‘Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars’ (2021) Review

It goes without saying that this past year has been nothing other than devastating. This pandemic has taken its toll on far too many; most have been forced to adapt to new ways of living, others were made to give up their livelihood entirely; regardless of such, these circumstances have uprooted the certainty in one’s future and in plenty of cases, left us all in despair.

Johnny Sweet’s Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars is centred around a group of people in Queens, New York, whose means of living came from providing a place to unwind and welcoming customers with open arms. The mere concept of bars and clubs seem like a fever dream. As we have come to learn, simply being in the company of strangers whilst relaxing with a drink in hand is probably something we didn’t truly appreciate until the world literally stopped and that freedom was suddenly non-existent.

Filmed through a series of interviews, the participants – who all work in bars – begin by sharing stories of their patrons, the relationships they’ve formed and what the environment that they have helped create means to them. An immediate communal setting is established, which gravitates the weight of the pandemic and how much it has actually affected everyone. It’s not just a job for these people, they want their workplace to provide solace and help take that edge off of someone’s day in any way they can.

This documentary becomes quite hard-hitting, delving into the impact the ongoing pandemic has had on their health – particularly mentally and emotionally. Again, a lot of people will understand exactly what this experience has been like. There’s a sense of hopelessness, wondering what could have been had the city shut down earlier, or the situation itself had just never happened. However, despite these dark times, optimism is represented throughout the documentary as well.

What good could come out of a global pandemic? When we have nothing but time on our hands, why not make a start on accomplishing that to-do list? The one that’s been in our back pockets for months, maybe even years; the one that we tell ourselves “maybe tomorrow” until it’s forgotten beneath a barrage of other potential opportunities.

Johnny Sweet created a poignant, relevant and empathetic feature that was brought to life by the stories shared and a team of people who contribute a great deal to their communities. One lesson that we have learned from the documentary is that this entire year has given us nothing but time, and though there’s still a long way until we see the finish line, the silver lining is there nonetheless.

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