Women and alcohol? Horrors! Cock-tale of woe, straight-up.

Despite having, according to legend, invented the cocktail, the female bartender has had a hard road. According to a WSJ article on the history of the profession, since the 19th century there have been laws on the books prohibiting women from working behind the bar. Post-war, even more legislation went into effect, including a Michigan prohibition that four female bartenders challenged (unsuccessfully) all the way to the Supreme Court. Female bartenders didn't become legal in California until 1971 - and then only because "a topless bar called Sail'er Inn...wanted to move some dancers behind the bar to mix drinks in dishabille." Indeed, the first wave of 1970s female bartenders were considered a profitable investment but not, as the article says, due to "skills in actually making drinks."


The rationale for excluding women was a combination of cronyism and paternalism. Men wanted the jobs; others didn't want women corrupted by the atmosphere. According to my boyfriend, his grandfather wouldn't let Grandma Minnie anywhere near the saloon he ran for local steelworkers; that the one time she came in she found him fox-trotting with a "floozie" to some hot jukebox jazz may have had a little something to do with it too.

Nowadays, although male bartenders still outnumber their female counterparts, it's largely an open playing field. I queried some of beer-slinging gals I know for their take. One career bartender, Betsy, asserted that "it used to be, like in the 70s, you had two kinds: the sexy girl who got big tips, and the bitch who kept order. Now, I feel like you don't need to play to that." Everyone said there are jerks who regard female bartenders as fair game - "but the flip side of that card is big tips, however philosophically problematic. Way more than male counterparts" - and no one I talked to felt that their sex was problematic in terms of physical stuff like throwing drunks out. "Although once I called for reinforcements on a rowdy night," says on Brooklyn woman. I also wanted to hear their takes on one bartender's assertion in the article that female bartenders employ "a nurturing nature not common to men in the business." "Oh yeah," replied one. "All those tender squeezings of limes." Said Betsy, "in one of the fancy new cocktail bars? Maybe sometimes women have an attention to detail...but whatever, I have ADD, so forget the generalizations, ok? And when it comes to pulling beers, who cares?"


Women Behind Bars [Wall Street Journal]