It is a joyful experience to get a cocktail to-go during a pandemic. Even better, when the bar is Elsa, a beloved local family-owned treasure in Cobble Hill. These days we’re doing all we can to support the small businesses we love. If that means ordering something called Cloudbusting Daiquri and having rum, passion fruit and lime all mixed together in a joyous to-go pouch, then I say, YES…and!
As an entrepreneur, the name of the game is resilience and grit. A small business-owner has to listen to customers, solve pain-points, be a leader and an innovator. “Grow or die” – that’s what they say. And that’s NOT even during a pandemic. SO from there come innovations like curbside pick-up of yummy cocktails in slurp-able pouches!
In the COVID-19 times, small businesses are reaching a breaking point. There’s little relief from the government. Customers crippled by instability, fear, and a sheer inability to come into stores, restaurants, and awesome cocktail bars like Elsa.
What’s Cool About Elsa?
Despite what the kindergartners of Brooklyn might have you believe, Elsa is so named after the Italian fashion powerhouse, Elsa Schiaparelli. Not so much Disney’s queen of ice. The vibe is chic, indulgent and homey all at once.
The staff of Child’s Play NY (my own small, Brooklyn-based business) has gathered at Elsa many-a-time to celebrate the opening (and closing) of a show or have an end-of-season shebang. We’d walk from the theater in Brooklyn Heights carrying swords, flower crowns and wings and settle into a table in the corner to kvell over the kids’ triumphs (and missed cues!) and plan our next season of children’s theater. The cocktails were delicious and the aesthetic – as a woman-owned-business was right in our wheelhouse.
I learned about Elsa because the owners, Natalka Burian and Jay Schneider, are parents of a young actress, currently playing Rosalind in our (now over Zoom!) production of As You Like It. While only 9, she’s a core ensemble member of our Shakespeare Players group and can boast of having been in Macbeth and The Tempest too.
Business owners are NY Strong – so I’m told, and so I believe. I look to the other leaders in our community – the Brooklyn pool of creative innovators who boot-strapily made their mark on the borough, for inspiration and light in this very dark time. By hearing some of their stories and learning from ways they are re-focusing, re-purposing and re-vitalizing their work, I hope we can all learn and be lifted up!
So I checked in with Natalka Burian about what’s going on with Elsa now. Here’s the scoop, and info on how we can help by getting a drink!
Q+A With Elsa Owner, Natalka
Jocelyn: For those who don’t know, what are the names of your bars?
Natalka: Elsa and Ramona, two cocktail bars in Brooklyn.
Jocelyn: When did you open them?
Natalka: We opened the OG Elsa on E. 3rd St. in Manhattan in 2008; when we lost our lease, we relocated to Brooklyn in 2017. We opened Ramona in Greenpoint in 2013.
Jocelyn: What is your mission?
Natalka: Our mission has always been to create welcoming spaces for people to gather. We wanted to make perfect drinks in a beautiful setting, and we wanted it to be fun (without the seriousness and, at times, stuffiness of the cocktail bars of the early 2000’s.)
Jocelyn: What’s going on with your business now that we are in a pandemic?
Natalka: It’s been difficult because nobody can really gather anymore. In the last few weekends we’ve been experimenting with a to-go cocktail program, featuring some beloved classic cocktails and some of our most popular frozen drinks. We very much want to serve our community, but we want to be as responsible about it as possible. So far things have run smoothly–and safely–with cashless ordering through an app, social distanced pick-up, and every possible precaution we can take to keep our team and our guests safe.
Jocelyn: How have you had to innovate since COVID-19?
Natalka: We’ve had to run some difficult thought experiments about what hospitality can look like right now. I think everyone craves human interaction outside of our homes, but there is also an undeniable undercurrent of fear and caution that must also be acknowledged, respected, and accommodated. We are constantly thinking about how we can make people feel safe and comforted–that’s our first and most important job as members of the hospitality industry.
Jocelyn: What keeps you going?
Natalka: Our amazing community always inspires us. Every time I see a social media post about where people are enjoying their take-away drinks, it warms my heart. I love seeing our work at work in the homes of others.
Jocelyn: What are ways that you think customers can support you?
Natalka: Engagement is the only way forward for us–we will be able to keep going as long as we have guests who are engaged and supportive. I am grateful for every single person who has placed an order with us in the last few weeks. We don’t know what re-opening will look like, but safety is always our primary concern. I hope that our guests know they can trust us to be as cautious and responsible as possible as we move forward. If we don’t think re-opening is safe for our community, we’ll find another, hopefully better, way to stay in business.
Jocelyn: Ok, so how do we get a delicious drink from Elsa?
Natalka: You can order directly from the instagram – @elsabarnyc or here is the link:
Jocelyn: What are some of the challenges with parenting AND running a business during this time?
Natalka: LOL. The only way out is through.