The Spirited History of Women Behind Cocktail Bars

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The women's entrance to a bar.

Sitz-2014With libations like the “Pink Lady” and  the “Hanky Panky” flowing from the moment attendees arrived to the 2014 San Antonio Cocktail Conference seminar “Women Behind Bars,” it was obvious that this walk down memory lane would be a bit more spirited than your typical history lesson.

Some of the industry’s most influential bartendresses come together to discuss the evolving role women have played in cocktail culture throughout the years.

Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC), an organization dedicated to promoting women bartenders and raising funds for women’s charities, presented the Saturday afternoon seminar to an audience largely, but not entirely, comprised of women.

"Women Behind Bars"

“Women Behind Bars” seminar at the 2014 SACC.

Kirsten “Kitty” Amann is a founding member of the Boston chapter of LUPEC. “This is my first time in San Antonio,” she said, “and I’m really impressed with it all. It’s awesome that (the cocktail conference has) been so well received and so well organized.”

The graduate of the one-day BAR Smarts program holds an advanced certificate from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. She works as a freelance writer, blogging for LUPEC Boston and coauthoring the organization’s column in The Weekly Dig and the Massachusetts Beverage Business Journal, and a brand ambassador. She helped found the United States Bartender’s Guild and the Greater Boston Beverage Society.

The Hanky Panky

The Hanky Panky.

Amann laid the groundwork for the session by starting all the way back in the days of medieval English and colonial taverns, when alcohol was often safer to drink than water and when the women in bars were mostly those of “ill-repute” —prostitutes— and sometimes servants. Eventually, some widows were permitted to own and operate taverns as a means of sustaining themselves, but largely women’s roles were confined to serving rather than engaging in or leading the bar culture.

Misty Kalkofen, a LUPEC Boston founding member, is a graduate of both the rigorous BAR program and the Harvard Divinity School. She completed her theology degree in 1998 to join the staff of then-newly opened B-Side Lounge, one of the leaders in Boston’s classic cocktail and vintage spirit renaissance.

“I came the first year, but definitely I can see the growth in the conference itself and in the city itself,” she said. “I work for a brand so I spend most of my time talking to bartenders, and I love my job but I miss the interaction with consumers, so I love doing seminars like this.”

Nominated at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans for American Bartender of the Year (2011) and International Bartender of the Year (2012), Kalkofen has partnered with other cocktail enthusiasts to found non-profit consumer advocacy group the Tequila Interchange Project and to establish Revolution Cocktail Catering and Consulting and neighborhood bar Brick & Mortar (both with Patrick Sullivan of the B-Side Lounge).

The women's entrance to a bar.

The women’s entrance to a bar.

Kalkofen’s section of the talk picked up with the Industrial Revolution, when increased mechanical efficiency in many industries lead to shorter workdays, more time for socializing, and the introduction of the saloon, establishments mostly unwelcoming to women. Some had a back entrance through which women discreetly entered to purchase alcohol to take back to their homes.

In spite of the Temperance Movement of the early 19th century, which gave rise to such catchy tunes as “Girls, Wait for a Temperance Man,” alcohol consumption remained common even among the most pious of ladies in the form of “medicine.”

Some strong words from the Temperance Movement.

Some bold words from the Temperance Movement.

Meaghan Dorman is a founding member of LUPEC in New York City and the inaugural head bartender of The Raines Law Room since its establishment in 2009. She’s no stranger to presenting at conferences like the SACC; prior to coming to San Antonio, she’s presented at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, Tales of the Cocktail, Portland Cocktail Week, and the Boston Cocktail Summit.

“It’s my first time in San Antonio,” she said. “I did the River Walk, and went to Esquire Tavern—twice,” she said. “It’s really fun, events like this that are more consumer-driven, because these are the people who keep our bars in business.”

The glamorous Pauline Sabin.

The glamorous Pauline Sabin.

In 2011, Dorman won the Metropolitan Opera Cocktail Competition and has been a finalist in several other competitions in 2012 and 2013, including the International G’Vine Gin Connoisseur Program, from which she took home an award for best technical skills.

Dorman picked up with the onset of the flapper era, when significant social change regarding women in the alcohol industry really began to take root. She pointed to such pioneers as the wild Texas Guinan, whose wild streak led her to the NYC cocktail scene and who Dorman called “the original cougar” thanks to Guinan’s weakness for younger men. Dorman also named Pauline Sabin, a socialite who helped to turn prohibition around by emphasizing the negative affect that the ban had on families and children.

Lynnette Marrero is the president of co-founder LUPEC NYC and the co-creator of Speed Rack, a national competition created in 2011 for and by female bartenders that raises money to fight breast cancer. (As a side note, San Antonio’s own Elisabeth Forsythe of Blue Box, behind the bar at the seminar, just won the 2014 Texas competition in Austin on Jan. 15.)

Marrero got her start at New York’s Flatiron Lounge before becoming senior bartender at Freeman’s NYC. She’s designed bar programs and award-winning cocktail menus, shadowed a master rum blender in Guatamala, worked as a rum ambassador, and won such awards as Time Out magazine’s “Best New Cocktail Bar” and “Best Bar Restaurant Hybrid” (for her work as beverage director of Rye House). She now also consults with her company Drinks at 6.

She wrapped up the history lesson, picking up with the post-prohibition era and the days of “Bessie the Bartender,” when women were going to and tending bars as well as formalizing and unionizing, to present day. In the early 80s, Holiday Inn made the groundbreaking step of hiring women bartenders and creating cocktail programs and soon after, women and men alike were able to easily make a living “slinging easy drinks in the exciting, party environment of the 80s.”

"Women Behind Bars" panelists (left to right):

“Women Behind Bars” panelists (left to right): Marrero, Dorman, Kalkofen, and Amann.

The contemporary complex cocktail renaissance has only continued to open doors, allowing innovators like Amann, Kalkofen, Dorman, and Marrero new opportunities to make significant contributions to the industry.

“What’s really great about this festival is that there’s so many more consumers,” Marrero observed after the seminar concluded, comparing the SACC to other festivals that are more trade and industry focused. “For us it’s an opportunity to educate and really interact with the people who contribute to our success as a community.”

 

Follow the Rivard Report’s coverage of the 2014 Cocktail Conference here.

Miriam Sitz is a freelance writer in San Antonio. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz and click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.

 

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