The one event I knew I had to attend at Tales of the Cocktail, amid all the circus-like brand tastings and high-budget-circus-like brand parties, was the Dame Hall of Fame inductions. Tales was co-founded by Ann and Paul Tunnerman, and since the beginning, it seems there was a strong drive to celebrate the women in the cocktail biz. Which is absolutely appropriate, when you think about it. The craft cocktail scene is generally more meritocratic than the swinging-d*ck culture of, say, sports bars, or a push-up bra worshiping club scene. To be successful in craft, you need to be smart, fast, creative and hardworking; all gender neutral attributes.
The more women bartenders and brand reps I talk to, the more they are baffled by the idea that people would think their presence in their fields is anomalous. Frankly, as total badass and Big Bar director Cari Hah told me, “There are [a lot of] women in the industry.” I know this, the nerds know this, why don’t journalists seem to know this?
But because something is common does not necessarily mean it has been easy. In fact, at first pass, most of my interviewees have indicated that they have, of course, encountered sexism along the way–not to mention racism, which I can imagine it is worse given the industry’s lackluster diversity. It’s unavoidable. Most interesting, however, is that many of them felt it more at later points in their careers. We are OK with women making and serving drinks, but how about as consultants and educators? How about as the scientists in charge of product development? How do we feel about women telling us what to do? That, it seems, is a greater challenge.
Getting back to the Dame Hall of Fame, I loved this event because it celebrates the Bosses. Women like Joy Spence, who, unbeknownst to her, was the first woman in the world to hold the title of Master Blender at a major spirits company when she took on the Boss role at Appleton Estate in 1997. Or like Ms. Franky Marshall, whose style presence would be impressive enough, even if you didn’t know about her voracious intellect. In addition to these two Bosses, the event paid homage to Kirsten (Kitty) Amann of Eat. Drink. Move. and LUPEC, marketing sorceress Sharon Bronstein of the 86 Co., super bar nerd Dorothy Elizabeth from Detroit’s Standby, and Katy Casbarian of NOLA’S Arnaud’s and the French 75 Bar. I enjoyed the breadth of experience they brought to the room, and appreciated the Q&A afterward where they all talked about their own challenges and offered advice to their 15-year-old selves (the most common theme was “You’re ok…you’ll be ok.).
I might be a little embarrassed, but not ashamed, to admit I fan-girled it, hard. I crept up to them and asked them for photos with me. I practically yanked my boyfriend back when he, attempting to get a better view of the podium, stepped in front of Audrey Saunders. These were the women who created the cocktails that made me fall in love with this industry (“Who is that?” “OMG, she invented the Intro to Aperol, fool!”) and founded the bar programs that made me dream of making my own. It was a big effin deal.