|Women Are Increasingly Finding Their Spot Behind the Bar
By Dale DeGroff
“I think it's incredibly cool that there are so many women influencing what's crossing the wood in so many places these days. Definitely a great trend since we ladies have such finely-tuned palates.”
The sentiments above, expressed by Katie Loeb of Amada Restaurant in Philadelphia, came up several times as I talked to women who work “behind the stick.” Women have long excelled in the wine world as winemakers and wine experts demonstrating their fine tuned palates, and now its spilling over to the bar.
“It's nice to make people smile with a good drink. My most popular drink on the list at Amada Restaurant is the ‘Bad Education’ – all our specialty cocktails are named after Pedro Almodovar movies, which is basically an orange mojito; a slight twist on the old favorite. These are flying out of the place,” says Katie.
She goes on to say, “I've learned so much in the last several months about balancing sour flavors with sweet, getting the proper proportions in a cocktail, and garnering the various bitters in the same way a chef uses different salts to finish a dish.”
A Woman’s Style
I found this culinary strain running through the work of many of the women I spoke with, but to be fair, I find this to be the trend among most serious bartenders these days - male or female. Audrey Saunders, owner of Pegu Club in New York City wrote the following to me: “I had always envisioned it - Pegu Club in New York City - to be a think-tank, and a real collective effort involving all of the bartenders.”
Audrey’s loose grip on the reins-style of management relinquishes a bit more control than the male ego might allow in a similar position. Audrey continued, “They know that I'm extremely discerning and picky, but I also try to be extremely positive in that process. An encouraging attitude makes a big difference, and helps others to develop.”
If the cocktails are good, the guest will reorder. “The menu is seasonal, but I won't limit it to that. If we come up with a new drink, then why not change the menu again? We've also started a specialty cocktail each night.”
Power of a Popular Cocktail
Why not design a new cocktail every day? It makes perfect sense to me. If bartending is indeed returning as a serious profession, more challenges of this sort are necessary. Julie Reiner, the owner of Flatiron Lounge in New York City and a partner with Audrey in Pegu Club, has something to say about the power of a popular drink on a cocktail menu.
“The Metropolis was the first cocktail that I had featured in the New York Times Wednesday food section. My goal was to create an apple Martini that actually tasted like apples - with a kick! I have never been a fan of the Jolly Rancher – candied apple Martinis that most bars serve, so this was my offering.”
Julie, who was born in Hawaii and worked as a cocktail server prior to moving to San Francisco, and ultimately Manhattan, calls her style of drink-making “new-age tropical.”
When Julie moved to New York City and was hired as head bartender at C3 Lounge in the Washington Square Hotel, she began to experiment with her fresh fruit specials. I for one heard about it along with “Dr. Cocktail”, Ted Haigh; Audrey Saunders; and eventually the New York Times. Julie noted in our conversation: “I was amusing myself and was surprised anyone else was interested.”
Julie’s program at Flatiron Lounge includes weekly cocktail flights in 2 1/2 ounce Martini glasses nicely presented on a small wooded tray with cutouts for the glasses. The flights sometimes feature spirit categories and are at other times themed. Julie’s menu always has a tributes section that pays homage to great drinks from her favorite bartenders over the years.
Personal Styles Behind the Bar
Kim Haasarud, author of two forthcoming books, 101 Margaritas and 101 Martinis, comes from Los Angeles. Kim’s culinary side informs her style: “It is about combining ingredients to create a sensation on the palate and entice all the senses with a combination of flavors, textures, aromas, and garnishes.” Kim’s version of the Appletini, a drink invented in Los Angeles at Lola’s, uses fresh pressed apple juice with a dash of clove and cinnamon. On a whim Kim might add ripe Cherimoya to her Margarita. Kim’s company, Liquid Architecture, has designed cocktails for Golden Globe parties and other high profile, often celebrity-laden events.
Geri Banks is an old friend in the business who started on the wine side and has spent the last several years creating cocktail programs for hot venues like Taj in New York City and Echo in Fresno, California. “I think what defines my style of cocktails most is my love of scents and a preference for using ingredients outside the normal metier of mixology,” she says. “I am, however, informed by classic ingredients and proportions in designing a cocktail. I employ as many different fresh herbs, teas, spices, fruits and vegetables as befits the specific cuisine I am working with.”
There are many other creative female bartenders, I don’t have room to feature, including: Lucy Brennan of Mint and 820 in Portland, Oregon; Aisha, co-head bartender of BED in New York City; Andrea Montague of Lab and Charlotte Voisey of Apartment 195 in London. They bring a sensitivity and light touch that has influenced the way I work. Hats off at the bar, gentlemen, there is a lady in the house.
Some Original Cocktail Creations by Women Behind the Bar
Gin Gin Mule
By New York bartender, Audrey Saunders, owner of Pegu Club
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
6 mint sprigs
3/4 ounce home made
1 1/2 ounces Bombay Gin
splash of soda water
lime wedge for garnish
Muddle lime juice, simple syrup, and mint. Add gin and ginger beer and shake well. Serve over ice in a highball glass. Top with soda and
garnish with a lime wedge.
By Julie Reiner, New York bartender and owner of Flatiron Lounge
3 ounces Granny Smith
Apple infused Smirnoff*
1/2 ounce Berentzens
1/2 ounce Pommeau
In a mixing glass combine
all ingredients and stir over cracked ice. Strain into a
martini glass. Garnish with
a slice of green apple
* To make apple infusion, cut a bucket of granny smith green apples. A five gallon bucket will yield 8 bottles of apple infused vodka. Pour the vodka over the apples and seal with saran wrap and a lid. Let the mixture sit for 1 1/2 to 2 weeks. Strain the vodka from the apples and rebottle it for easy use. Make sure to label the bottles so that they aren't confused for plain vodka.
By Geri Banks for Echo Bar and Restaurant
1 1/2 ounces Pisco Capel
3-4 small tomatillos (Peeled)
2-3 leaves of cilantro
1 ounces fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
Muddle tomatillos well in mixing glass. Add two leaves of cilantro and muddle gently until scent is released. Add Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup and ice. Shake well and strain into small martini glass. Place remaining cilantro leaf atop cocktail. Garnish with “lamed” tiny tomatillo*.
* Tomatillos are in a family of fruit that is distantly related to the tomato. To “flame” a husk fruit, gently tear back in three or four sections the husk, being careful not to disengage it entirely. Once all sections are away from fruit, gently twist to keep them standing (the waxy quality of the husk will aid in this chore). Place a small score on the bottom of the fruit and place on the rim of the glass to garnish.