Photo of a group of friends gathered around a long wooden table at a bar or restaurant. The are each holding up a large mug of beer to the center of the table and offering a toast. There is a server at the end of the table, picking something up from the tabletop although it is obscured by the mugs of beer in the forefront. Behind the table of friends, white stone walls of the building are seen, as well as an arched doorway, and other patrons.


The Lingering Aftertaste of 2020

Before 2020, people just waltzed right into bars, restaurants, and cultural venues to be among other people. But, well, that was before 2020. Decades of isolation and innovation later, what have we gained? What have we lost? What should we try to reclaim?

Editor’s Note: How will 2020 go down in history? In the Hindsight 20/20 project from The Colorado Magazine, twenty of today's most insightful historians and thought leaders imagine themselves in 2120, looking back on 2020 and sharing their visions of how that year will stand the test of time.

My bartender, who just served me the Oskar Blues/Olympus Mons Brewing collaboration IPA, told me recently that 2020 was a turning point. He found some old articles in the holo-library about how people before that year walked into restaurants and brewery taprooms that were open to everyone and did something called “mingling” with people they didn’t know.

It was during the decade of pandemics, the “Abhorring Twenties,” that people started to break into groups and distance themselves. I hear it was then, as one public-health panic followed another, that someone conjured the idea of clubs where you paid fees for regular health tests and entered with a select group of people. And that’s where things changed.

Photo of people sitting in a bar, chatting with one another. Their coats are draped over the barstools upon which patrons are sitting. The bar itself is on the right, with the bartender using a tap to pour a beer. The walls are covered in dark wood paneling with signs advertising different beers like Guinness. Above the seating area, wooden barrels are used as decoration.

Previous generations took mingling for granted, and it became a thing of the past in response to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.

Photo by Victor Clime. Courtesy of Unsplash

Restaurants with suddenly stable operating bases began to experiment more with foods, using new technology to try bold things over the next few decades with lab-grown meat and new methods of flavoring. The successful brewery clubs attracted people wanting either boldness or historic recipes, but no one today makes both barrel-aged beers and seltzers. Art/theater collaboratives contracted for the films and exhibits their clientele wanted.

Decades in, I’m told, the club systems truly changed society. You developed your tastes based on the breweries, restaurants, and arts houses you chose, and you also met your friends and spouses through these—particularly after colleges went fully online 50 years ago. The “mingle merchants” became the new pseudo-upper class, moving meals, spirits, and arts programs between these clubs.

Without 2020, some historians have theorized, none of this would be possible. That was the year we learned that we could insulate ourselves in our own worlds socially and concentrate on what we already knew and loved. At first, people took advice on old-time sites like Twitter and The Facebook to try new things. But as people broke off of those sites into smaller and more specialized pockets of the internet, they began to focus on known gathering places with their known groups. I’m told there are more restaurants and bars that are 75 years old today than there have been at any time in history.

It’s great that my dining club now gets hypersonic deliveries from its sister club in North India, but I wonder what people are like in other clubs. I wonder how society would function differently if the instinct to trust only the people we know hadn’t evolved into permanent “trust blocks” that defined generations.

Photo of a person sitting alone at a bar. Their back is toward the camera, and they are hunched over. The bar in front of them is backlit with purple lighting, giving off an interesting glow and showcasing the glass shelves full of alcohol bottles behind the bar.

The isolationism fostered during 2020 ushered in a very different set of social norms.

Photo by Justin. Courtesy of Unsplash

As we’ve reopened borders following the 20 Years’ Isolation and colonized the moon and Mars, I’m glad we’ve opened to trading resources. But I wonder what it would have been like if 2020 hadn’t taught us we could work from home, eat from home, drink from home, watch cultural events from home, learn from home, and reinvent ourselves by going out occasionally in pods of our choosing. I see that our tastes kept evolving in areas from food to liquor to art. But I wonder what it would have been like to evolve together as a planet rather than in about 20,000 worldwide clubs. 

Still, the use of volcanic ash in this beer is top-notch. I hope other clubs will pick it up as well.

More from the Hindsight 20/20 project in The Colorado Magazine

How Did We Get To Now? Museums Chronicle the Emergent Era in America  A pale blue face mask sits suspended in a slender glass case. It’s analog and simple, delicate even, compared to the environmental enhancement headsets we wear today. But the accompanying text notes that a century ago it was surprisingly controversial. Welcome to the 2020 centennial exhibition.

The COVID Centennial Public Archaeology Project  A century from now, archaeologists will make sense of 2020 based on everything we left behind. How will the things we discarded define 2020? What experiences and lessons will they illuminate? And how might the archaeologists of 2120 visualize the cultures of the past?

Heard Immunity  A music writer ponders the quaint habits of music fans of 2020, who, in their day, lamented the loss of such archaic practices as live concerts, in-person gatherings of any kind, and now-outdated technologies. But music itself lives on, as does a certain rock ’n’ roll guitarist.