Bar Institute: We Jam Econo | Lindsey Johnson of Lush Life Productions

“Econo is an old concept. The punk rockers picked up on that, the idea of scarcity and just using what you’ve got. And maybe more of you comes through because there’s less outside stuff you’re sticking on. All you’ve got is you, so you have to make something of it.” -Mike Watt, The Minutemen

I am standing in a Staples in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia waiting on the first batch of zines for the fourth leg of the tour. The last ten minutes were tense. The order was supposed to be ready an hour ago, and the first draft they just showed me doesn’t have the staples saddle stitched. This is a problem. So, we have to start over. They also close in 30 minutes and are saying this is non-negotiable, whether my order is ready or not. So, I beg them to start over, and I wait.

I think through the core of this problem, and the answer is clear: we veered off course. We stopped jamming econo. We have a printer. We have paper. We should just DO THIS OURSELVES. Sure, sending the order to a print shop and picking it up sounds easier, but I know that relying on what we have on-hand and our community is the only way to get work done the way we want it, on the timelines we require. So, tonight, we’re dusting off the printer. We’re printing the DC zines in the back of the Historic Hofheimer Building. We’re saddle stitching these things by hand–one by one, as a community, together.

That’s the approach we took with every other element of this tour, and I’m not sure how I overlooked this one detail on such a vital part of this project. The zines we’re building tell the story of our tour. They detail the classes and drink menus. They detail the people and places. But, most importantly, they explain why we’re focused on these pressing social justice issues like racism, sexual assault, mental health, climate change and fair labor practices. They explain why the six (sometimes 8!) of us gave up seven weeks of our lives to travel the US in a van and organize our communities on a grassroots level.

Mission Statement: Bar Institute Econo is a new approach to delivering the core promise of Lush Life’s programming, which is to build community through education. By developing more and better opportunities for bar professionals, we, as a community, can sustain lifelong careers and generally improved work environments. Over the course of this seven week tour, Bar Institute Econo will visit 25 cities and offer at least 100 classes with 100% of the funds we raise benefitting CORE, our chosen charity partner. Along the way, we will be “jamming econo” a concept we borrowed from The Minutemen. We are hosting these events in any space that will have us, making the most of what the community makes available to us. We will build this with you, for you.

Our schedule reads like that of a band who just signed to a major indie label and is doing their best to make it–just shifted for bartender time. Every week, we kick off on Sunday at 10AM. Classes run until 5 or 5:30PM, depending on how much our presenters have to say, and then we set up our popup event which ends pretty promptly at 11PM every night. We then load into the van and move to the next city. These drives are sometimes easy, sometimes hard. It depends on where we are and where we’re going. Tonight, we drive from Richmond to DC. This is one of the easy ones. From Midnight-2AM, we’ll be in the van counting the money we raise for CORE, talking through the successes and failures of the day we shared and sorting shopping lists for the next day. Some of us will get some well needed rest, one of us will drive.

On Monday, we do it all again. Same goes for Tuesday and Wednesday–each time in a different city, each time for a different community. While the days, communities and experiences are different, some structural schedule stays the same. Here’s what today looked like:

7:00AM Wake up. Check emails, texts, Facebook. Douse a fire on each channel.
7:10AM Put the phone down and head to the shower, which somehow caved in overnight. I fish out the biggest chunks of drywall and proceed to shower.
7:20AM Dry my hair, dress and pack as quietly as I can. I don’t want to steal a single minute of sleep from my roommate who needs significantly less time to get ready than I do.
7:50AM Head downstairs, unlock the van and do a quick sweep. Remove trash, rearrange boxes and make room for everyone in the van. Somehow, this has to be done every time we get back into the van.
8:00AM– Britany is the first one down to the van. She smokes a cigarette after she loads her bag into the back. I’m dusting the van. I know it seems crazy, but this is our home and workspace, and I can’t let it devolve into mess.
8:15AM– Liz and Kwon make it downstairs, load their bags into the back.
8:16AM– I fight with a tour bus driver blocking the exit for the hotel with a 54 seat bus bound for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He relents, moves the bus and we get on the highway.
8:20AM– I ask the tollbooth operator for a receipt for the 70 cent toll. We all have a good laugh.
8:45AM– We pull up to the venue. I cut the music (Japandroids ‘Celebration Rock’), and we assess what needs to go in now and what should wait for later.
8:46AM– I call a Lyft and pull boxes into the venue. I’m on breakfast and coffee duty. Britany says I make one helluva intern.
8:48AM– Yonathan arrives in a black Ford Focus, and takes me over to Lamplighter coffee. He’s not overly chatty and sings along to Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman.” I like him.
9:01AM– Lamplighter is packed. The line is out the door, children are rearranging juice boxes as their exhausted parents try to find the words to order coffee. I order breakfast and coffee for the group (4 meat, 2 veggie options, 3 cold brews-one with milk, 1 iced latte, 1 pour over-Central American preferred).
9:21AM– The order comes. I call another Lyft.
9:22AM– A runner trips and falls steps away from where I’m standing with the tray full of coffee and breakfast sandwiches. I put them down and try to help him to his feet. He can’t make it, so I get him a water instead. The barista calls an ambulance, and I feel like he’s taken care of enough to get in the Lyft that’s just arrived.
9:23AM– A wave of panic rolls over me when I realize that this morning I didn’t see the box of zines I fought for last night. I text Kwon who last had them. He says he’s on it. I know he is.
9:33AM– Back to Hofheimer. Kwon is gone. He’s taken the van to pick up the zines from a very nice man who drove his Lyft last night (who thankfully responded when he called). I make sure Britany, Liz and Jenny have coffee and food. We eat, we look over the plans for the day.

Bar Institute Econo | Bartender Atlas

Photo: Jenny Thomas

9:35AM– Amie Ward, our first presenter and dear friend, walks in the door. We all jump out of our seats to greet her.
9:40AM– I sort through the tools and ingredients to make the jello shots we’re serving later. I don’t have the zines or the tools (which are in the van) so I make it work with two pitchers and the straws on the bar. It’s not ideal, but they set up fairly quickly. So, I call it a win even though I’m covered in gelatin.
9:55AM– Our first guest walks in the door. It’s going to be a slow start today. He comes over to our jello shot prep station, and we chat about his time in Philadelphia and NYC. We have many mutual friends, which makes sense since he’s a genuinely nice guy. Together, we decide to try our hand at making vermouth gummy bears.
10:10AM– Amie kicks off the day with her functional movement for the contemporary bartender class. There are four of us in the room.
10:15AM– Now five.
10:21AM– Now seven.
10:45AM– Now twelve. Amie is rolling out their sore muscles with metallic pink teeballs. I wish every bartender had access to this information (and knew Amie).
11:00AM– Kwon is back. Zines get sorted, covered. The cover of this particular zine is more triggering than our last three, so we decide to cover it in a blank sheet of paper before we hand them out.
11:05AM– I get back into the van and pull the signs, sound system and a few of the garnishes we’ll need tonight. The van somehow needs to be reorganized. I quickly move some glassware, pull some trash and get back inside.
11:15AM– Amie is wrapping up, and Kailyn our next presenter is getting ready. Britany asks me to create a new login on my old laptop so Kailyn has somewhere to present. The computer crashes three times, but I get it on the fourth.
11:22AM– Back to building the signs, cleaning the bar.
11:30AM– Kailyn Tingle starts her presentation on preventing sexual assault and avoiding bystanderism. The room is filling up, and I’m grateful for that. This is important. This is why we’re on this tour.
11:47AM– Emails are piling up, even on Sunday. So, I excuse myself and walk down to a nearby coffee shop to focus on the other work that has to get done while we’re out here.
12:02PM– I order a Yama Cold Drip coffee (which seems to be the specialty of the house) and I open my laptop. The next four hours will be spent answering emails and welcoming the new Campers to Camp Runamok. I’ll spare you the details.
4:01PM– I pack up. I stayed an hour longer than I wanted in this coffee shop. I’m still not nearly done with the work I need to complete. There’s a plan for a brand partner that needs finishing. There are dozens of emails that need answering. There are blog posts that need to be written. But, before I can get to any of that, we have a popup to host tonight.
4:12PM– Back to the venue as Sean Finter, Barmetrix is wrapping his presentation on Bar Entrepreneurship. This class is something big companies pay handsomely for, and is something we get to offer at Bar Institute for $5. Well, I guess it’s really $1 since it’s $5 to get in all day. But, that’s not the point, Sean is someone I admire. He’s committed to sharing his time and expertise with young bartenders to make sure they have the tools to run and operate successful businesses. He preaches the gospel of DIY and building community, but does it with an eye on the tactical with action plans and strategies to implement today. The room is full of new faces.
4:35PM– Sean is done, and next up Beth Dixon leads a talk on the sustainable bar, which is a pervasive theme throughout the tour. People are taking notes and seemingly not noticing how beautiful the day became.
4:45PM– I move upstairs to the roof where we’ll be hosting the popup. Liz Porter and I start placing decoration, setting up the Bulleit Boilermaker station and icing down the coolers. The weather is perfect except for a gusting wind that picks up and moves our work every twenty minutes.
5:01PM– We need lemons, oranges and eggs. I walk down the three flights of stairs and over to the Aldi where I pick up our last minute ingredients. On the walk back, I order Korean food for the group for dinner. If I don’t do this, they don’t eat, and I can’t have the team hungry.
5:35PM– Back up the stairs for the fourth time. On this round, I’m carrying the sound system and two very full bus tubs. I set the tubs down and the music up. Put on my Riot Grrrl playlist.
5:54PM– I decide my Riot Grrrl playlist is, in fact, too angsty and we switch to Lindsey Scheer’s. It’s much better. The mood picks up as our volunteer bartenders start arriving.
6:20PM– Bar stations are set. Point of sale is out and we start drink production for photos. Jenny Thomas is with us for this part of the tour, and she’s a perfect fit. She’s a Riot Grrrl and is used to shooting bands on tour–when she’s not bartending. So, having her around is pretty great. We’re all thankful for her. She’s quick and thoughtful with her photos, and we get through all seven relatively quickly.
6:53PM– The food arrives. I unpack it and try to force the team to eat. I’m only marginally successful.
7:01PM– The next round of volunteers arrive. They set their stations, make conversation, and start texting their friends details for the event.
7:23PM– This is about the time you start worrying whether people will show up or not for your 8PM event. Just as this wave of doubt passes over me, two early guests arrive, and we point them back downstairs as we put the final touches on the setup.
7:44PM– We’re ready. The sun is going down and it puts this heavy orange glow on everything it touches on its way. The weather is warm, and we’re ready to serve 300 or so drinks.
8:02PM– It’s a slow start with 5-10 on the roof, and then all of a sudden we’re at 40, then 50. Richmond is thirsty, and I’m worried we might not have enough whiskey to get us through the three hour event.
8:10PM– David Kwon and I head down to the van to reorganize, take inventory and clean-hoping we find a bottle or two of Crown Royal in the mix.
8:25PM– We’ve pulled every box out of the van and are now sorting the stuffed animals, pillows and blankets.
8:27PM– I drop one of Lindsey Scheer’s out of state beers on another-breaking them both. I feel awful and smell like a 12% porter. Fortunately, the beer broke out of van and away from most of the boxes. We keep going.
9:00PM– The party upstairs is so big that the overflow is downstairs and checking out our organization game. You can tell all of the guests are bartenders, because they’re curious about the Barrow’s Intense bottles we’re stacking off to the side while we dig out those Crown bottles we’ll need for the next two hours.
9:03PM– I dig out those Crown Royal bottles and a bottle of Bulleit Bourbon and run them upstairs. I drop the Crown Royal at the main bar and bring the Bulleit to the Boilermaker station where James Kohler is selling the idea of #shotsfortots to our guests. He’s already poured through six cases of beer and is working on the large format bottles now. We still have a bottle and a half of Bulleit, but it looks like that station got hit the hardest.
9:07PM– Back downstairs. At this point, I’m directing traffic up to the third floor where we’re hosting the party. The venue is brand new, and our guests aren’t quite sure where to go. My last count was 122 people upstairs and another 21 downstairs, and I’m just trying to get all 143 up to the roof to see James in his breezy.
9:09PM– I climb back into the van where we’re loading back in. David Kwon refuses to individually inventory each variety of paper straw I procured, and I’m not sure this process is going to work. Flamingo straws are fundamentally different than pineapple straws. I need you all to know this.
9:41PM– The liquor is loaded back in. The decor is back in. The bags are packed. Guests are still heading upstairs.
9:56PM– Britany texts saying we’re 86 eggs and lemon juice. I offer to run to the grocery store on the corner to pick up enough to get us through the last hour.
10:01PM– Aldi is closed. I text the group. We decide to pull the zebra drink and keep going with the rest. We still have plenty of the other drinks, but will likely tap all of the batches by the end of the event.
10:23PM– I head upstairs to check out the party. I meet a new Camper coming to Camp Runamok in the Spring. He has many adorable questions that I gladly answer. It’s going to be a great session, and I can’t wait to get to it.
10:45PM– It’s time to start stealthily pack up the bar. I start pulling signs, spent ice and whatever else I can find and bring down to the van or Kwon in the dishpit. Our goal is to be fully out of the venue and cleaned up by 11:30. I’m not even sure we’ll be able to get all of these kids out of the space by then.
10:55PM– Lindsey Scheer leads the guests in a toast and thanks them for showing up. And, man, did they show up. Richmond is a pretty great place.
11:01PM– Britany starts corralling the guests downstairs, politely (and sometimes not so politely) ushering them to the elevator or the stairs. Her methods are tough but fair and ALWAYS effective.
11:11PM– The last guest is out of the space. It’s time to clean. Dishes to the pit on 2. Gear to the first floor. Trash bagged and out.
11:30PM– Everything is downstairs and clean. Now, we have to figure out how to get it all in the freshly cleaned van.
11:42PM– The last box is in. We’re a little loopy from the day, and I’ve flipped the bill of my Bar Institute hat to make fun of Kwon. It’s time to hit the road again.
11:43PM– It’s my night to drive, so I put in the destination: Westin Georgetown, put on some music (DC Hardcore, of course, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Bikini Kill, etc.), and head north.
11:46PM– Liz and Lindsey finish sorting and counting the money we raised for CORE in Richmond. $2109. That’s the biggest total so far, which isn’t surprising after that event. I think we’re going to exceed our goal of raising $20,000 over the course of the tour.
12:50PM– We hit a strange traffic pattern which then turns to a slow down which then turns to a stop. Our 90 minute drive just turned into a 2 hour trip.
2:13AM– We arrive at the hotel. We cajole the valet into parking our absurd van, and make our way inside. I get the keys, hand them off, and instruct everyone to meet me downstairs at 8:30AM to start all over again.

Expectations on a tour like this are impossible to manage. Charlotte on a Thursday raised more money than Chicago on a Tuesday and Dallas on a Monday-combined. I didn’t expect that. To be honest, when we climb out of the van and load up the venue-placing signs, setting projectors, making jello shots-I never know what to expect. Some cities show up ready to learn, ready to dive into the career and social justice focused training. Other cities just want to party for charity. The ones that are most successful are excited for both. I have a feeling Richmond is going to be one of those successful cities. Actually, I’m pretty certain this entire leg of the tour is going to be solid.

We deal in optimism, though. Fundamentally, we believe that this tour, our actions, can help spark change. Of course, we can’t do that without the support of the community, without you. This is a collaborative process that changes and evolves every day. The work we do will only carry on as far as you’ll take it. Eventually, I would like this work to help us form real lobbies for fair pay and equitable labor laws. I would like this work to manifest our bars and restaurants into safer and more inclusive spaces where everyone gets a seat at the table. I would like this work to inspire our communities to be better, stronger and more cohesive. But, to make that happen you have to take the first step. You have to show up. So many of you already have, and I can’t wait to meet the rest who will participate in the future.

The work needs to be done. Are you ready to get started with us?

Bar Institute Econo | Bartender Atlas

Photo: Jenny Thomas

Upcoming Bar Institute Econo Dates
May 3rd – Philadelphia
May 7th – New York City
May 8th – Boston
May 10th – Rochester
May 11th – Toronto
May 14th – Detroit
May 15th – Cleveland
May 16th – Pittsburgh

Lindsey Johnson
Lindsey is a woman of many hats. This visionary is the founder of Lush Life Productions, Bar Institute and Camp Runamok - aka all things wonderful. She loves punk rock and hugs. (Note: this bio was written by the Bartender Atlas team. 🙂 )
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