If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing in life stays the same. What were once staples on our social calendars, like downtown Mobile’s Tiki Week, have now been replaced — if we’re lucky — with creative and socially-distanced alternatives. At press time, we don’t know if the Polynesian fest will take place, but one thing is for sure: There’s never a bad time to sip a good drink. As such, MB asked the following guys to create a Tiki-inspired cocktail (pictured below, left to right): Noell Broughton, owner of seven bars and restaurants, including Brickyard and The Bone and Barrel; Matt LeMond, owner of POST, O’Daly’s Irish Pub and Cedar Street Social Club; and Roy Clark, general manager of The Haberdasher. And because they’re each navigating the same storm, figuring out how to keep their businesses afloat amid national uncertainty and panic, we checked in to see how they’re holding up.
Noell: We’re here. We can say that. Matt and I were just talking about how after the shutdown we got to open back up and things were coming back to life slowly but surely, even at 50 percent. I think all of us were OK with 50 percent, the alternative being closed. Then about three weeks ago, it hit the fan again, and it’s been pretty slow.
Matt: It’s a day at a time scenario. As business owners, it’s our job to troubleshoot and problem solve as much as possible, so this is a little bit different. We’re still learning a lot of things. Opening up was fantastic, but we had to close again. I think things changed a little after that. Even staff-wise, we were a little bit more serious. We needed to encourage our customers to come back in.
Roy: Yeah, we have our own mask mandate, even outside of the city mandate. We will keep that going as long as we feel that is the prudent thing to do. We are switching to a table service module from bar-service only. That will be the biggest hurdle and challenge for both our staff and our customers.
Matt: The expectations change so much. We’ve been open and are doing table service. To be honest, it’s been incredible on the sales side of things. It is challenging at times though. Half our customers are understanding of why we’re doing it. The other half expect us to be Ruth’s Chris, and it’s tough for us because we’re trying something we’ve never done here before.
Noell: We’re taking all the precautions, just like everybody else. We’ve got sanitization stations at all the doors. We’ve got one person walking around whose job is just to spray things and wipe them down. Everybody wears a mask. Kitchen guys are gloved and masked. The tables are separated. We have a clicker at the door, so we know when we’re at capacity. The bars are a little bit different than the restaurant because people get a little looser as the night goes on.
Matt: Our customers here [at POST], come to sit at a table together. Over there [at O’Daly’s], people go to mingle; that’s part of the business.
Noell: Everybody wants to drink and mingle. You know, we remind them, “Y’all, break it up.”
Matt: We provide masks. We try to think of any excuse they can think of. We try to think of ways we can accommodate our 10 percenters, the ones who are a little unruly.
Noell: Those who are anti-mask.
Matt: Yeah! Anti-everything! How can I make them part of the 90 percent? We try to think of the positive ways to reinforce it. We were all there, we were all young.
Noell: I say it 100 times a day. If the choice is to put on a mask or we all close, put a damn mask on, man. It’s easy math. I wish there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Matt: I remember having a conversation with someone and we were like, “Alright, this will only be for two or three weeks. We got this! Let’s keep our staff motivated.”
Noell: Our number one focus is the staff. We want to make sure that everybody is able to work in a safe environment. We brought everybody back; we weren’t even open at the time. We cleaned and had everybody doing whatever we could. During that time, you find a lot of loyalty in folks.
Matt: We had not a single employee who would not come back to work, except for one who had low immune system concerns. For two months, Luke Peavy and I dressed in drag and delivered pizza. Whatever tip money we got, we gave to staff. It worked to keep everyone motivated. We even recorded the deliveries. We made about 44 videos.
Noell: That’s great. You know that stuff’s out there forever.
Roy: In April and May we did a series of crawfish boils on Sundays. We partnered with The Merry Widow. One hundred percent of the profits went to staff of both businesses. [The past few months] it’s been all about communication. We’ve had a series of meetings so everybody knows where we’re at and so we also know where their head is and how they’re feeling. We’re a small staff; it’s very much a family atmosphere.
MB: What do you miss about the “old days,” pre-COVID?
Noell: They’re already the old days? (laughs) I miss the business, that’s for sure. I miss that safe comfortable feeling of going to my favorite bars and restaurants and enjoying myself. I feel like wherever you go, there’s a cloud.
Matt: The carefree aspect is something we took for granted before. Even this morning, I walked to the door and realized I didn’t have my mask.
Roy: Yeah, approaching somebody you haven’t seen for a while. It’s kind of awkward.
Noell: I don’t know what the protocol is. Do we shake hands, do the elbow?
Matt: We need wristbands. If it’s green, it means you’re shaking hands. If it’s red, it means you’re not. (all laugh)
Noell: You’ve put some thought into this.
Matt: Yeah, I’m such an embracer; I’m a hugger. I feel that we are going to go through this and be able to take away some positive things. We have this time period where there’s an asterisk on what we’re doing, like table service. If it doesn’t work, we can say, oh that was COVID. Now is the time to be a little daring because we have an excuse for doing things that are a little outside the box. Why not?
Roy: Not necessarily speaking from personal experience, but I think a lot of places will realize they can get by and thrive on a smaller scale or not being open so many days of the week.
Matt: People get innovative. To-go cocktail kits are something we’re continuing to do even though we’re open. But we could sit here and talk about all the bad things and the things we miss, but it’s not going to help us get to the next phase.
Noell: Some changes in my business structure will remain. I’m not going back to the way things were. Like Matt said, it’s day by day.
Matt: It’s our job to get people Downtown. I’m big on closing Dauphin Street [to traffic] on a more regular basis, which would allow more square footage for businesses and safer distances for people. Now is the time to get creative and try these things.
MB: What’s your favorite drink?
Noell: It was Rumple Minze until last October. (laughter all around)
Matt: You gave up Rumple Minze? Wow!
Noell: It’s over. It was a good run. (slaps belly)
Matt: I gotta hear Roy’s answer before I give mine. (laughing)
Roy: That is the hardest question. If it’s a boozy cocktail, I always go back to the Negroni classic. If I want something a little more refreshing, a 1944 Mai Tai. It’s versatile. Or a delicious craft beer.
Noell: Good answer.
Matt: We’ve got some good craft beers around here. I’m a big sour beer drinker. We have a drink here, Without a Paddle, that has been my go-to for a long time.
Noell: What’s in it?
Matt: It’s basically like a cherry-flavored Old Fashioned. It’s really good. It goes down a little too easy. Or I could take a shot of Jameson and a High Life.
Noell: (To the magazine staff) Thank you for thinking of us and putting it out there that we’re in this together. We’re shooting for the same goal.
Roy: I know it’s cliché at this point, but we truly are all in this together.
Matt: It has always felt like that down here, more so now because we understand what each of us is going through. We are thankful for our customers and their patience.
Submitted by Noell Broughton
1 1/4 ounces Malibu Rum
1 ounce Sailor Jerry Rum
1/2 ounce Amaretto
orange and pineapple juice, to taste
store-bought tropical punch, for topping
1. For this layered drink, pour each ingredient over ice in a rocks glass, one-by-one, starting with the rum and ending with the punch. Makes 1
Submitted by Matt LeMond
1/2 ounce Blue Curaçao
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce Tito’s Vodka
1 ounce Malibu Rum
edible orchid, for garnish
1. Salt half the rim of a 9-ounce rocks glass. Add curaçao, juice, vodka and rum to cocktail shaker and shake until well mixed. Strain into glass filled with ice, and garnish with orchid. Makes 1 cocktail
*Kai Kai is Hawaiian for “Ocean Water.”
Submitted by Roy Clark
1 ounce Old Forester 100 proof Bourbon*
1 ounce Plantation OFTD (Old Fashioned Traditional Dark) rum
3/4 ounce Rum-Bar White Overproof Jamaican rum
1/4 ounce allspice dram
1 1/2 ounces ruby red grapefruit juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce cinnamon syrup
1/2 ounce honey mix (1:1 honey to water)
1/4 ounce passion fruit syrup
1/4 ounce cold brew concentrate
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1. Add all ingredients plus 12 ounces of crushed ice to a tin, and flash blend with a spindle blender. Another method would be to “whip shake” all ingredients with 1 ounce of crushed ice until ice is completely diluted.
2. Pour all contents into a mug or glass and add more crushed ice until full. Garnish as you’d like. Makes 1 cocktail
* Bourbon isn’t a total stranger to tiki. It will never dethrone rum as the tiki standard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t star in a fine tropical tipple.