Social attitudes. Family pressures. Late-night work hours. And of course the occasional chaos at ‘work place’. Women bartenders have taken them all in their stride for the sheer love of mixing and are happily experimenting in a field that is relatively young and dominated by men. Meet four Mumbai-based women who shake and stir brilliant concoctions for their guests. They tell Shilpa Agarwal their work isn’t really work since they are having so much fun!
Shatbhi Basu (53)
Shatbhi Basu trail-blazed as an Indian woman bartender 35 years ago, when bartending was unheard of among not just women but men too. Inability to be a Chinese chef and curiosity about this industry led her to pursue this career. This 53-year-old plays multiple roles — author of a book on mixology, a television show host and head of STIR, a professional bartending institute. “A passionate bartender, like a chef, doesn’t cook from a recipe but from a deep understanding of the ingredients and how they interact with one another. A bartender too should understand the nuances of everything he or she uses, and be able to fine tune a recipe until it can elicit a wow.”
In her opinion, skewed perceptions and family pressures are the main reasons why women are not lining up for bartending. As for their safety, she says, “Women today go to a bar to drink, which can be deemed potentially more risky, since bartenders are safer with a bar counter separating them from customers. Plus, there are always security personnel and protective colleagues. And, what about late hours? “We have late hours, but then so do women working in many other jobs — even doctors.”
She adds, “I look upon untried careers such as bartending for women as an opportunity to shine and change perceptions that arise out of cultural blocks and lack of insight. You have to be exceptionally strong or come from an evolved family and be immune to pressures, if any.”
And the recipe for success in this field? “Give it a 100 per cent and reinvent yourself all the time.”
Ishita Manek (27)
While Ishita didn’t nurture a childhood dream to delve into bartending, she did do a three-year course in mixology when it caught her fancy. She faced some backlash from her family initially, though. “I look back and see how many hurdles I have crossed, and I now find the confidence to do anything. It helped me evolve into a really strong woman. I wish women are free to choose any profession of their liking.” She freelances for corporate, birthday, cocktail, bachelorette and wedding-related parties, and special promotion nights for nightclubs, lounges etc. She reasons out why women are gaining popularity in this field. “Being good listeners and possessing an ability to gauge preferences of people well, women tend to build a good rapport with the guests at the bar. Women guests are at ease with us too. As for safety, it can be ensured by getting our employer to arrange a drop home.” Her unconventional job gives her memorable experiences too. “One was a pre-wedding cocktail party with a huge set-up on a ferry in the middle of the river in Kolkata with screaming crowds. Another was in Bangladesh where the clients also arranged for me to travel within Bangladesh at their expense.”
Ami Shroff (28)
Ami Shroff was in the city recently for a concert after-party. “People here are really appreciative of us; they look at us in surprise, which won’t be the case in Mumbai or Delhi where it is a more common sight.” Of late, women have been more in demand than their male counterparts. “For the same reason that airhostesses and women are preferred for welcoming guests be it on a flight or at a hotel — women are sensitive to people’s needs and hospitable,” she says.
But why isn’t this a common career option for women even now? “We are expected to be in a regular job. Marriage could be one of the reasons. I don’t think safety is the reason because there’s chaos around you only occasionally and you learn to handle it yourself.” Known for her flair in bartending tricks where she juggles bottles, she also loves to concoct drinks suiting the Indian palate. “I eventually want to start my own bar. For now, I am enjoying the exciting avenues that bartending provides me. There is scope for creativity, travel, fun and good pay. All that free time opens up a lot of other doors for me to explore.”
Arina Suchde (27)
Arina Suchde had a drama-free entry into mixology with an encouraging family that treated this line like just any other job. She conducts workshops for hotels, corporates and the public too. Since it’s not a desk job, she gets to work on her terms and meet interesting people during her travels. “They are fun, interactive workshops that act as an employee engagement and team-building exercise and learning.” Having taught at both bigger and smaller cities, she says smaller cities are a little surprised to see a woman in this profession. “People are slowly more supportive and accepting, so a lot more girls are interested now in bartending. The opportunities are immense — from bartender to bar manager, corporate bar manager, trainer etc. Also, media awareness does help facilitate this.” The biggest challenge in the industry be it for men or women is communication skills, as a lot of bartenders are not good with engaging the guests, she says. She dreams of having her own food and alcohol show on television.