A New York Bartender’s Fight for His Life
Christopher Reed was diagnosed with ALS a year ago and is battling the disease while he still works at Manhattan’s acclaimed Bar Goto.
I want to forget that bartender Christopher Reed is sick.
After all he’s in his proper place behind the bar and, given the circumstances, is remarkably composed making sure that I’m comfortable. He even insists on getting me a cold seltzer on a recent warm afternoon.
I wish I was at the acclaimed Lower East Side Japanese cocktail institution Bar Goto, for just about any other reason but Reed is sick. Very sick, in fact.
He was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) a year ago and his friend and mentor Kenta Goto, who owns the bar, set up a GoFundMe page for him this winter. At first, Reed wasn’t ready to take that step. “I was really apprehensive because it felt like when we did that than I’m fucked. I’m done. The beginning of the end,” he says. “My wife, who is amazing, said ‘Christopher, let Kenta do this. Let him start this now. It’s going to take time for momentum.’ I cried. Let’s do it. Fuck it.”
Since the page went live, the appeal has collected more than $60,000 out of the goal of $250,000. “I don’t have a whole lot of faith in mankind, so with this it made me love the bar business even more,” he says.
The money gives him some security and makes him less worried about having to work when he doesn’t feel well. “It gives me a really solid piece of mind,” he says. “I prefer to work. I love this shit. I really do. But there are certain days where I’m a hot mess.”
He came to New York twenty years ago to be an actor. “There are no waiters or waitresses or bartenders, they’re all actors and musicians,” he says. After a few years, he realized he liked making drinks more than acting and when a friend told him about a bar back position at Julie Reiner’s pioneering Manhattan cocktail bar the Flatiron Lounge (which closed this past winter) he quickly took it. The bar’s managers were incredulous that he really wanted the position, since it meant a step back in his career. They told him he wasn’t guaranteed to become a bartender. “I said ‘you know there are only two guarantees in life you’re paying taxes and you’re dying. That’s it. Bring it on.’”
Reed also began working at Audrey Saunders’ Pegu Club, which was then helmed by Goto. The two bars provided him a real mixology education. “Two amazing houses, I was getting hammered left and right with everything. I loved it,” he remembers.
When Goto opened his eponymous bar nearly four years ago, Reed came with him and has been a fixture of the establishment ever since. And Reed, despite the affects of his disease, still enjoys bartending. “Being here keeps me healthy,” he says, pointing to his heart and then his head. “I feel good. I feel really good. If I don’t talk or walk, I look normal.”
The one part of bartending that now bothers him is when a patron thinks his slurred speech is because Reed is drunk or high. So, he created a shirt, which on the back explains his condition. But he’s quick to point out that he doesn’t want your sympathy, just for you to relax and enjoy your evening. “I want you to know, so you don’t feel awkward,” he says.
While Reed has had complications with traditional ALS medications, he has fortunately found meditation to be particularly effective reliving some of his symptoms. “With the meditation, I’m learning to quiet all of this,” he says. “There are times when I finish my meditation and I walk better and I talk better.” Whatever he’s doing, it seems to be working. He was supposed to already be in a wheelchair but is able to get around with just leg braces that fit under his jeans and a cane.
He is also looking into alternative cures and trying different therapies, which the GoFundMe money helps pay for, but is realistic about his grim prognosis. “If that is what’s supposed to happen, so be it,” he says. But “I’m going to keep moving and talking and rocking and rolling.”