I met up with Kate on a quiet Sunday in the Financial District. We were both pretty tired from working the night before, so I get some caffeinated tea to wake me up a bit more and start asking her about how she got into bartending.
At 20, Kate realized that a 9-5 job wasn’t for her and quickly landed a job as a bartender in a rough, blue collar type bar in Steveston (a fisherman town in BC where she’s originally from). It was a very rough clientele, so she developed a thick skin soon after working there.
“There was a guy named Terry who was a laborer, who did very well for himself. He was part of a group of men that would come in from 3pm – 6pm and they were like 40 something year old married men that were very vulgar and rough. As you pass their tests of the few months of you serving them they would relax a bit and treat you a little bit better. Terry though was actually quite perverted, inappropriate with the young female serving staff. One day he brought a porn magazine and was reading it at the bar, and showed me an article that said “tattooed women are better in bed,” and I took the magazine away and walked to the back of the kitchen and gave it to the chef who immediately said this is inappropriate. Terry ended up screaming at me yelling to give it back and I said ‘you know you can’t bring stuff like that in here’. He then stormed into the kitchen, and I followed him and said ‘you can’t go in there’. A verbal fight kind of ensued and he started saying things like ‘you manipulate all the men, I know your tricks, I know your games’. And it just, he and I just had a lot of tension because I really didn’t like him. Anyways, the owner of the restaurant heard about it and banned him. He ended up coming to Superbowl months later and apologized to the owner and brought me flowers. I wasn’t ok with that. I still didn’t want him in here so I told the owner that as long as I worked at the bar I didn’t want him here. But as soon as I left, he was back.”
Most situations aren’t as extreme as Terry’s, but it’s pretty normal for a bartender to deal with an inappropriate comment or getting hit on at least twice a day. We start discussing how to react when there’s an inappropriate comment a guest is making.
“It’s trying to find a balance between having a thick skin, having moral boundaries, having self-worth, it’s exhausting you know? The balance between being fun and doing your job properly. A bartender is supposed to provide not only good service but good energy.”
“Do you find that you’re constantly thinking of that when you’re working?”
“What’s that process like? Could you give me an example of an interaction?”
“There’s scales, like scale systems that I play in my head. So usually I give every person, like clientele whether they’re old or new, I give them a scale system in my head. Everyone for the most part starts off like a baby being born, like everyone is at 0, which is neutral. And then I kind of make tick marks in my brain, whether they do inappropriate things or how they might just word something or look at me. Sometimes you know you can get really creepy eyes from someone, they may be very simple in their request for a drink and may not say much to you but you might get the most creepy kind of like makes your skin crawl vibe from this person. So at that point you know that you still have to serve this person, so then you start to put up [walls]. Over the years I’ve learned to have certain protective coping skills. Certain body language I’ll do.”
“I’ll usually be like quick and fast in how I might put the drink in front of them. I’ll definitely avoid standing in that vicinity of the bar whereas if I’m enjoying somebody’s company and I feel a good vibe from a certain couple of seats I might linger there more while multi tasking or doing something else. But if someone said something that made me feel uncomfortable, I might avoid that area unless I absolutely have to for service.”
It’s not all creepy men though. Being a female cocktail bartender, you can get some sexist comments every now and then. It can just be little things like ‘you’re good for a girl’! Kate recalls one time where a guest was joking about how she made a paper plane, which is a cocktail that is shaken double strained in a coupe. She says, “there’s a perfect timing and balance to how that cocktail is chilled and diluted and that has to do with the kind of shake you have and how hard and efficient you can shake as well as how you can properly move the ice in the tin. So there will often be jokes that like ‘well yours is good but he can make a better one because he’s stronger’.” Yeah, because shaking a cocktail obviously takes the strength of an Olympian medalist…
It doesn’t matter where you go, sexism is alive and well everywhere. But if you’ve been keeping up with the American election you probably already knew that.
You can find Kate shaking paper planes and probably talking about something really personal about her life at Drake One Fifty.
Photo by Warren May @_wmay @warrenmay