Sunyin Macri sulks through the Jackalope Lounge in Salt Lake City, stalked by a chill. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, but because of the pandemic, it closed its doors the night before. Now the owner walks its shadowed hall alone. Boxes of green T-shirts and hats and giveaway glasses fill her office, unused. She wonders whether they ever will be.
The space is still warm with the intensity of the night prior, when patrons discussed the coming consequences amid the clinking of glass and customers’ song requests. The air is musky, with the occasional whiff of perfume or body wash. It’s the smell of interaction — the essence of a night on the town, and the perfect way to spread a virus.
She knew it was coming by early March. She couldn’t justify even one asymptomatic carrier. “It’s not worth it,” she says. So she shut down.
Later, when Utah authorizes bars and restaurants to reopen, she’ll face the same question — with more financial pressure. And societal pressure, too.
Because the way she sees it, that’s the soul of her business: A society. A microcosm of the world. A place where people of all kinds can tell stories and share photos and meet new people. It’s a community of regulars and visitors, and she greets them with a hug. That’s what she misses most.
“Some people go to church as their sense of community, and that’s absolutely phenomenal,” she explains. But some find that feeling in a restaurant, a neighborhood cafe — or a pub. “And that’s what I’ve been lucky enough to do.”
Sunyin started working in this industry at a place called The New Age of Aquarius the day she turned 21. A Salt Lake native, she planned to study environmental law at the University of Utah. Instead, she kept tending bar until she could afford her own place. She purchased the Jackalope Lounge just over 10 years ago — an anniversary she celebrated at home.
But once a week, she’ll come back to dust and spray the tables, wondering how to open and accommodate social distancing. What would be the point if people had to stay 6 feet apart, wear masks and meet no one? It just wouldn’t be the same. She’ll also worry about the extinction of the very idea. “This most loved, most cherished part of my life,” she says, “is a business model that just might not be there.”
So on May 1, she posted a letter on Facebook explaining why the Jack is staying closed. Sharing a table with her community, that’s worth almost everything to Sunyin. It’s her livelihood, her therapy and her society.
But it’s not worth risking death — hers or anyone’s.
These thoughts are already creeping in on St. Patrick’s Day as she takes out the trash and observes the thank-you notes pinned up near the cash register. In the coming weeks, the aromas will fade into sterility. The chill will overcome that feeling that this place was once alive, leaving a cold emptiness. Even as her Facebook floods with messages of support with requests for virtual hugs, even while regulars slip notes under the door for her, she’ll keep an eye on the all-too-uncertain future. As she has since she first closed, when she first felt the anxiety of preserving a beloved past in a future that may not be interested.
“What becomes of this place?” she asks herself as she dusts, out of respect. “What becomes of the memories? What becomes of the people who’ve called this home?”