‘Woman In A Bartender’s Role Defies Patriarchy, Misogyny’
Ami Shroff, 36, one of the first women flair bartenders in India, talks about following her passion, in a male-dominated profession
It was Tom Cruise who got me interested in bartending, at an impressionable age of 13. I watched his movie Cocktail and was star-struck by his ‘flair bartending’ skills. I tried the same tricks by juggling a plastic bottle filled with water. The first time I met an actual flair bartender was in my college, in 2003. After that, the internet helped me know about it all.
I started bartending as a hobby, a fun thing, a new skill to learn. I began working at bars along with a close friend of mine. It was a semi-profession as we were making money and also having fun. I didn’t see it as a career initially. But work brings more work and somewhere along the way I became a career bartender. Today, I have been in my 18th year in the bar industry and I swear it has been an amazing journey.
Flair bartending doesn’t just mean handling liquor selections. It involves: maintaining inventories of various ingredients like juices and sodas fruits and ice cubes, taking care of the hygiene; making sure the stock is correct, not over pouring or under pouring; keeping the counters clean and your machinery (refrigeration, blenders etc) functional.
Next comes your soft skills. A bartender is essentially a people’s person. Hence, the showmanship and salesmanship must blend well – like in a good cocktail. How you communicate, with your guests and your team matters a lot in the din. How comfortable and welcoming you make others feel makes a difference.
And finally, comes your creativity and artistic skills on display. It is this space that one can play, experiment and create one’s own recipes, own ways of presenting and make the whole experience of serving a drink a pleasurable experience. There is more to it but I have listed the majors.
As a female bartender, it has been a mix of good and bad experiences; mostly good, rarely bad. At times, when I did private events at some farm house or a party at an isolated sort of location, one automatically sees one in a vulnerable, insecure situation (who hasn’t heard of Jessica Lal, after all?).
More commonly, you may get stared at for a bit longer than expected or in a manner that you don’t want to be stared at, especially at events where you have more men or only men. This is where you see gender oddity, a lack of comfort. Having a more gender-balanced venue sends better vibes, makes you feel safer and at your creative best.
Patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, heteropatriarchy are the most major reasons why there is a lack of women in the bar industry. Odd hours, late nights, alcohol, loud merry-making… do not jell with a sanskari woman. Incidentally, I am often referred to as a “bartender with a bindi’. To me, the bindi is just an accessory, part of your jewellery. And it is pretty.
I was once asked if I would like to advise to young women about making their career choice. And I said I don’t want to burden women with more advice than they have already got. Just try things out, girls. Be financially independent, that is most important. Pursue a career that you find fascinating, that makes you curious, makes you want to learn more about it.
Most often you will succeed in a career that you find absorbing and that you are passionate about. That is all that matters and once you choose the path, it is going to get better and better after that. We can’t change the circumstances that we are in and what might stop each person but at least you don’t be the reason that stops you.
As Told To Mamta Sharma