by Tim SMITH
There’s no place like home—unless, of course, your home has no electricity, the roof has come off or the garden has been turned upside down by a hurricane.
In times like those, there’s no place like your favourite bar. Pubs and restaurants in Bermuda serve a vital role as community hubs during the days after a major storm, providing air conditioning and cooked meals to those without power and a chance for people to share their disaster stories.
“We all know what it’s like after a hurricane,” says Philip Barnett, President of Island Restaurant Group, which includes bars such as The Pickled Onion and Hog Penny in Hamilton and The Frog and Onion in Dockyard. “It’s hot, you’re swimming in humidity and you have no air conditioning at home. People are able to come here, see their family and friends and relax.”
He says the restaurants and bars become people’s living rooms, the places where people can hang out in air-conditioned bliss. “It’s a fantastic thing. That’s what fills all our buckets. It’s that ability to help people. It harks back to the reason people in hospitality enjoy being in the industry so much. We love to give hospitality and we love to make people feel at home.”
The aftermath of one of Bermuda’s worst storms, Hurricane Fabian in 2003, also provided one of Barnett’s strongest hospitality-related memories. “I reflect back to Hurricane Fabian, where power was just devastated across the island,” he says. “Usually after a hurricane, people’s power comes back after three or four days, a week at the most. After Fabian, there was a significant number of people who had no power for three, four or five weeks,” he remembers.“People were literally coming in every day as they had no power. They would go home, try to shower at their office, and then come into us for lunch and dinner.”
The hurricane meant that the traditionally quiet post-Labour Day period became unusually busy.
People came for three things, Barnett recalls. “Firstly, the camaraderie; then the respite from all the challenges at home after the storm; but also because it was pleasurable to be in the conditions we could provide.”
He remembers how people traded their stories about which window got blown in, how their roof had come off, and all the other things that happened during that storm. “Those are the things that bring us together after a hurricane. The first thing you do after the storm is make sure your neighbour is safe. Neighbours will all bind together and help clear the road—it’s all about being part of the community and doing your bit to help each other. That creates a community camaraderie that we love.”
Being at the workplace also has its perks for staff, who might also be without power at home.
“We do the best we can. We have a single shower at our head office available for our staff to traipse in one by one by one to get fresh,” Barnett says. “Once you are in the air-conditioned premises, even if you’ve not been able to have a shower, you can wash up in the staff bathroom. That at least makes you feel half-human, and then you are able to get on and do your work.”
Bermuda Bistro at the Beach on Front Street has gained a reputation as one of the first places to reopen after a storm. Owner Rick Olson says: “I feel we have an obligation to feed the community in disaster-like situations, especially if you have a bunch of tourists on the island and they have no power.”
It’s important for residents, too. If you have no power and your refrigerator isn’t working, how else are you going to eat? “It’s just the nature when you are in hospitality–your human nature. We are kind of lucky where we are in town. We don’t lose power very often, and when we do it is always back on again within a few minutes,” says Olson. “Town always gets cleared up quite quickly so we are able to open as soon as it’s safe to travel on the roads for our staff to get in.”
Olson recalls one storm when homes in St. George’s lost power for a week. “We were flat out all day long,” he says. “The whole island was out of power for three or four days. It’s nice because you get all walks of life in at the same time. For the first day or two, it’s more of a big party–a relief to get through the storm for a lot of people. Then reality sets in and it’s ‘oh no, we have got a lot of work to do’
The aftermath of a hurricane is a hectic time for bar staff. Olson says: “I think staff really like to come in. It’s one of the busier times, so they will make more money themselves. They look forward to it. A hurricane can be one of the best things that happens to us as we can be extremely busy and we don’t get that too often these days.”
Staffing levels can be hit if some are dealing with storm-related damage at their homes, meaning Olson is often required to get behind the bar himself. “That’s the thing I love to do more than anything—be behind the bar myself, socializing with people, meeting new people. That’s the fun of the business.”
The Beach offers special post-storm meal deals to families who cannot cook at home, but many people just like to know there’s always somewhere they will be welcome.
“We will probably continue that on. It’s kind of our reputation. People think we are always open,” Olson says. “It makes me feel proud and makes my staff feel proud. We have a strong work ethic.”