In March, Manhattan’s favorite dive bar — and the inspiration for the eponymous 2000 cult movie — Coyote Ugly, turned 25. To honor the bar’s quarter-century of existence, the New York Times ran an in-depth feature about it’s golden rule: Women are in charge.
While it can’t be said that Coyote Ugly, which now has locations in more than 10 states and countries, won’t hire a male bartender, the bar is about giving women a place in an all-too-often male-dominated industry. “We love women,” Coyote Ugly’s general manager, Paula Dinoris, told the Times. “We take care of women. We are women.”
According to the Department of Labor, so are 60 percent of American bartenders.
When I read that statistic, I almost had a stroke.
I’ve been bartending for eight years — in six different bars and two different cities — and have worked with a grand total of five other female bartenders. Five. And in all that time and in all those places, I’ve had exactly one female bar manager.
Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does.
Every female bartender has a book of stories about being disrespected or discriminated against at work because of her sex. Male guests comment on my body, my clothes, my hair — my fucking free pour for crying out loud. Male coworkers have no problem challenging my knowledge in front of guests, or sending over “the girl” to talk with groups of men at the bar. In the rare instances I’ve shared a bar with another woman, we were the first ones asked to stay late or to cover a shift, something every man on staff felt comfortable requesting because they knew we were more likely to feel guilty about saying no.
So I had to know: If more than half of American bartenders are women, why are we still so frequently treated as outsiders? Where are these women? And what do we have to do to stop people from questioning our expertise and authority?
To think these questions through, I gathered a group of friends and colleagues who are not only incredibly talented bartenders, but also super active in the local Boston bartending community. Those friends/colleagues:
- Jen LaForge, head bartender/only female bartender at Blossom Bar and bartender at Franklin Cafe. The former is a new arrival on Boston’s craft cocktail scene that’s already earned a ton of acclaim; the latter is a South End institution that pours more beers than cocktails but is a local industry favorite. LaForge also has been Speed Rack New England’s Wild Card winner in back-to-back years, and she’s frequently sought out for cocktail competitions, like Thirst Boston’s Blender Bender.
- Ryan Lotz, beverage director at Bar Mezzana, a coastal Italian restaurant and bar with a carefully curated wine list in the South End’s Ink Block neighborhood. Previously, he’s been behind the bar at some of Boston’s finest cocktail establishments, opening The Hawthorne and doing time at Drink and №9 Park. Given the topic at hand, it’s worth noting that Bar Mezzana currently has more women than men on its bar team.
- Andrea Pentabona, general manager of food and beverage at the soon-to-be-open Comedy Studio and brand specialist for Leblon Cachaca. She’s been both a bartender and a bar manager who works behind the scenes at dozens of cocktail conferences and competitions, including Thirst Boston, San Antonio Cocktail Conference and the newly launched Chicago Style. She also organized Boston Service Industry VDay, a weeklong series of events and workshops to benefit organizations fighting to end violence against women.
- Jared Sadoian, bar manager of The Hawthorne, and formerly the bar manager of Craigie on Main. The Hawthorne won the 2017 Best American Hotel Bar by Tales of the Cocktail, and Craigie on Main has earned a James Beard Award. Sadoian is responsible for reviewing applications at The Hawthorne, which has multiple women behind bar, as well as its sister bars Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar. The ratio of men-to-women applying to work in the esteemed trio of bars near Fenway Park, he says, is about five-to-one.
Next, we did what we do best: We drank and talked—and drank some more.
Lotz: We opened Bar Mezzana with more women than men on staff behind the bar, and people just couldn’t handle it. They’d say, “Oh, do you have an agenda here?” Or: “Wow, you don’t see that every day.”
I’d respond, “Yes, I have a very clear agenda: It’s to hire the best bartenders that apply for the job.” Or: “See what? A group of talented people?”
Still, I got tired of talking about it after a couple of weeks. Like, yes, we have more women than men behind the bar, I’m tired of talking about their gender with you as a guest.
Sadoian: People seem to think there’s a reason why you have women behind certain bars. Like, “Did you do that purpose? What are you trying to say?”
LaForge: A lot of it’s contextual. At Blossom Bar people don’t so much question that I’m there, or my knowledge, which is great. At Franklin, I get a lot of, “Do you know how to make an Old Fashioned?” Or: “Can you make a Manhattan?” That might have more to do with the style of bar — one being more of a beer joint than a cocktail place — than the fact that I’m a woman, but it’s tough to tell.
Pentabona: Having your knowledge questioned is something that’s happened to every female bartender. That’s just about dismissing knowledge women have — or power women have. Because knowledge is power, right? A lot of men want to keep us in a particular space that the male brain has allowed us to occupy. In their mind, it’s easier for us to be the sexy lady bartender who wears low-cut tops and dances on the bar.
Now, I have nothing against bars that encourage women to dance on the bar if that’s what they want to do. But I also think that some people see places like Coyote Ugly incorrectly. In their minds, it’s, “They dance on the bar for money, so they can’t have value.” When it’s really, “I dance on the bar, and you pay me, so who’s in control here?”
Not to mention, just because they dance on the bar doesn’t mean they can’t talk about Scotch.
Sadoian: I love watching Amanda [one of The Hawthorne’s female bartenders] interact with guests. They try to challenge her — “I bet you didn’t know this one thing” — and she’ll shell them with knowledge for the rest of the night. She’s the most knowledgeable person about cocktails on staff, and people still seem to have a hard time accepting that this tiny woman, she’s like 5-foot-nothing, knows things.
Lotz: People still say that?
Sadoian: Oh yeah. When I joined the team at The Hawthorne, we were introduced, and people would say, “This is Amanda, she’s a server. She’d love to bartender, but it’s probably not a good fit, based on her size and her gender.”
I said, “Why?”
I mean, we have a ladder, because no one can reach the top shelf. I don’t get it. It shouldn’t be an impossibility. Plenty of men can’t hack it behind the bar — why give them the benefit of doubt?
Lotz: Honestly, women make better bartenders. They have to do emotional labor every single day of their life, so when they’re required to do it in a workplace with guests, it’s more or less effortless. Women just come in and are like, I’m going to do emotional labor today, and it’s fine because it’s my job and I’m getting paid for it, which is way more fun than doing it for free in the rest of my life.
LaForge: Part of the problem is that when you think bartender, the immediate image that comes to mind is a white guy, 25 to 35 years old, tattoos, probably a fuckboy haircut and a mustache.
Sadoian: Yeah, when I read that statistic, the first thing I thought was, Okay, but where are they? Because they definitely aren’t in cocktail bars. But that survey polls every bar and restaurant and club, too.
Pentabona: Our industry is in a weird place right now. We had a lot of growth quickly with the cocktail renaissance, which, depending on where you were living, got going in the late 1990s (in New York) to the early 2000s (everywhere else). So now there’s two parts to it: There’s craft bartenders, and then all the other bartenders. They’re both equally hard-working and skilled, but a lot of the time now, the craft cocktail bartender is who society thinks about when it thinks bartender. And for the most part, those bartenders are men.
But I can imagine that absolutely 60 percent of bartenders who are working in chain restaurants or neighborhood bars — if not more — are definitely women, because those places are more accessible. They don’t come with the boys’ club stereotype that cocktail bars do.
Lotz: A lot of women are bartending in clubs and chains. In fact, I bet if you polled just cocktail bars, it would flip the other way, maybe even 70/30 men to women.
LaForge: Until recently I was the only female bartender at Blossom Bar, and our bar manager was specifically saying, “I’m trying to get more women back here, but no one is applying.” I thought, Why is no one applying? I mean if you have a job and you like it, that makes sense. But of the people applying, it’s all dudes, and dudes of varying level of skill, from way under to fairly well over. It’s like, Why aren’t women doing this, too?
I think it’s a confidence thing. We had a woman come in and interview, and we invited her to stage [like a working interview, you come in and work a few hours to get a sense of the place, and for the hiring establishment to get a sense of how you work]. She was new to town, but had worked at a reputable place elsewhere. Yet after sitting at the bar and watching service, she said to our bar manager, I’m not comfortable doing this. I don’t think I’m ready.
But it’s like, “Just fucking do it!” You know? Go forth with the confidence of a mediocre man.
Pentabona: There’s also women working their asses off at the local Applebee’s, or whatever — places that systemically don’t offer a lot of opportunities for advancement. And a lot of them are single moms who don’t have the flexibility to work until 4 a.m. like a cocktail bar would require.
Plus, because craft cocktail bars have been male-dominated for so long, the needs of men are the only things that are addressed when it comes to making policy adjustments. Maternity leave, for instance — or paternity leave, for that matter — isn’t practical in much of the service industry because it’s never had to be. There have never been enough women in positions of power to make space for that.
LaForge: Bartending as a long-term career option isn’t as appealing to a lot of women, and it’s because we don’t have systems in place to make this as sustainable of a career as we’ve turned it into — for men, too, if we’re being honest. I mean, my back hurts. My legs hurt. I’ve got spider veins. It’s great, but that’s a realness that comes with any job where you’re on your feet for most of the time. Of course, most of those other physical jobs come with benefits and a retirement plan. Something we don’t get.
Lotz: Overall, I think the lack of women in bartending is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the community caters to one particular demographic, that demographic will have the easiest time being successful and getting other jobs.
Pentabona: Exactly. It comes down to the fact that men are most often in positions of power, or in perceived positions of power, and that comes down to a systematic change of, well, everything. It’s just like government: Until we have more women in positions of power, we aren’t going to be able to focus on what needs to change to make things more sustainable for us.