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Union Square Bar Puts Rockaways Bartenders Back to Work

By Mary Johnson | December 3, 2012 7:06am

UNION SQUARE — A Manhattan bar is sharing its tips with Rockaways bartenders left jobless when Hurricane Sandy smashed through their community.

The beloved Harbor Light Pub received national attention when the storm demolished it, but many more were damaged.

When Michael Sinensky, a Rockaways native and owner of a collection of Manhattan bars, realized their plight, he decided to give the neighborhood's bartenders a chance to once again sling drinks and rack up tips.

On Nov. 30, Sinensky opened his Union Square hot spot SideBAR to guest bartenders from the Rockaways, who got to keep their tips and 10 percent of what the bar took in that night, Sinensky said.

Those guest bartending spots will now be open to Rockaways-area bartenders every Friday at as many of Sinensky’s bars as necessary for the rest of the holidays, added Sinensky, who also owns Little Town, the Village Pourhouse and Hudson Terrace.

“I can fit as many Rockaway bartenders as they have. I have a lot of places, and my staff has made it clear that they are willing to help and share their tips with people,” said Sinensky, 33, who has been spending a lot of time in the Rockaways helping with the recovery effort since the storm hit on Oct. 29.

“If your place is destroyed for four to six months and you’re a professional bartender, then you're kind of screwed,” he added. "The tip money is your whole life."

Although Sinensky lives in Union Square with his two children and escaped Sandy relatively unscathed, his parents still live out in the Rockaways, in the home where Sinensky was born and raised.

“They had 9 feet of water in their home,” said Sinensky, who has since launched FriendsofRockaway.org, a website dedicated to rebuilding the community. “The entire town was covered in water, so every single business is ruined.”

One of those businesses was Rockaway Seafood, co-owned by Sinensky’s friend, Chris Miles, 34. The restaurant has been closed since Sandy hit and will likely remain shuttered for the next four months, Miles explained.

“I like to think we were a neighborhood favorite,” said Miles. “I walk the streets every day, especially now that I’m unemployed, and people ask, all day every day, ‘When are you going to open?’”

The repairs needed to bring his business back to life are extensive, Miles said, but he is dedicated to reopening and to staying in the Rockaways. So when Sinensky offered up a spot behind the bar for a few shifts during the holiday season, Miles seized the opportunity to make a little money.

“I’m not going to give up on the neighborhood that I love,” said Miles, who will be serving at SideBAR on Dec. 7.

“Once everything’s built back up, we’ll be right back where we were — even better, I think.”

“It’s just about feeling normal again, [and] doing the things that I love.”

Sinensky said the guest bartending gigs will be available every Friday throughout the holidays for any Rockaways bartender who wants one. It may mean he takes home a little less cash at the end of the day, but he said it’s worth it to help restore his hometown.

“I have two kids. They already have great memories of Rockaway,” Sinensky said. “My motivation is also to get it rebuilt so they can continue to have these memories that I cherish.”