Nikia Griffith recently drove past Burr Oak Bowl in Blue Island, where she worked as a part-time bartender prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, Burr Oak Bowl — along with most non-essential businesses in Illinois — was forced to shut down following an executive stay-at-home order by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

While driving past the bowling alley, Griffith wondered if she’d ever return to work there. Although Burr Oak Bowl reopened in July, she said, the manager still hasn’t called her back to work. 

But Griffith didn’t really mind that. Since the start of the pandemic, business for her mobile bartending service, Creative Clique Cocktails, has picked up. She said although she’s bringing in the same income before losing her job at the bar –– between $500 and $700 a month –– she’s putting in less hours. The hours she once put in at the bar, she’s now putting into getting more clients for Creative Clique Cocktails, and she’s already booked and busy this month. 

“I think that’s why my bartending business took off,” Griffith said. To her clients, she’s known as Nikki G. 

“People were like, ‘I’m even more stressed than before, and I can’t go to the bar and get a drink,’” she added. “I think that’s why it started thriving more this summer. People really enjoy creative, cool drinks that look good and taste good.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Black bartenders have been creative in reimagining the bar scene by offering curbside cocktails and serving drinks at intimate gatherings and private events. 

Nikia Griffith makes special alcoholic cocktails, like her Ciroc Summer Watermelon Spritzer. Photo by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE

Because Chicago — and the surrounding Cook County area — remains in phase four, local bars and restaurants have shorter hours, mask mandates and capacity limits. This has limited some bartenders to work fewer hours, and forced many others to seek other employment.

Griffith, who just turned 40 in August, launched Creative Clique Cocktails during Memorial Day weekend in 2019. Now, in addition to her full-time job as a research coordinator at the Veteran Administration (VA) at Hines Hospital, she drops off specially made alcoholic beverages like her Ciroc Summer Watermelon Spritzer to clients on nights and weekends. She serves every part of the city and surrounding suburbs, and has contactless drop-off to honor social distancing.

Because of the mask mandate at bars, Griffith believes many people are abandoning the bar scene altogether. Sliding down masks to take a sip, along with social distancing from other patrons, robs people of the bar experience. One thing she has noticed since the pandemic, however, is that her clientele skews towards the 30- to 40-year-old range. It seems, she said, that younger folks would much rather go to the bars than stay home during the pandemic. 

“I’ll just be honest, it doesn’t seem like the younger crowd is as scared of the pandemic as the people in their 30s and 40s,” Griffith said.

Robyn Green is a 36-year-old bartender at Hero’s Sports Bar and Grill off 143rd and Western. Despite other bars reopening during the pandemic, Hero’s is still closed. And Green is missing her bar job. Before the pandemic, she was working about 30 hours on weekends at Hero’s. 

“I think management decided not to open because of the safety of our staff and our customers,” Green explained. 

Green was also working for Matteson Health Care, a nursing agency, where she was staffed to work for a high school in Thornton School District. Since March, she’s been out of that job as well, since high schoolers are now learning remotely. 

“My business, Mz. Robyn’s Mobile Bartending, has really been what has been getting me through and sustaining me since March,” said Robyn Green, owner of Mz. Robyn’s Mobile Bartending.. “People are trying to take their minds off of COVID as much as they can.” Photo by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE

“My business, Mz. Robyn’s Mobile Bartending, has really been what has been getting me through and sustaining me since March,” she added. “People are trying to take their minds off of COVID as much as they can.”

Through her mobile bartending service, Green’s doing intimate gatherings and private parties for up to 50 people — including birthday dinners, family reunions, weddings and baby showers. Before the pandemic, she was doing pop-ups across Chicago, setting up a mobile bar and selling her drinks for $10. 

“I’m mobile, so if you call, I’m coming,” Green said. “Anytime someone just wants to have a bartender come to them and cater to their guests, that’s where I’m at.”

Green started bartending as a side job in 2004 when her son was born. She said it was a way to make more money to survive as a single mother. Although her dream is to be a registered nurse and she’s currently taking the last of her nursing classes, Mz. Robyn’s Mobile Bartending is helping her make ends meet, including paying for her classes.

“Lately since the pandemic, people are welcoming,” Green said. “They are tipping well, laughing and enjoying [themselves] because everyone is just excited to come outside after being locked in for months.”

Green has a small staff of family members who assist her with events. When clients call Mz. Robyn’s Mobile Bartending, she comes equipped with a mobile bar, cups, straws, napkins, ice and, of course, liquor. When she worked at Hero’s and the high school, she said she was bringing in about $6,000 a month. Now with Mz. Robyn’s Mobile Bartending, she said she’s bringing in about $1,500 a month, and that’s only if people are booking.

“What we try to do is bring that bar feeling to your backyard, or your basement, or whatever, to make you feel like even though you’re not at a bar or a club, you’re still somewhere where you can drink responsibly,” Green said. “I will say, if I see somebody that has had one too many or looking a little too intoxicated, I will tell the host ‘Ok, I’m about to cut them off.’ At the end of the day, I want everyone to have a good time and make it home, just like they made it there.”

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email her with news tips.