“Just a little to make sure we make money,” a man standing by a bar told me by phone.
Another man who said he was an “informal barman” for a number of years told me he estimated that a bar could set you back an average of 1.5 to 3 percent of its gross income—which can be as low as zero dollars. If it’s a regular business like his, like most bars in the city, it means an average of 2.25 to 4 percent of gross income. If it’s another restaurant or hotel, it might mean 5.25 to 15 percent of gross income. For the bar owners themselves, though, the money goes to the bottom line: from the bars that run the shows to the backroom operators. What this money means is in the hands of a relatively small group of people whose names and faces are almost unknown beyond rap circles.
Rappers, at least one or two of whom seem to frequent a particular downtown watering hole, describe their earnings on a monthly basis. I had spoken with several for this piece, and their numbers varied widely.
One said he earned in the range of $50 to $100 a night, depending on if he was playing at a local club or in the backrooms of “good” bars nearby. Another claimed he would spend from five to 40 percent of his income on rent, bills, beer, cigarettes and booze. A third said he’d spend in the $10 to $50 range on tips.
But with any of the bar owners in the piece mentioned, their net pay was not something I would say was anywhere near where it should be. The fact is, many rappers make far more money outside of work than they do inside it.
At one bar I visited, the man I’d talked to said that he made $15,000 a week at this place for what he considered a decent-sized part-time job. But this would seem to be a low ceiling for an entrepreneur. To make as much money as the person at this bar made in one week, you’d have to be putting in an extra 40 or 50 hours of work—at minimum, and possibly more. But for his work in the week, the cost of the drink, the food, a half-dozen other people who brought customers in each week and the rent on a two bedroom upstairs apartment, the bar man’s revenue would probably run well above his yearly salary.
In an interview I did for
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