Sacked Wall Street staff spotted clamouring for work behind bars

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 November, 2008, 12:00am

New York

It's not easy to exaggerate the significance of the role Wall Street plays in the city. Not only does the financial sector usually contribute at least 10 per cent of the city's tax revenue and 20 per cent of New York state revenue, the high wages and bonuses normally keep countless retailers and other firms in business.

But when layoffs almost become routine on Wall Street and tens of thousands get their pink slips, it does not take long for real estate agents and jewellery dealers to start missing their deep-pocketed patrons.

The swankiest restaurants are feeling the pinch, apartment prices are starting to sink and just about everyone fears that crime will rise. Tax revenue is disappearing fast and with it the money for many city services.

But there is one comfortable haven from the financial storm - the city's bars.

And the financial types can be found there - though in some cases they are going to work rather than for a drink after work.

Some bartending schools in New York have reported an increase in enrolments, and noticed that a large portion of the newcomers are people who want to learn about mixing drinks after mixing it up with the big dogs on Wall Street.

One of the training centres is the New York Bartending School.

Director Tom Sisson said the school has 20 to 25 per cent more students now compared with the same time last year, and the majority were people who used to work on Wall Street. 'We always get a very big cross section of people taking the class, but particularly this year since the economy has been in a downturn we've seen a large increase of people from the financial sector,' Mr Sisson said.

Bartending is not the only field that is seeing an increase in interest from career-changing MBAs. One or two experienced corporate managers have started to stand on the street carrying a 'for hire' sign like immigrant labourers. The city's Teaching Fellows programme has seen the number of applicants with a financial background go up by 60 per cent this year.

But the financial experts turned bartenders have caught much more attention because of the dramatic contrast between the two occupations - from morning birds to night owls, from sitting to standing, from squeezing the brain to stretching muscles, and from the chance to make seven figures to a bit above US$30,000 plus tips.

But Mike Claps, a sales agent who is thinking of getting an MBA and transferring to the financial industry, sees more similarities between the jobs on Wall Street and in a bar.

'Wall Street people go at a fast pace. They work long hours with high pressure. They have to have good people skills. So do the bartenders,' Mr Claps said. 'And the bottom line is when you lose your job, you need to react nimbly to get new income.'

Kevin Kostopulo, a Baruch College student of finance who is one month away from graduation, is not keen on the prospect. 'That's sad. I definitely don't want to work in a bar after I graduate,' he said.

Still, some say the trend may be exaggerated.

James Parrott, the chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning think-tank, said he was 'sceptical about the bartending thing'. 'I think it's only on an anecdotal level,' he said.

'We are clearly going from a situation of two job openings in the economy for every job seeker to a situation of one opening for every five job seekers.

'But even in an industry where there is very modest long-term growth because of the retirements, there is a normal level job turnover and there are openings. And [Wall Street types] are well-educated. They'll be able to find something that suits their skills.'

Tomorrow: London