Words by Chuck Cerankosky | Photo by Mike Martinez
For as much as one 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: Bar is slammed, and Guy orders a drink. Before ordering the second, Guy looks up from his phone and asks, "What's the Wifi password here?" Really, bro? Like so you can chill on taxing your data plan to snapchat from the bathroom?
And “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 behind the stick, 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. "Sweetheart!" (He belt it 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 realize a different approach, so for the next 15 minutes, at regular 3o second intervals, homeboy shouted "Sweetheart! ... Sweetheart!" Over. And over.
Not exactly a catcall, but this kid was like 23; 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 to greet their daughters or significant others to thank 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; a bro trying to get a drink by saying honey, doll, baby or SWEETHEART! is.
How we, as customers or bar staff, treat the women and men across the bar is as much important as crafting the cocktails we enjoy at it. 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 sidenote: In my decade and a half of experience hiring and managing 20 and 30-something employees, -- apologies here, gents -- I can say confidently that the ladies generally have it way more together.)
Yet a common scenario is one where patrons are surprised or even amazed that a girl is pulling weight as well as the boys. Sarah Eichas, formerly a head bartender at The Revelry on University Ave, commented that one of her favorite experiences being a lady-tender was when a late-night patron, having heard about the entire Rev bar team getting tattoos of a classic strongman, asked if she had a strong-woman tattoo instead. Her polite response: ”Of course not! We are all the same behind the bar.” She adds, “I 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 sometimes I can do it better.”
Evvy Fanning, co-owner of the cocktail den Cheshire on South Ave, comments on craft drinking culture as a whole, mimicking some of the charms and faults of days past, with the word mixologist conjuring an image of a mustachioed man in shirtsleeves and suspenders. “It’s newly hip to be physical and gritty – 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.”
Evvy refutes this idea, however, by preferring to wear heels and not wearing 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, who until recently worked as manager and bar impresario at Cure in the Public Market, had the honor earlier this year of being shouted out in Elle magazine alongside other notable female culinary luminaries in an article showcasing her stellar wine list. She provided a more 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.”
She 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. On these seas it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, it's all in how you sail.”
It's not just what we drink, but how we drink it. The experience of drinking socially certainly involves a wanton aesthetic at times. There are all manner 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.
A version of this story appeared in (585) magazine.