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Her last day at the bar was on Sunday, March 15.
“I thought I could take a week off to spring clean or make some new menus,” said Heather Hauri of her initial reaction to 2020’s pandemic-related lockdown. Back then, Hauri was the owner and bartender of the now-shuttered Hourglass Room, a narrow speakeasy nestled inside Oakland drinking and dining venue Classic Cars West. “In retrospect, obviously, that was naive but I didn’t know. Who could’ve known?”
Few among us could have predicted the havoc COVID-19 would unleash. Hauri, like literally billions of other people around the globe, wasn’t prepared for the plan-shattering pandemic that folded countless businesses, tanked economies and killed more than 6 million people worldwide — and counting.
In the midst of the melee, she, like so many others, had to scramble to find a means of income as the service industry as a whole shouldered one of the biggest economic hits during the last couple years. She had to make ends meet somehow. She decided to become a mail carrier.
“It always irked me. How are you going to refuse what you’re literally paid to do? It’s not like someone asked you to make a fish sandwich at the bar,” said Hauri, referring to the persnickety attitude that plagued many a fine watering hole.
The Hourglass Room was a skinny slip of a bar, a secret room with a legal cocktail bar featuring local artists’ works on the walls and an ever-changing menu that opened in June 2019. Hauri — a Southern California native who, prior to moving to the East Bay, lived in New York City for 10 years, honing her bartending acumen at hotspots like Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel and Brooklyn’s now-shuttered Reynard — wanted to open a place of her own for years, a spot that offered thirsty customers expertly made concoctions minus the uppity mixologist attitude that got people like this very reporter booted from bars for daring to order drinks deemed too basic.
After years of saving her own money — no investors here; she wanted to be the one calling the shots while pouring them — she rented a small space in CCW and opened Hourglass. The clandestine oasis, which featured a wall of single-hued repurposed wine boxes that Hauri stained from 3 a.m to 7 a.m. after working her main job at the Starline Social Club, opened to rave reviews and eager customers.
Six months after opening, it all came crashing down. One week later, so did Hauri, literally. An avid roller skater, she uses a pair to swiftly get around her neighborhood.
“I live in an area where they don’t pave the roads and drivers drive like crazy,” she explained. The sidewalks also aren’t fixed, so I hit a busted slab of pavement. The skates stayed put but I fell, breaking my leg and angle.”
For five months she was out of commission as she tended to her maligned leg. After healing, she needed money, fast. “I had spent every penny I saved…You can only swim with your head above water for so long.”
Enter Hauri’s foray into the United States Postal Service: Her uncle, who had been a mail carrier for years, helped get her into the realm of snail-mail delivery. It seemed lucrative at first: a pension, a decent salary (the average U.S. postal worker earns about $70,000 annually) and regular work. Another bonus was the pendulum swing from not walking for five months to hoofing it around 15 miles each day.
Hauri says that the actual mail carrying was her favorite part of the job, and she got to know every dog on her route, watching puppies turn into dogs.
“I also got to talk to people who were also curious about me. After all, it was during a pandemic and they were stuck at home, sometimes with no one to talk to,” she said. “I really enjoyed that.”
Hauri wasn’t the only one of her Oakland industry peers to make the leap to carrying mail during the pandemic to make ends meet. Double Standard bartenders-slash-married couple Zia Schwartz and Johnny Codd, as reported by KPIX last May, also left the service industry during the COVID era to find consistent work.
The daily grind of delivering mail and the 15-plus mile walks started to wear on Hauri after a time. “I loved my fellow mail carriers, but I was also in what’s notoriously known as the worst postal office in the area,” she explained. “It was disorganized, beyond understaffed, and poorly run.” Hauri was also working over 70 hours a week “and it still wasn’t enough to get all the mail out.”
Soon the lure of her original calling, creating expertly made libations for a thirsty audience, kept whispering in her ear — and Hauri heeded that whisper. Town Tavern, an easygoing craft cocktail joint in Alameda, asked her to put down the mail sack and to come work for them full time.
It was hard to say no. After all, she’s worked there before, in her pre-Hourglass days, and as a self-described “extroverted introvert,” the offer proved too irresistible.
“Alameda is such a local place,” she said. “And the people who come in and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, Heather, you’re back, I’m so happy to see you.’ And I’ve never felt that way anywhere I’ve ever worked. It’s like a family there.”
As for re-opening Hourglass or another place of her own, it isn’t likely, but don’t count her out yet. “If I did, it would have to be beyond kismet and it would have to be so right that I don’t lose it,” she mused. “I can’t say no because who can predict the future?”