Downtown Sitka is quiet, with many businesses temporarily closed, following city and state directives to “hunker down.” 

One of the most social aspects of downtown — the bar scene — has disappeared, or has it? While you can’t buy a drink online, one local bartender is making sure his customers can enjoy the rest of the experience, via Facebook. 

“Hey, how’s it going what can I get for you today? Yeah? Be right there!”

Peter Menendez works at Ernie’s Bar, in Sitka, a classic Alaska dive with a cabin-like feel, pool tables, and a stuffed jackalope mounted on the wall. Last week, state mandates forced bars and restaurants across the state to close their doors to the public — a measure intended to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

Around that time, a customer shared a meme that sparked an idea for Menendez. 

“It said, ‘If you’re very nice and polite, maybe your bartender will Facetime you while you drink a beer.’ And I thought that was funny,” he says. “I thought maybe there’s a way I can get something out to all of our customers.”

So Menendez posted a video to Ernie’s Facebook page. In the video, he’s standing behind the bar, talking frankly to the camera as if he has a customer in front of him. He walks in and out of the frame, brings the viewer a beer, and chats

“How are things going at work?,” he asks, then pauses to give the viewer a chance to respond.

“Yeah. Oh right on,” he says, after a breath, then offers some comforting words. “Yeah I know it’s been crazy going through this right now, but we’ll get through it. It’s all about community and taking care of each other. But yeah, you look great man, things are going well?” 

The video went small-town viral. It’s been shared over 140 times. It encapsulates a sentiment shared all over the country: People are craving socialization, and figuring out how to do so remotely, from group happy hours over ZOOM to DJ’d quarantine dance parties. 

Menendez says bartenders are social beings too, and the closure is tough on local businesses from a human standpoint, not just for their bottom lines. 

“We like to  be around people and hang out and talk and get your stories and tell you our stories, that’s what we do,” he says. “I can’t speak for all of ‘em that are put out right now but it’s just boring. I’m really ready for this closure to be over, I miss all my customers.”

So much so that in his video, he makes sure to give his customers the opportunity to tell a story, and he provides some classic responses.

“Really, no kidding, he said that?
I can’t believe…well, you know he does that kind of stuff.
And then she did that? Maaan, you gotta be kidding me.
Well what’d you do?
You said that? That’s hysterical man, holy mackerel.” 

Menendez says he has been texting back and forth with a few of his regulars, letting him know that he’s thinking about them. And he’s been spending a lot of time around the house, calling family, and waiting things out. 

“Hey listen man, I have to take off. I hope everything is going really well with you.
You guys are all doing wonderful, I’m sure.
Stay inside, this is just a little virtual video to help get you through this.
Have fun with us, love you all, take care!” 

So while it might be closing time right now for Sitka’s bars, it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, and right now that somewhere is online.