Critical drinking columnist Chuck Cerankosky interviews his female cocktail colleagues
As much as a person can love being behind the bar,
there are, for better or for worse, those moments when the person on the other side of that wooden structure says something that just makes you scratch your head in amazement over the inanity of their comment. An example: the bar is slammed, and a guy orders a drink. Before ordering the second, guy looks up from his phone and asks, “What’s the wi-fi password here?” Really, bro? Like so you can chill on taxing your data plan to snapchat from the bathroom? And then there’s “vaping”… No, you cannot e-smoke in here! Thank us later for saving you from looking like a total rube.
However irritating, though, these things that annoy me—as a male—are ultimately trivial. Or so I came to realize after watching fellow customers at a vapid, horrible townie bar during a trip to visit my folks.The wait for a drink was long, and a guy stood next to me, hands cupped beside his mouth. “Sweetheart!” he yelled. The bar was a packed cacophony, and three girls (in fairness, looking quite lost—maybe friends of one of the mainstay employees, helping out during the holiday crush) were zooming back and forth from one side of the bar to the other, mixing vodka drinks and pouring shots of Fireball. “Sweet-heart!” he belted out again. By decision or by nature of being overwhelmed, none of the bartenders paid him any attention. That did little to deter him or make him consider a different approach, so for the next fifteen minutes, at regular thirty-second intervals, homeboy shouted “Sweetheart! Sweet-heart!” Over. And over.
Not exactly a catcall, but this kid was like twenty-three, not particularly old enough to make addressing a female employee in this way adorable or anything. What was his thought? That a pet name reserved for fathers greeting their daughters (or significant others thanking one another for drying the dishes) would somehow provide the three bartenders the illusion that he was their chivalrous provider and, for this, they owed him service? Of course, not all male customers behave in this way, and to the credit of most of my male colleagues here in Rochester, we don’t run bars that would permit customer behavior of this sort. But to the readers who are fellas, can you imagine being addressed like this? Sure, there are plenty of women customers who, after enough pops, adopt a perniciously flirtatious form of speech towards the handsome gentleman stirring Sazeracs in front of them.The difference, of course, is that a tipsy girl making eyes at a guy bartender is not speaking in a way that implies amusement, possession, or belittlement, but a bro trying to get a drink by saying “honey,” “doll,” “baby,” or “SWEET-HEART” is doing that.
How we, as customers or bar staff, treat the women and men across the bar has as much importance as crafting the cocktails they enjoy. In the spirit of this issue’s theme, I reached out to some female cocktail colleagues to get their take on the experience of being a woman behind the stick. (A side note: In my decade and a half of experience hiring and managing twenty-and thirty-something employees—apologies here, gents—I can say confidently the ladies generally have it way more together.)
A common scenario is one where patrons are surprised or even amazed a girl is pulling weight as well as the boys. Sarah Eichas, a head bartender at the Revelry on University Avenue, says one of her favorite experiences as a lady ’tender was when a late night patron, having heard about the entire Rev bar team getting tattoos of a classic strong-man, asked if she had a strong-woman tattoo instead. Her polite response, “Of course not! We are all the same behind the bar.” And Eichas will stand by that. “Even as the sole female behind the glass at the Revelry, I never feel out of place because I can do anything they can do—and maybe some- times I can do it better.” Evvy Fanning, co-owner of the cocktail den Cheshire on South Avenue, comments on craft drinking culture as a whole, which mimics some of the charms and faults of days past. Just the word “mixologist” conjures an image of a mustachioed man in shirtsleeves and suspenders. “It’s newly hip to be physical and gritty,” says Fanning. “We like butchers who slaughter their own animals and bartenders who harvest jagged rocks of ice for our old-fashioned with an ice pick. As a result, what’s in vogue is undeniably macho.” Fanning refutes this idea, however, by preferring to wear heels instead of tattoos. “Occasionally a first timer who sees me behind the bar at Cheshire will ask, ‘Can you make me a drink?’ I have to say, I take some satisfaction in that question and the opportunity to put my shaker where my mouth is.”
Caitlin Graham, manager and bar impresario at Cure in the Public Market, was recently featured alongside other notable female culinary luminaries in an Elle magazine article showcasing her stellar wine list. She has a succinct response to the sum of comments she’s received as a lady ’tender throughout the years. “Nope, I’m never going to date you. Yes, I do have a name, but I’m actually paid to pay attention to you.” Graham adds that her coworkers can be an inspiring panacea against some of the judgmental curveballs. “Bars are pirate ships; a camaraderie built on the hedonism of sensory experience,” she says. “On these seas it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, it’s all in how you
This column is meant to not only investigate what we drink, but how we drink it.The experience of drinking socially certainly involves a wanton aesthetic at times. There are all manners of attractive people working in bars and restaurants, and that certainly contributes in some way to the overall vibe. But forcing the issue and making the woman serving you a casualty of your brand of “having a good time” is just not the move. So fellas, on the next occasion you’re out and the person shaking your Last Word happens to be a lady—treat her like one, don’t be amazed, and tip well.
Chuck Cerankosky is a cocktail enthusiast, co-owner of Rochester spots Good Luck and Cure, and organizer of the second annual Rochester Cocktail Revival, happening May 7–10.