Last year, Moe Aljaff and A.J. White, co-founders of Barcelona’s acclaimed Two Shmucks bar dreamed up a cool riff on a guest shift trip. The duo planned to rent an RV and travel the United States promoting ‘Schmuck 2020,’ a satirical political campaign cum pop-up tour. This winter, menus were printed to resemble ballots, cool transport was procured, locations secured, and on March 12, the dream campaign kicked off at Mace in New York City—the next day, the world changed.
Within 24 hours, Aljaff and White’s home in Spain was under a full quarantine; COVID-19 was also rapidly spreading across the States; and pop-ups, like bars, became a public safety risk. Simply put, the Spaniards were stuck in the United States with an RV and no where to go.
Yet, when life gave the Schmucks lemons, they made limoncello. The pair embarked on a different type of road trip, using their time to document the crisis’ effect on the U.S. bar industry.
Covering A Moment In History
“We already had the camera and audio equipment and the RV rented for a month. The RV is a safe way to stay quarantined,” Aljaff told Neat Pour. “So, we decided to keep a social distance, but safely cover what is actually happening because it’s a moment in history.”
Aljaff and White began filming their travels and posting the videos to their Schmuck2020 channel. Along the way, they also stopped to chat (from a safe distance) Simon Ford as well as the Pearl Diver team.
Both guests talked about the devastating effects of the over coronavirus crisis on the industry. The Pearl Diver episode is particularly gut-wrenching as it dives into the one-two punch of tornados ravaging Nashville followed by the outbreak.
Aside from these filming breaks, Aljaff and White spend most of their time indoors. Specifically, their home is a 30 foot RV decked out like a campaign bus encased in a massive ‘Schmuck 2020’ wrap.
Most nights, the award winning team checks in at a decidedly American establishment, Walmart parking lots. (The big box store offers free overnight parking for RV’s and such.)
“There’s the realization that the paycheck you just got is the last one you’re going to have for awhile buddy,” declared Aljaff. “All of a sudden, practicality kicks in. We realize that we need to be smart. We can go to an RV park and pay 50 bucks or crash for free here and buy a can of beans at the Walmart.”
Said can of beans is not just a token act to appease their hosts. The budget bound bartenders are cutting costs by cooking simple meals in the RV’s kitchen.
“We’ve been broke bartenders when we were young,” Aljaff recalled. “We’ve been there before and we can handle this now.”
Back In Barcelona
The Two Schmucks teams on both sides of the Atlantic connect with each other daily through video conferencing. Aljaff reported that the situation back home is difficult.
Barcelona is under a true quarantine meaning all non-essential movement, including exercise, is completely prohibited. “Basically the quarantine that Spain issued does not allow anyone to leave their houses. Cops are stationed everywhere to enforce it,” he explained. “I believe going for a walk or a run is important to stay healthy, but you can’t even do that over there.”
The lockdown also makes it difficult to help the staff according to the co-founder. “We were wanted to raise money [to help the staff] through an online merch shop,” Aljaff noted. “But, in Spain, you can not even go to the post office [to ship out merch.]”
Still, the crew is confident that they will return when this is all over—with some changes.
Aljaff told us that he believes the industry will be faced with a bumpy road to recovery after the quarantines eventually end. He predicted that consumer spending will be down for a months as life gets back to normal.
Consequently, Aljaff subscribes to the theorem that both tourist and cocktail specific bars will face more hurdles than neighborhood locals.
The publican elaborated, detailing that Two Schmucks current menu is designed as a mix of pricier offerings for destination cocktail enthusiasts and some more affordable items targeted at regulars from the neighborhood. However, Aljaff said that model will need to change.
“We’re [historically] about 50-50 tourists versus locals. That’s going to change to five or ten percent visitors after,” he estimated. “With that we need to take another approach. Drastic measures at the bar. Completely rearrange the menu.”
In parting, Aljaff mentioned that he has already learned a serious life lesson from his pandemic experience.
“Nothing is forever. Everything is a lot more fragile than we think it is… as seen by this invisible enemy, the whole world is at a stop,” he mused. “We must take that into our business. a lot of things that we though were going to be here forever are not.”
Check out the Schmuck2020 channel here.