In October, Austin’s Tigress Pub celebrated its 10-year anniversary, the date of which actually fell in May. Owner Pamela Pritchard, manager/bartender Holly Coleman and manager/bartender Kelsey Caudebec delayed the celebration for six months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s really a celebration of the family that’s been built for 10 years, and us three have worked together for four years,” says Caudebec. “It’s a celebration of all the memories that have been made here.” She met her partner, a former Tigress Pub regular, at the bar, and says Pam and Holly are “like family. We’re very serious about craft cocktails. We all kick ass at it.”
Nestled in a neighborhood near North Loop, the Tigress Pub has a homey setting with loyal clientele.
“The role of tavern keeper is arguably millennia old. It’s always been a place for community and socializing,” Caudebec says.
Pre-pandemic, the Tigress Pub hosted events like a bash for Dolly Parton’s birthday and potlucks with the regulars. These parties brought people together, Pritchard says.
“Somehow, I’ve created a community with this bar, which was the goal, but that really has sustained me in so many times of uncertainty,” she says. From the beginning, she’d focused on cultivating regulars. “There’s a lot of people that are now friends that wouldn’t have been friends if they hadn’t met at the bar.”
The 10-year milestone is especially significant given the curveballs thrown at bars, restaurants and other small businesses this year.
“It’s our statement that we can survive,” Caudebec says. “I think what sticks out to me the most is how excited we were about our 10-year even before the pandemic because it’s not a milestone that a lot of bars and restaurants get to see in general in the city.”
“There’s a lot of people that are now friends that wouldn’t have been friends if they hadn’t met at the bar.”—Pamela Prichard, owner, Tigress Pub
Bars across Texas juggled evolving mandates from local governments and the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission (TABC) throughout the pandemic. In March, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered all bars and restaurants to close, with the exception of delivery and pick-up. Then, in May, Abbott declared that bars could re-open at 25% capacity in junction with social distancing requirements. The following month, Austin bars were allowed to re-open at 50% indoor capacity. Also in June, the governor allowed for the pick-up and delivery of mixed drinks as long as they were sealed and sold with food. Shortly thereafter, bars were mandated to close again.
This regulatory rollercoaster has affected the Tigress team personally and professionally. Coleman and Caudebec began to receive unemployment in April and received assistance through a GoFundMe started by a friend. Pritchard didn’t receive unemployment, however, so Caudebec’s boyfriend launched a GoFundMe solely for Pritchard. Friends and customers raised over $5,000 for her in June. During this time, the bar remained closed with cocktails only offered to go.
“It was really kind of overwhelming, but boy did it make a boost in my life. I was able to get my eyeglass prescription filled… I was able to pay some bills. It was really handy. And, and I was able to not worry about not being able to have enough money to go to the grocery store,” says Pritchard.
The Tigress Pub team approached takeaway and delivery cocktails with care. Per governmental mandate, to-go cocktails had to be served in vessels with a sealed lid and sticker noting the business name and specifying it’s an alcoholic drink, and then placed in a zip-tied plastic bag. Additionally, food had to accompany all booze sales. The Tigress Pub began selling grilled cheese sandwiches along with their drinks.
“I feel like we go to bars to be taken care of. So, we have to try to find a way to get that into their house,” says Coleman.
The team has been innovative to survive the pandemic, Caudebec says. “The job just looks different now. You have to adapt, and it means we have to focus.”
Pre-pandemic, the bar would have good turnouts for its tiki nights. So, the last two weekends of October, the Tigress Pub hosted Horror Tiki. They dressed up and decorate to fit the mood of Halloween, along with creating a specialty menu.
Special events notwithstanding, the bar’s cocktails tend to reflect its new pandemic reality.
“Our menus before Covid really focused on new and exciting cocktails for people to try, but what we’ve really focused on these menus are cocktails that our customers and regulars already know and love. It’s really about making the [cocktail] as good as you can get,” says Coleman.
As of October, Abbott permitted bars to reopen at 50% capacity as long as local counties approve. The Tigress Pub falls under the jurisdiction of Travis County, however, and the county does not currently permit bars to reopen.
“What I’m most scared of is TABC taking away to-go cocktails. Because when we first open, to stay safe, we plan to just have the patio available and make it reservation-based, and we will still rely heavily on to-go cocktails for a long time,” says Caudebec.
Facing an uncertain future, the women of the Tigress Pub remain devoted to creating drinks that bring the community together.
Wine Enthusiast is spotlighting the bars, bottle shops and individuals affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and what they’re doing to weather the crisis. Find more at Business of Bars.