some places and tiptoeing toward it in others, the more enterprisingly creative among us have whetted their appetites at home, re-creating the ambiance, rituals and sense of togetherness that define the bar-and-restaurant experience. And as coronavirus cases surge in parts of the United States, forcing reopened restaurants to shutter again, the comforts of these home setups cannot be discounted.
Jason Booth recently moved to Portland, Ore., with his wife, Bree, and their 2-year-old son, Jonah. With a background in comedy and fine dining, Booth had planned to create a “comedically driven wine-tour company, like if the riverboat captain was driving a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van out into the Willamette Valley.” The pandemic put that business venture on hold indefinitely. “We became a one-income household,” Booth said, and the “elbows-bumping-against-elbows-at-a-bar — type society” became one defined by elbow bumps as cautious greetings.
Feeling that “grand ennui setting in,” Booth created a TikTok account and began sharing “dumb videos” with his old comedy friends from California. In late March, he decided to parody the stereotypical fine dining experience — pretentious, jargon-laden, detail-obsessed — by serving high-class meals to his highchair-bound toddler. L’Dad’s Chateau was born on March 26, with Booth, in a trim blazer and carrying the meticulously subservient posture of a server at a white-tablecloth restaurant, presenting Jonah with a deconstructed PB&J on a sprig-lined wooden plank. Booth’s fourth video in the series, in which he serves “Mr. Booth” a “take on grilled cheese using all the restaurant terminology to pretend it’s something fancy,” quickly went viral. Booth woke up the next morning to tens of thousands of new followers on TikTok and Instagram. Within a week, L’Dad’s Chateau had been featured on food and parenting blogs and local news sites, and Booth soon signed influencer deals with brands such as Dole and Ocean Spray.
“This may be my own silly romantic idea of the world,” Booth said, “but if I’m trusting the deluge of comments I get on the videos, there’s something to be said for creating wholesome, good content that offers even one minute of escape, which I feel we desperately need right now.” Both he and his quarantined viewers are “looking for any source of comfort,” he said. What L’Dad’s Chateau serves up is a perfect quarantine-zeitgeist recipe: a devilishly cute baby; the hilarity and intimacy of shows like “The Great British Baking Show,” and “all the things we miss about restaurants, the pomp and circumstance of fine dining in general, and getting to be taken care of.”
As people seek out uplifting distractions from depressing news stories and the banality of life in quarantine, images and videos of people’s home bars and restaurants have found massive audiences on social media. In, Massachusetts, 14-year-old Derek Cannuscio has been making elaborate family dinners throughout quarantine, including a “Cinderella”-themed meal and a hibachi grill using a tabletop hot plate, and his sister’s TikTok videos of the meals have racked up millions of views.
In Minneapolis, Jeffrey Johnson wanted to continue the date-night tradition with his wife, Candace, during the pandemic, so, in March, the amateur chef’s Quarantine Grill opened for business: party of two, one night only. He prepared a lavish three-course meal of crab cakes with a spicy rémoulade, Cajun-style stuffed salmon, sides of mashed potatoes and collard greens, and strawberry cheesecake for dessert. He placed “RESERVED” signs on the table and printed a detailed menu with a loving reminder at the bottom: “All dishes prepared by your husband.” Johnson shared pictures of the restaurant-worthy meal on Twitter with the caption “Took my wife to Quarantine Grill,” garnering 50,000 retweets and 285,000 likes. “Wow, I … I’m so lonely,” read one typical response.
Of course, it’s not only restaurants that social-distancing guidelines and restrictions made temporarily obsolete. People have flocked to websites and apps that virtually re-create the bar experience. Virtual Cheers lets you download photos from various bars in New York City, from the neighborhood dive Pete’s Candy Store to the upscale speakeasy Dear Irving, to use as Zoom backgrounds for virtual happy hours with friends. On an app called Tele Drinking Bar, users join a virtual table and are randomly matched with strangers, as if sidling up to the lone unoccupied stool at a crowded bar.
Katharina Wurtinger and her four roommates in Munich thought they could do better than mere virtual bars. “We had the idea that everybody could turn their room into a themed bar,” she said, mimicking at home the adventurous novelty of barhopping.
In the medieval room-cum-bar, Wurtinger and her roommates drank mead; in the wine bar, wine; in the jungle bar, jungle juice; and in the Caribbean sundowner’s bar, complete with a menu resembling an old seafarer’s map, cocktails with rum and citrus. In the “very high-class and sophisticated” library-style bar, they sipped cognac among old books in the soft glow of candlelight; in the Swiss bar, they enjoyed chocolate and wine; in their re-creation of a boazn, a type of rustic, cozy Bavarian pub, they downed pints of cheap beer. Even their bathroom was transformed into a “hipster health-and-wellness bar” with energy-boosting smoothies, string lights and motivational posters reminding the bar-hoppers, “You’re beautiful just the way you are!”
They invited their friends to join them on Skype, drinks in hand, and set up a computer in their living room for an ongoing video chat. “Friends could join whenever they wanted, at any time, so that no one had to sit at home alone,” Wurtinger said. By the end of the nightlong bar crawl, the roommates had consumed “seven or eight drinks each,” and 30 or so friends’ faces had come and gone from the computer screen.
Young people’s birthdays are often honored with uninhibited consumption, but without bars to venture out to, some parents have stepped up to make their children’s celebrations as memorable as possible.
When Lily Holdsworth, an accountant in England, was forced to cancel a trip to Belfast for her 24th birthday, her parents and brother hosted a “lockdown pub crawl” in the family’s five-bedroom home. In the kitchen, a.k.a. Holdsworth Cocktail Bar, they drank “Pornstar Quarantinis,” “Piña Coronas” and “Long Isolation Iced Teas” made with booze and juice already at home. Holdsworth’s room became a karaoke bar, her brother’s a game room, and the spare room a neon-lit nightclub called Lockdown — with her dad, Bill, on the decks as DJ Billy Boy. Around 2:30 a.m., the family convened for chicken kebab in the kitchen, made over to be a late-night food stop.
“It was just making the best of a bad situation, because we’d been moping about,” Holdsworth told the Daily Mail.
In Roseland, N.J., college student Jack Torchia had big plans for his 21st birthday, in March: a party with friends and relatives at his parents’ house, then his first legal drink at a local bar at midnight. Covid-19 was the world’s strictest bouncer. But his mom, Carolyn, and sister, Emily, decided to celebrate Jack’s birthday at home by turning their garage into a nightclub. “Since it’s detached, it’s almost as if he’s leaving the house to go out somewhere,” Emily said.
After dinner the night of the canceled party, Carolyn told Jack, “Go to your room and dress like you’re going out to a club.” Jack figured his parents had “something corny” in mind — “like what parents usually think of.” While Jack changed, Emily and Carolyn went to work on the garage. Old zebra-print sheets were hung up to hide the garage door. A tablecloth-covered table became the bar, with “A Christmas Story”-style leg lamp and booze from the liquor cabinet. Carolyn hung a sign outside with the message “MUST BE 21 OR OLDER TO ENTER.” Jack’s father played the role of stern club bouncer, wearing sunglasses and all-black clothing and carrying a walkie-talkie and flashlight. “He really got into it,” Carolyn said.
When Jack arrived at the garage door, his dad checked his ID and ushered him inside, where Carolyn poured shots beneath a canopy of string lights. Emily filmed the whole thing for TikTok, where it has 6 million views.
In their garage — er, Club Quarantine — the Torchia family chatted, danced and drank together and (virtually) with family and friends who Zoomed and FaceTimed Jack for the occasion. “It was fun, actually, a lot of fun,” Carolyn said. “It was a lot better than his actual birthday would’ve been if there were no quarantine.” She paused, laughing, and added, “In my opinion, at least.”
Dahl is a peripatetic writer based, at the moment, in Brooklyn. His website is kierandahl.com.
More from Voraciously