More Women in New York Are Shaking, Stirring and Pouring
Originally published in the Wall Street Journal.
There’s a shake-up happening within New York’s bartending culture—and it has nothing to do with ice.
In 2014, some of the city’s most prestigious bars and restaurants named women to head-bartender and beverage-director positions, including Dead Rabbit (Jillian Vose), Death & Co (Eryn Reece), Ai Fiori (Jen Gordon) and Cosme (Yana Volfson).
And if the first few months of 2015 are any indication, the trend for star female mixologists is heating up. In February, Nitecap head bartender Natasha David was named StarChef’s 2015 Rising Star Mixologist. Last November, Eater named Ms. David their national and New York bartender of the year.
“Now that bartending is seen more as a career than just a transient job, people are taking it more seriously,” says Pamela Wiznitzer, the creative director in charge of all things cocktails at Seamstress, an Upper East Side restaurant and bar that opened in February.
Some women behind the bar are doing more than pulling down a paycheck; they are taking partnership shares and expanding their empires. Meaghan Dorman, head bartender since 2009 at Raines Law Room, launched a Raines sister bar at the William Hotel last year, within five months of opening another watering hole, Dear Irving. She and her partners are in the process of launching a new bar in Tribeca, slated to debut later this year.
As head bartender, overseeing menu development and drink execution as well as staff management, Ms. Dorman says she leads by example. “ ‘If I’m never cranky and mean to people, you don’t get to be either,’ ” she says she tells her staff. “I always try to give a lot of shared feedback.”
But, while the barscape has become more welcoming to women in leadership roles, not all hurdles are gone, says Ms. Wiznitzer of Seamstress. The profession’s long hours, especially, can be tough for anyone trying to start a family.
That said, she says she thinks of her co-workers not just as a team, but as a kind of family—terms she says aren’t often attributed to bar crews. “The staff calls me Momma Bear,” she says.
At Seamstress, where the name evokes traditional women’s work, the drinks menu is sectioned off by sewing terms such as “overlay,” “gusset” and “patchwork.”
“I call them patchwork because you’re thinking about putting together lots of pieces to create something magnificent,” Ms. Wiznitzer says. “That’s what a shaken drink is.”
The “Darning” section (definition: to repair holes or worn areas) is about repairing the world through charity, she says. It features a single drink that changes periodically—the proceeds of which are donated to charity.
The current “Darning” offering, the Steadfast—created by staff bartender Lana Gailani and available through June 1—features Highland Park 12-year-old single-malt scotch, with proceeds going to relief funds for those affected by the recent East Village building-collapse disaster.
Bar veteran Julie Reiner, often credited along with Audrey Saunders as one of the pioneering women in New York’s craft-cocktail boom, recalls a time when women looking for jobs were only offered waitress spots.
As the movement was getting started, new bar owners tended to lean on historically accurate turn-of-the-century motifs, such as male-only bar staffs.
“[Bars] were pretending like they were a speakeasy in 1892 instead of say, 2005 or 2007,” Ms. Reiner says. “There was no place for women. So it became my mission to incorporate as many women as I possibly could and start fighting that battle.”
Ms. Reiner, who opened Flatiron Lounge and Clover Club, will soon launch a new Brooklyn bar with Clover Club veteran Ivy Mix as head bartender. Called Leyenda, the pan-Latin cocktail parlor is scheduled to open its doors in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens the week of May 25.
Offerings will include the Tia Mia, which spotlights Del Maguey Vida mescal, and the Shadow Boxer, which features with Yaguara cachaça.
Ms. Reiner and others credit Ms. Mix with helping nudge more women into the spotlight. Ms. Mix, along with Lynnette Marrero, co-founded Speed Rack, a national female-only bartending competition, in 2011 as a way to discover more female stars and raise money for charity.
“Speed Rack started as a way to figure out where all the ladies were at,” Ms. Mix says. “It was like, hello? I know we’re out there, but why aren’t we being seen? Why aren’t we in the best bars in the world?”
Speed Rack “shined such a light on the women in the bar business,” Ms. Reiner says. “All of these great women have started moving forward.”