World Cocktail Day: These women bartenders are calling the shots behind the bar
We raise a toast to women bartenders of India who are ruling the bar counter and blending that perfect drink with a splash of confidence in the male dominated industry
What is it like to be a woman behind the bar? To explore that query we caught up with a bunch of spunky mixologists and discovered that they did share one common trait. They all have a natural flair for the road less travelled and they know what it takes to be at the top of their game. They are redefining success in a refreshing way while marching on the path that was paved by women during the World War II! It took a political movement in Michigan in 1955 to turn bartending into a job that was acceptable for women. Similar things started happening in India and in the last one decade, women bartenders have started making their presence felt with their creative craft. This unconventional career option offers glamorous and exciting opportunities and we learn that these bartenders famously have many responsibilities - not just pouring drinks but offering a friendly smile and dealing efficiently with customers who have had a few too many. Of course the job demands your creative skills too, because mixing cocktails is an art and a fair knowledge of alcohol and various spirits is mandatory. And this World Cocktail Day (May 13) we spin the tables and raise a toast to trailblazing women bartenders who offer a personal touch and concoct your poison the way you like it.
Celebrating the art of mixology
Unlike James Bond, you may not know the complete procedure and portion or the secret ingredient that made your drink extra special. But knowing what goes down behind the bar is worth it, especially, when it is a woman who is serving that special drink for you while you celebrate your promotion with your friends or nurse your breakup.
If you are wondering what kind of training goes into becoming a bartender, Ami Shroff, who started bartending back in 2003, tells us that she has created her own recipes since 2006 was drawn towards flair bartending and that’s what pulled her into mixology. “Flair made me understand alcohol better. Tasting different cocktails, spirits and wines, and participating in competitions got me interested in mixology,” shares Ami, who is a visiting mixologist at Chime Bar, Sheraton Hyderabad. Ami never took a professional course but learned the art of mixing cocktails from professional bartenders, online videos, and observing what other mixologists were doing. Casilda Misquitta, Head bartender at Taftoon Bar & Kitchen in Mumbai is fairly new in the business but her love for alcohol and social life gave her a chance to meet and learn the skill to mix that perfect drink. “I have learned the art of mixology during my professional course and then at the workspace while experimenting with different drinks,” says Casilda.
Breaking a glass ceiling
It takes a lot to be in a job that is not so accepted for women but these fiery, feisty and confident women have carved a niche for themselves. Shaking, stirring and mixing, it’s all about that magic of the combination of ingredients that they pour into the glass. But did they have any apprehensions when they chose this career? None, apparently, for Ami! “I had no apprehensions at all. In fact, I was quite curious about this unexplored field,” says Ami who started her bartending career at the age of 18. “It was a whole new experience and I was happy to be a part of it,” she adds. While most of them were never in doubt about their decision to walk the road less travelled or their ability to succeed there. But for Casilda it was not that straight forward. “At first the change of industry and adjusting to a new role was what made me apprehensive but once I got into the role, I felt that connecting with people comes naturally to me, and mixing drinks was what I levelled up with along the way,” shares the Mumbai resident.
While it is obvious that these women are making their mark in the industry, some factors hamper their visibility in the field. Safety is one prime reason. For instance, the much-talked-about Jessica Lal murder case in 1999 in Delhi sparked a debate regarding the safety of women bartenders in India. Nikita Fernandez, a mixologist from Delhi, clarifies that the enthusiasm among women to work as bartenders is less in Delhi because of security issues. “There are places which don’t hire women bartenders but people who do hire them, ensure their safety. At my place, I feel safe and I have a pick and drop facility. We have bouncers on duty if there is any notorious crowd at the counter,” says Nikita, who has been working as a bartender for the last five years.
When asked about any misogyny that might have been thrown at female bartenders, Ami says that sexism is always present. “As a woman, there is always a challenge no matter which profession you are a part of. In some places, it is more evident and in some - more subtle. We still have a long way to go, in terms of gender equality, and finding ways to make us feel liberated,” says the mixologist who was also a part of Netflix’s documentary series Midnight Asia.
Bengaluru-based mixologist and cocktail artist Divya Rawat, who entered the field after much discouragement from many, now embraces the challenges that her job offers. “I love challenges and would love to change the perspective of people. It is also my way of showing women to always follow your dreams no matter which field it is,” insists the mixologist who recently collaborated with CeleTe's Summer Cocktail. Manisha Roy, a Kolkata-based bartender at One8 Commune confesses that women behind the bar face many challenges. “Primary is the discrimination based on gender. Women have been given the right to their choices but there are still challenges when they want to do something that’s mostly male-dominated. I am proud to be a lady bartender. I wanted to be different and stand out at my workplace,” expresses Manisha.
Bengaluru-based mixologists Arati Mestry aka Negroni Moron, who started her career as a bartender following her inner calling says that her will power helped her battle the challenges. “I faced many challenges while paving my path, but they made me what I am today. Especially those initial days of the career where you get to hear you are a girl, you won’t be able to do much. From knowing the industry to getting known in the industry - it’s a self-made journey. Trust me there was no self pity at all,” confesses the mixologist who works at Rivers Brewing Co. at Taj MG Road. She says that she was always taught to follow her passion and she revels in the fact that she proved everyone wrong who thought she couldn’t be a bartender because she was a girl!
That favourite mix
To lighten our conversation with these boss ladies, we asked if there was any trick to attract a bartender’s attention and of course, if there was any special talent that was required to score a free drink from a bartender. And to our surprise, there is a secret! In addition, they have their favourite drink as well which they offer to some lucky customers at the deck.
For instance, Ami’s go-to mix is a combination of ginger, lemon, and a sweetener, which can be jaggery, honey, dates, or maple syrup. A splash of soda, water, and ice cubes makes it a perfect summer drink. She also suggested that adding a hint of spice like star anise, cinnamon or nutmeg will make your drink top-notch. For Casilda it is a negroni and Manisha offers her favourite mocktail, Mango Basil Mojito when her guest asks for her choice of drink. “It's refreshing and stimulating, especially because mango is my favorite fruit like many other people. But the smell and the taste of the basil is another thing.”
How to get your drink first at a busy counter
- Make eye contact, smile and be patient, and you will be rewarded with a priority drink.
- Know what you want and keep your payment ready, preferably in cash to avoid additional work for the bartender.
- A compliment to a bartender for her mixology skills will instantly win you her attention.
- You can request her to offer you her personal favourite and that will never disappoint you.
With inputs from Suchitra Behara and Farah Khatoon