- Though bartending used to be considered a “seedy” profession because of its association to alcohol, the job holds more prestige today.
- Here’s a look at how bartending has changed in the last 150 years, including during Prohibition era and World War II.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Ocasio-Cortez disagreed. The politician said working at a bar allowed her to talk to thousands of people she wouldn’t have met otherwise. The harassment and entitlement she experienced from her patrons prepared her for navigating the same dynamics in government, she argued.
“I’m proud to be a bartender – ain’t nothing wrong with that,” she told a crowd at the NAN Conference in New York City. “There is nothing wrong with being a working person in the United States of America, and there is everything dignified about it.”
While AOC may have shined new light to the bartending profession, the industry has experienced significant changes throughout American history. What was once considered a seedy profession due to its association with alcohol, the job now opens doors for men and women nationwide.
Here’s a look at how being a bartender has changed in the last 150 years.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, bars went from being seedy spots hidden in alleyways to popular gathering spots. Bartenders began dressing up to work and following set recipes.
Source: Alcohol Professor
Jerry Thomas published the country’s first cocktail book, “The Bon Vivant’s Companion,” in 1862.
Thomas worked in the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, and nicknamed himself the “the Jupiter Olympus of the bar.”
Source: The New York Times
Black bartenders, prohibited from going into white saloons, founded the exclusive “Coloured Mixologists Club” in 1898.
Black bartending in white saloons remained uncommon. In 1893, a black waiter was promoted to bartender at the Atlas Hotel in Cincinnati. The decision caused fury among the bar’s white clientele, who boycotted the hotel. Louis Deck, the black waiter, was eventually fired and the hotel shut down.
Women, meanwhile, barely worked as bartenders. A rudimentary census in 1895 found just 147 women working as bartenders, compared to nearly 56,000 men.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
In 1919, the Volstead Act prohibited alcohol across the country, which had a damning effect on cocktail culture. Most bartenders changed professions or moved to other countries.
Source: Food Republic
Job opportunities for bartenders became so scarce during Prohibition that thousands of bartenders fled to Cuba.
Americans inhabited many of the 7,000 Cuban bars, according to Difford’s Guide. The amount of Americans emigrating to Cuba rose from 33,000 in 1914 to 90,000 in 1928.
Many Cuban bartenders grew frustrated at the Americanization of Havana’s night scene, and formed the Cantineros Club to reclaim their institutions.
Source: Difford’s Guide
Even after the appeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, the craft-cocktail movement languished.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine
After men headed overseas to fight in World War II, women picked up shifts. Women worked these shifts in part because they were the only jobs available to them at the time.
Source: Tales of the Cocktail
In the late ’40s, however, women lost their jobs after men came back from the war. Some states passed laws barring women from the profession altogether.
“Some of that is really just about men wanting to be able to take their jobs back, but some of it is anxiety over the breakdown of the family and women becoming too masculine and losing their values,” Christine Sismondo in her book “America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.”
Source: Tales of the Cocktail
In the 1980s, bartenders, led by “King Cocktail” Dale Degroff, began a revolution to bring back American pubs.
Degroff began mixing “historically inspired” cocktails at the Rainbow Room in New York City, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The Rainbow Room’s guests included Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney.
The bartender says before the 80s, bartenders would use soda guns and packages of sour mix to make drinks. His work helped restore “proper, thoughtfully classic drinks” to American bars.
Degroff has since won two James Beard awards and founded The Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans.
While California still had a law barring women from pouring alcohol in 1971, the mid-1970s saw an increase in the number of women behind the bar.
The Wall Street Journal suspects the change occurred after a Holiday Inn chain discovered bar revenues went up when women did the mixing.
The Wall Street Journal
Today, bartending usually requires some kind of training, and you must work your way up before you can be employed at prestigious bars.
Many bartenders teach themselves to mix drinks, or learn on the job. Aspiring bartenders have the option of going to bartending school to obtain a state-issued licence, but few states require certification and drink standards vary from bar to bar.
The best way to become a bartender is through experience. Bartender Kenji Magrann-Wells previously told Business Insider that new bartenders must get experience before getting into large venues. Many bartenders start as waiters or bartending assistants before getting a gig themselves.
“Experience is key, especially when going for the giant mega-clubs where the atmosphere is tense and the payout is ridiculous,” Magrann-Well said. “So take the jobs where you can get them.”
Bartenders across the country earn an average of $US8 an hour, according to PayScale, but the gig has also the fastest rate of wage growth this year.
Racial inequality also exists in the role. African-American and Hispanic bartenders are frequently pushed to lower-paying, less visible roles, according to nonprofit Tales of the Cocktail Foundation.
Sources: Tales of the Cocktail Foundation
While women hold more bartending jobs in the US than men as of 2004, gender discrimination still occurs in the form of sexualizing the role. Many female bartenders must wear makeup and risqué clothing, especially to earn more tips.
Stuff Mum Never Told You
Several other misconceptions about the profession exist today. For instance, bartending is not a “dead-end job” — in fact, it can open doors in the hospitality industry and beyond.
Many bartenders go on to become a general manager or open their own restaurant after working for a number of years, Justine Lechner, bartender at New Amsterdam in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania told INSIDER.
“I make more money in less time than most college graduates, and [I have] needed years of training to become great at my work,” Lechner said.
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