Montana Horsfall, Blackhat Distillery

Montana Horsfall, director of Blackhat Distillery in Colorado Springs.

Most of the friends I’ve made outside work and school, I’ve met at bars.

When I moved to Colorado Springs in 2013, I spent as much time as possible at Front Range, Tony’s, Kinfolks and whatever spot happened to be hosting a karaoke or open mic night. The people I met, and the instantly intimate, honest-feeling micro universe that thrives in such places, kept me grounded. You don’t realize how much you miss regular human interaction until you go without … is what I thought I’d learned after four months living alone in a motel room in Manitou, with no Wi-Fi and a minifridge too small for a six-pack.

Once I moved into my home, with a housemate, kitchen and grown-up sized fridge, my extended excursions to bars and breweries became more of a weekend thing, mostly for finances sake. Those forays still represented my main social interactions and things to look forward to. Particularly inspired nights might progress to dancing at The Mansion, solo performances of Pretenders and Louis Armstrong hits at Thunder and Buttons, or perhaps a few games of pool at Benny’s before last call at 2 a.m.

Those were the days. Like, literally.

I’m so glad I sang karaoke and went ’80s dancing and hugged sweaty strangers in leg warmers (because, The Eurythmics!!) when I had the chance.

I wish I had done it more. Because voguing ‘til you laugh-cough just doesn’t have the appeal it used to. Nor does accepting a moist mic from someone who just belted out a drunken rendition of “New York, New York.”

Not that any of that is an option right now. As virus rates began to climb again in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis dialed back on loosened regulations for drinking establishments. In a bid to discourage environments and situations where social distancing and health awareness might become compromised — or relaxed, thanks to chemical persuasion — bars, breweries and distilleries are required to offer food, enforce strict social distancing, low-occupancy and mask regulations. They also must serve up their final drinks no later than 10 p.m.

Last call, as a wee-hours groggy-adrenaline haze of toasts and promises and you-name-it, is a thing of the past.

“The bars are open — people can still go out and have that little piece of normalcy, but it’s not the same as it was before,” said Montana Horsfall, a veteran bartender (and bargoer) in the Springs and director of Blackhat Distillery.

“There are obviously a fraction of the people who would normally be there. And it’s also the vibe. Everything is more low-key.”

To be fair, Blackhat , which serves craft cocktails with a focus on education and history, has never been a rowdy 2 a.m. last-call kind of place. Masks and 10-15 max occupancy rules are now house rules, and patrons must watch Horsfall’s mixology magic from afar, as there’s no bar seating.

“I know it’s tough, talking to someone who’s wearing a mask, and I’m in a mask, and they’re across the room in the corner while I’m making their drink … but that’s what we have to do, to stay safe — and open — and to get through this, all of us,” Horsfall said.

Curtailing her instinctual, physical hello for an era of social distance has been as much of a struggle, she said.

“I’m what’s known in the industry as a hugger. I can’t go up and just run and hug. That’s been really tough,” she said. “Now more than ever, I want to hug someone. But you can’t.”

Blackhat is still trying to keep things fun and fresh for patrons, hosting theme nights, including a celebration of National Pina Colada Day, where patrons were treated to special cocktails and Jimmy Buffet tunes. Horsfall highly recommends patrons call ahead for reservations — and remember that the mask requirement is non-negotiable.

“Is it the same? No, but it still gets them out,” said Horsfall. “It’s not that you’re never going to be able to do those things again — never go two-stepping or karaoke — it’s just you’re not going to do them this year.”


Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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