Bellying back up to the bar: NYC tavern owners rebounding slowly with easing of COVID-19 restrictions


Opening Day in the Bronx last month meant so much more than baseball to bar owner Joe Bastone, who was counting on the near-holiday to boost lagging beer sales after the pandemic pummeled his bottom line.

So eager was Bastone to cash in on the Bronx Bombers’ return that he brought in extra help to the Yankee Tavern, his 94-year-old watering hole in the shadow of Yankee Stadium.

He didn’t need it.

“Did I expect it to rebound better? Yes,” Bastone said. “I had too many employees here on Opening Day, I didn’t make any money. ... I had like eight people working. It wasn’t worth it. I could have had half of that.”

Like many beaten-down bar owners, Bastone, 66, who took over the beer joint 35 years ago from his father, is counting on the next holiday for a much needed boost. The Yankees will host a Memorial Day game on Monday afternoon, and the hope is that a town with fewer pandemic restrictions will put more money in his pocket.

As for now, his business isn’t doing much better than his injury-plagued ball club.

“It’s coming back, but it’s coming back slow,” Bastone said. “I don’t think it’s going to come back that strong in the first year. Maybe in the second year.”

When Bastone was at Yankee Stadium with his daughter last week to watch a game, he said barely 7,000 people were in the stands, not nearly enough to boost his business. In addition, most of his foot traffic from the nearby courthouse is still very low, and he noted that locals are really strapped for cash right now.

“Some places are only open on game days,” he said. “I’m here seven days a week. We’re doing a little community business, but that’s hurting too, because people are broke at this point.

“It’s a ghost town,” he said.