Women Who Shake & Stir
When Ishita Manek, Arina Suchde, and Ami Shroff decided to bartend professionally, they learnt that the Indian law had concluded it to be an unsafe vocation for female folk. This didn’t stop them from jumping through a loophole though – offering their services on a contractual basis instead of being on a payroll. It has been a while since the girls have been mixing, flairing, tossing, shaking and stirring at corporate events, promotional evenings, weddings, festive occasions and such celebrations. But the initial choice to serve alcohol for a living itself came with its own drama, some that mischievously circumvented truths.
Manek was the first girl from her catering college to adopt the bartending occupation. It wasn’t really an achievement for her because her parents were anyway upset over her decision to cook in kitchens instead of being an engineer or a doctor. The switch from stove to bars in fact, left them aghast. “They couldn’t digest the fact that their clever daughter wanted to pursue a profession that isn’t just looked down upon, but also is mainly a male dominated field,” the curly haired bartender affirms while scraping from a coconut. Her friends on the other hand were overjoyed – suddenly she was paraded as that ‘cool pal’. Then the rest of the family trampled all over this feeling of elation with a disgusted expression to a proud, ‘I’m a bartender.’ “People seem to have this weird concept in their heads that if a woman serves alcohol she has loose morals and is probably willing to serve something else other than drinks.”
For mixologist Suchde, things were extremely simple in comparison. She knew her calling to the bar since childhood – all that mixing and colours used to entice her each time. While measuring her ingredients she reveals, “It was like working in a lab and conducting serious experiments. I hated science so this was the next best thing for me!” Perhaps that’s why her parents weren’t the least bit surprised when she announced she was going to bartending school. Friends reacted in a predictable fashion, offering to be her guinea pigs. But she did have one particular acquaintance wonder if she would write ‘Bar Girl’ as her profession in her matrimonial bio-data.
Coming out in the open to her parents about her skills behind the bar wasn’t as simple for Shroff though. She used to fib about it being a hostessing gig. “I knew my parents would overreact so I didn’t tell them in the beginning. A few months later they figured it out, but were initially just concerned about my safety.” As for relatives, quizzical expressions were most often ironed out with a logical explanation to ‘but what do you exactly do?’
Sure this job can border on risqué for les femmes; especially in a country where there are defining lines for what a lady should and should not do. But the perks of this position jubilantly screen out those judgemental quips. Meeting new people, working with music on full volume, dancing while serving, travelling, drinking on the job are tassels to bartending. It gets even more interesting when that dimpled smile comes back for a ‘drink two three’. Especially when the job requires multi-tasking, handling pressure and catering to varietal demands. But then again, the wrong kind of attention can work your tired nerves into a knot.
In such instances these lady bartenders assume a stern tone. “The best way is to excuse yourself tactfully and have a male colleague or bouncer step forward.” Suchde pretty much spoke for the other two ladies. Shroff takes a bow with a perfect flair and adds, “Mostly people don’t want to get kicked out so they don’t bother the bartender much.”
While the primary concern for these girls is their wellbeing, in terms of being harangued and a safe commute, it is always important to be doubly sure of the decency of the party hosts. In spite of this, situations can get slippery. Manek’s experience, though a rare one, reverberates into goose-bumps for her audience. “We were hired to bartend at an event in east India to commemorate the silver anniversary of a tea estate owner and his wife. Turns out, we were misled. He was an important figure, but one who is part of a banned separatist terrorist group! Carried away with celebrations, at one point they even started firing rounds in the air. I ducked in fear and for shelter and immediately fled the venue.”
Fortunately, the other girls’ encounters haven’t drifted into such dramatic ones. Their out of ordinary happenstances are limited to slipping on a greasy floor, breaking a bottle when flaring or dealing with odd conversations that they would rather avoid. When quizzed, they tend to lean towards good memories more often. “The first five years when my best friend and I were working most jobs together, it was a blast. Exploring new places, all the while making money, work never felt like work.” Shroff recalls.
Even when they’re not working, their mind could slip into work mode when sipping on a simple cocktail. As Suchde puts it, “Figuring out what’s in a drink comes to me naturally.” Even though friends and family understand that they’re off work, a suggestion from them is always welcomed with easy nods. Sometimes they may even offer to concoct a pitcher for a house party. “I’d be offended if they didn’t come to me first for help with the bar for their party,” Manek chirps while sampling her concoction. Frankly, bartending, even for them, is not really ‘work’ when it’s an option.
Grape juice, 20 ml; Honey, 15 ml; Ginger, 1/4 no; Skyy Vodka, 15 ml; JC le Roux sparkling wine, 180 ml.
Muddle grated ginger and beat vigorously with the vodka, honey and grape juice. Shake with lots of ice in shaker. Fine strain this mixture into a chilled champagne flute. Top it up with sparkling wine.
Lychees, 2 nos; Lychee juice, 30 ml; Coconut water, 60 ml; Skyy Vodka, 25 ml; JC le Roux sparkling wine, 90 ml; Fresh tender coconut flesh, for garnish.
Shake vodka, coconut water and lychee juice with ice. Cut thin slivers of tender coconut and place at the bottom of a wine glass. Pour the shaker contents into the glass. Top with sparkling wine.
Pomegranate, a handful; Pomegranate juice, 60 ml; Caster sugar, 2 tsp; Lemongrass, 2 stalks; Kaffir lime leaves, 5-6 nos; Lemon, 1 no; Skyy Vodka, 60 ml; Ice; JC le Roux sparkling wine to top.
Diagonally slice lemongrass stalks, and cut the lemon into four pieces. Shake lemongrass, lemon, pomegranate and torn kaffir lime leaves together. Add sugar and muddle well till pomegranate is crushed. Add pomegranate juice and vodka and shake well in shaker with ice. Double strain into a tall glass and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
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