The Sobering History of Women Bartending

Cristen: Molly, may I tell a little story?

Molly: Why, I think we would all love that, Cristen.

Cristen: Molly, I'm gonna tell you a story of a cocktail, and it's a cocktail - it's the most stereotypically female cocktail that one can order at the bar. And I sometimes avoid ordering at the bar for that very reason. Molly, do you know what I'm talking about?

Molly: I have a guess. I have a guess. I'm gonna go Cosmo.

Cristen: The Cosmopolitan. Yes. Yeah. The Cosmo, I think, we could all agree, thanks to Carrie Bradshaw and her gang, is probably the most quintessential female alcoholic drink out there.

Molly: I'm just gonna say it, girlie drink.

Cristen: It's a girlie drink. Yeah.

Molly: whether you agree with it or not, you'll see a guy order it, and you'll be like, "Oh, a girlie drink."

Cristen: Yeah. Or if you're like a woman and you order a Cosmo. It's like, oh, what a girl.

Molly: [Inaudible]

Cristen: So anyway, Molly and I tracked down the history of the Cosmo, which was apparently better known than I thought it was - but I guess I just haven't been following my cocktail news over the past decade - but the - the Cosmo was, in fact, invented by a man. Surprise. Kinda like high heels. Huh? How about that? It was invented by a New York bartender, named Toby Chuccini.

Molly: Well, he didn't really invent it so much as give it its modern form.

Cristen: Or reinvent it, really.

Molly: Apparently, according to this article we found, he gets pretty - pretty snotty when people say he invented it.

Cristen: Yeah because - well, let me - let me just tell - let me tell the story of the cocktail.

Molly: I know you - I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt.

Cristen: You ruined my story. No. I'm kidding. So Toby was working at this bar in New York in the late '80s, and he befriended a coworker named Melissa, who he called Mesa. And she was - she was pretty sweet, and she loved guitars. She even played in an all - all girl rock band. And so, Mesa and Toby would hang out at the bar, and they would get drunk together and make up fancy new drinks together. And one day, Mesa made this drink that she had while in San Francisco at this place called Life Café. And the drink was called a Cosmopolitan, and it was made with Vodka, Rose's limejuice, and grenadine. So it was bright red. It was in a martini glass, and according to Toby, it tasted awful. So Toby and Mesa were like, hey, you know what? This drink looks pretty sweet, but it tastes pretty bad. And so, they reinvented it by substituting fresh limejuice for the Rose's limejuice. And then, they used quantro to soften the citric bite, as Toby recounts, and then he added a little bit of cranberry juice to give it that little pink blush. And they shook it extra long and hard to make it all frothy and added a lemon twist for color and flourish, and hence, the Cosmopolitan as we know it was born.

Molly: Well, you left out one key ingredient.

Cristen: What?

Molly: The Absolute Vodka.

Cristen: Oh, yeah. Molly, do tell.

Molly: Well, I mean, that was just sort of the alcohol he - he had substituted to give it a little bit more taste, and I - I was just a little worried when you were gonna hand me such a low alcoholic Cosmo in the story you're telling.

Cristen: Yeah. That's right. Mine would have been the virgin Cosmo. Yeah. So - so of course, yeah, they had the - the Absolute Vodka. And that's the - the Cosmo, but pretty soon, Toby and Mesa's new concoction became this huge hit at the bar. And it got, in a - in a very New York kinda way, these - these bartenders got really annoyed because all of a sudden, it went from this kinda in-crowd thing to all of a sudden everybody and their sister wanting a Cosmo. And Toby's all like, man, I don't even know if I've ever finished a Cosmo, and I don't even like to admit that I invented the Cosmo because it just became this kind of burden for him.

Molly: Yeah. He had to shake up so many, and all it was supposed to be was like this private in-joke between him and his friend.

Cristen: And next thing you know.

Molly: I mean, I think this story you've just told us would make a perfect children's book about being careful what you wish for because you might just become a giant success.

Cristen: Yeah.

Molly: That seems to be the motto - the moral of a lot of children's stories.

Cristen: That's true. Well, Molly, I think we've got an even better story to tell that might not make a very compelling children's book; however, it's pretty fascinating, the story of women in bartending. Because the thing about it is Toby and Mesa were behind the bar. It's was a pretty egalitarian workplace it sounded like. He made a drink. She made a drink. They shared ideas and together they created this insanely popular cocktail. But you know what? It took a long time for women to get behind the bar.

Molly: That is true. Or on top of it as some female bartenders get.

Cristen: Yeah, unfortunately. So let's go back in time, as we like to do sometimes on Stuff Mom Never Told You, to the way life was way back before -

Molly: How far back you going?

Cristen: I wanna go as far back in time as possible.

Molly: How about we just settle for the late 1800s?

Cristen: Okay. All right.

Molly: I mean, I know we've gone back further in time than that, but -

Cristen: In the - in the interest of our time and our listener's times, yes, let's start with the late 1800s when I think that we would - we would normally find - the woman we would normally find working at a bar we would call a bar maid.

Molly: Yes. And you have the - kinda that stereotypical picture, I guess, maybe handed down from German bar maids, like German beer gardens.

Cristen: Rosy cheeked, large busted.

Molly: For some reason, I'm thinking of long yellow braids, but isn't that the Saint Polly girl?

Cristen: Yes.

Molly: Yeah. So we're gonna leave - we're gonna leave Europe out of it, and we'll stay in the US. Goodbye Saint Polly girl because at the end of the 1800s, there was this big crackdown on women in bars, in any establishment that served alcohol because at the t ime, as it would happen again through history, a love of alcohol and - that would - that would not be the most feminine womanly thing a person could do. And they were really concerned about the - moral upkeep of those women. They didn't want them in any place that served alcohol, so they couldn't even be sweeping the floor, which was hard because these taverns were often attached to lodging and inns. And that was a very popular thing for women to make a living in.

Cristen: Right. And - and at this time, bars were exclusively patronized by men. It wouldn't be until we have prohibition and the rise of speak easies where everybody kinda had to sneak around to get a drink that you finally had - it had become a little more socially acceptable for men and women to - to imbibe together. So we found this article in The Wall Street Journal by Eric Felton, and he notes that in 1895, there was sort of a - a rudimentary census taken. And compared to almost 56,000 men who were bartending in the US at the time - and that's in 1895; that's a lot of bartenders for back then. Wouldn't you think?

Molly: I think so.

Cristen: But out of all those men, you only have a documented 147 women working as bartenders. So it's extremely rare, and I bet for those women life was probably not so easy.

Molly: Right.

Cristen: I - I bet that they had to kinda do it - do it in secret as well.

Molly: On the down low because they were essentially breaking the law at the time. But then, we had World War I come along, and women got the chance to come in and do some of the bartending. Then, of course, the men came back and wanted their jobs back, and they got them back. Then, after World War I, we've got prohibition, and that, again, was a big, massive campaign to paint people who were drinking as loose of morals, the same thing that they had done at the end of the 19th century, where it was just really frowned upon for a woman to even be in the presence of alcohol. But the key thing, business wise, that happened around this time after prohibition ended was all the unions came in. And the male bartenders were unionized, and the waitresses got the allowance to work in places that served alcohol. But they made this key concession that they wouldn't serve the alcohol themselves, and it doesn't appear that they even wanted to. They just wanted to be able to work in places where the alcohol was served because that would probably end up more money for them.

Cristen: Right. And at around the same time, you have the unions pushing for laws such as maximum hour laws and weight lifting restrictions that would basically ensure that women would not be able to make the cut to be a bartender even if they wanted to. But like you said - and this information is coming from a book by Barbara Reskin and Patricia Rouse called Job Cues, Gender Cues that really looks at the history of sex segregation in job industries. And they note that until 1943, the hotel and restaurant employees in Bartenders International Union, which was basically like the bartender's union in the US, in their bylaws stated that bartenders' work was a, quote, cloister for the male gender. That's how closely they protected these positions. They really did not want women behind the bar. They didn't think that they could manage it. They were worried that, basically, women would somehow incite some sexual frenzy among their - their male patrons as they were drinking. And it would just ruin the entire atmosphere of these bars. Bartending was supposed to be a man's job.

Molly: And one of the quotes I loved, Cristen, I don't think it was from this specific article, but it was about how a bartender's gotta be the - the best conversationalist, gotta know when to talk, when not to talk. And the person was just like, "And - and find me a woman who's ever known that difference." Even when we think about women as being so chatty, so nurturing, probably the exact kinda ear you want when you saddle up to a bar, even that was just twisted around on them so that they could not be that - that friend at the bar.

Cristen: Now, when World War II rolls around, an interesting thing happens because a lot of times when we look at women's history, World War II is sort of the time when everything busts wide open for the first time. Women can take these jobs that were normally reserved for men while they were off fighting, and it starts to kind of build up a little bit into second wave feminism. However, it doesn't exactly happen with bartending because yes, women, especially the ones who were unionized, those waitresses who were in the bartenders union, were allowed to go and - and take the men's jobs. But when the soldiers came back and with the GI Bill especially, they - and - and with the backing of the union - they basically kicked the women out from behind the bar, gave the guys their jobs back. And not only that, but between 1948 and 1960, almost half of the states had enacted laws by that point specifically restricting women from serving alcohol.

Molly: Yeah. The only reason they let them serve during the war was so that they wouldn't have to give the spot to someone who was non-union. Now, we've gotta go to 1948, Cristen, because that's a pretty key date in the history of female bartenders. That's when the US Supreme Court heard the case of Gossert vs. Cleary. Now, at the time, as you said, there were a lot of laws on the books. One of them was that women could only work in bars if they were the wife or daughter of the bar owner.

Cristen: Uh-huh.

Molly: And the women in this case sued, saying that, "Under equal protection, I should get to work and own this bar as well." And they were shot down by the - by the Supreme Court. There are some choice quotes from one Justice Frankfurter, who basically found that women didn't really have much of a right in this. And even though he knew that this was being fought by the unions so that they could retain all their business, he kinda was cheeky and was like, "There's no evidence that this is just a union thing to keep the men in business." So it was - it's kinda funny to read some of the quotes from this - this case.

Cristen: Yeah. He took it sort of as a - as a joke, like why would - why would they even try to challenge this? He says, quote, Michigan could beyond question forbid all women from working behind a bar. This is so despite the vast changes in the social and legal position of women. He doesn't even care. He was like no.

Molly: No, I don't think so.

Cristen: No, ladies, this is not - go home.

Molly: Now, in 1964, we still have all those laws in place, but that's when we have Title VII.

Cristen: The ole Civil Rights Act.

Molly: Now, Cristen, you've gotta tell me how the Civil Rights Act affects these female bartenders.

Cristen: All right. Molly, I'm about to blow some minds because when I read this, my mind was blown. And this also comes from Reskin and Rouse's Job Cues, Gender Cues. And they concluded that, quote, the most dramatic effect of Title VII on women's access to male jobs occurred in bartending. Bartending.

Molly: Yeah.

Cristen: You know, a lot of times when we talk about equal rights in the workplace and women breaking through the glass ceiling, a lot of times we like to talk about CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and sort of that higher level corporate stuff. But the thing is, we need to pay attention to these service industry jobs because did you - did you realize that with bartending? Did you ever think of bartending as the - the field in which women made the most dramatic progress?

Molly: I did not. And you know, by the end of the '80s, just 25 years or so after that act passes, bartending jobs are split 50/50 between men and women.

Cristen: Uh-huh.

Molly: And it's hard to think of another job where the split is so even.

Cristen: Well, actually, today, as of 2004, according to Bureau of Labor statistics, women actually hold more bartending jobs in the US than men. Now, the thing about service industry is, of course, it appeals to more women than men because typically women need more flexible hours. They need the more part-time options like that because of, as we've talked about many times on here, women have more responsibilities such as motherhood and caretaking and things like that. So being able to work in - in the service industry is pretty important for women, but even though Title VII passed in 1964, up until 1971 we still have a law in California preventing women from being able to pour liquor.

Molly: Right. And actually, there was a case in California that involved a topless bar, and that's when sort of the - the flood gates opened when the Supreme Court struck down the - the clause, that law you're talking about, in terms of a topless bar, which I think provides us a really nice segue, Cristen. We've just sort of told the - what I think is a pretty uplifting story of women making equal strides into a profession, but then again, some of them are bartending in topless bars and have to somehow, let's just say, look sexy for their role. I mean, I was in a bar last week. All the bartenders were female. All of them were wearing very scanty halter-tops.

Cristen: Yeah.

Molly: So I think that even though women have made great strides in this particular career path, I'm thinking that one of the reasons we don't think of t hem in terms of great achievements in women's history is because so many of them become over feminine, perhaps overly sexualized in order to do their jobs.

Cristen: Yeah. Sort of the two steps forward, one step back, like one point that some of our research made was that in the '80s, one of the reasons why women bartending really started to take off was because the Holiday Inn hotel chain, for instance, pretty quickly discovered that if they put an attractive woman behind the bar, hey, what do you know, all of a sudden bar revenues pick up.

Molly: Uh-huh. And found one paper that considered the case of one Darlene Jesperson who worked at Hara's Casino as a bartender, and she had worked her way up to become a bartender. And this paper discussed the fact that between a bartender in a casino and a cocktail waitress in a casino, there's this huge hierarchy. One means one thing in terms of knowledge and experience, and - and one means another thing. And so, Hara's came in and said all our female employees, be them cocktail waitresses or bartenders, are gonna have this very certain look. And the look was a lot of makeup.

Cristen: Uh-huh.

Molly: And this really infuriated Jesperson because she was like I worked so hard to be equal with guys, and now, they're gonna paint my face and put me on par with cocktail waitresses. And I'm sure her experience is not unique. Perhaps the way she fought back is unique, but I think that when you think of a female bartender, you do think of that very heavily made up scanty top sort of - sort of appearance.

Cristen: And I think it's worth noting, too, that this casino in question, not surprisingly, is in Reno, where kind of that idea of the - the showgirl, the cocktail waitress, the over sexualized bartender is pretty much par for the course there. But the - the - the women who wrote this paper for the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy made a really interesting point that, in a sense, the female bartenders' faces were comodified and sold to customers as part of the Hara's branded service exchange. And that's - that's not very good cocktail talk, the comodofication of women's faces, but there is a point. We were talking about this before we started recording the podcast, sort of feeling like are we - are we bad feminists or bad women in our sisterhood if we kind of do look down a little bit on women bartenders who are wearing maybe lower cut dresses or lower cut shirts and - and kind of sexing themselves up to get more tips? Or is it just part of the game? Are they just gaming the system?

Molly: Well, that takes us really nicely to this paper by Julia Kusimaku and Laura Treader, and I'm sure I butchered that first name. But it was an interview with two separate bartenders about this very subject, about how they felt in working in what is pretty - pretty fair to say it's a highly sexualized environment.

Cristen: Sure.

Molly: People go to bars to meet other people.

Cristen: They're meat markets.

Molly: They're meat markets.

Cristen: Let's face it - let's face it.

Molly: And like you said, it's part of their game that if you flirt a little, do you get a bigger tip? If you wear one top and not another, do you get a bigger tip? And they were asking these women how they felt about it? And one woman they interviewed was 21, just starting out, but she saw herself in this field long-term. And one woman owned the bar and had been in it for - for several years, was 29. And both of them said the fact that you're putting yourself on display, that you are putting up with what would be in any other environment sexual harassment doesn't bother them. But they did point out that they were not able to maintain long term relationships, probably because of the hours, but the authors of the paper hinted at the fact that it might be because they do have such a sexualized profession that values that cheap contact and that very flashy appearance.

Cristen: But here's the thing, though. Individual cases are gonna change. Obviously, if you're working at the local dive bar, you're not gonna be making as much as a high end bar in, say, New York. But overall, women are not getting back what they are putting out, if you will. Because even though we've made all of these strides and even though there are more women bartending in the US than there are men, there is still almost the exact same wage gap between women and men bartenders as there is across the board in the US. As of 2004, at least, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women bartenders made 80 cents for every dollar that male bartenders made.

Molly: Yeah.

Cristen: Now, that might have to do with the fact that there are more, maybe, bar - male bar owners or bar managers than there are females, so I - I don't know. Maybe that has - maybe that has something to do with it, but for some reason, when I read that, it just infuriated me because it's like, okay, all right, I - I get the wage gap on the corporate level. Because women, A, don't do a good enough job of negotiating their salaries from the get go, and, B, businesses will pay men more just flat out. But this is the service industry and we have influence over this. We're tipping these people. How is this happening, Molly? Can we - you know?

Molly: Well, I think that we probably touched on that very sense of discomfort that maybe a woman has going into a bar. And if she is served by someone who is wearing a low cut top - you would think that wearing a low cut top would get you a bigger tip from someone who's attracted to that sort of thing, but maybe if you're someone like us who's kind of grappling with is it more powerful to have this job that's very equal with males or is it more powerful to have all your clothes on? I mean, maybe - maybe we have that sort of feminist subconscious acting - I mean, I'm not saying I'm badly tipping people who are wearing low cut shirts, but I wonder if that's part of the issue is just your level of comfort with a female bartender, male or female.Cristen: Yeah. I think that they are kind of gaming the system. They are having to sort of do what they wanna do. Is it probably fun to have to wear a halter-top all night and pour drinks for tips? No. I'm sure it's very - it's very demanding work and it's very physically demanding work, and not to mention that you have to deal with drunk people for eight hours. But I think that maybe - maybe our whole takeaway from all this is that maybe it's time, especially as women, for us to look at women bartenders in a different light.

Molly: Well, and I think it's really funny that you said that it might not be fun or that it might be really demanding because I just wanna throw out one thing here at the end, and that's the bar coyote ugly.

Cristen: Oh, coyote ugly, yes.

Molly: From the film of the same name is based on this bar, and the movie kind of loosely based on this article for GQ, written by Elizabeth Gilbert, who went on to write, Eat, Pray, Love. She spent a little time bartending in Coyote Ugly, and she - I was reading the article this morning, and she makes wearing no clothes and dancing on bars and doing shots with your customers sound really empowering.

Cristen: I could see that.

Molly: If you are in charge of all of that - if you're in charge of a room, how could you - how could you have any more power? You're in charge of a room.

Cristen: Well, it's interesting, Molly, that you bring up this - this issue of kind of empowerment and authority. Because there was a - a paper that we ran across by Richard Osaho, called Women Bartenders and the Construction of Boundaries, where he really makes the point that, yeah, bartenders, in a way, are your - your confidants, and they're also sort of sexual objects, to some degree, and they are also entertainers, therapists, mothers, etc. But by and large, a really good bartender, male or female - but since we're talking about women, a really good woman bartender has a ton of authority over a room full of men and women. She basically has to sort of open herself up enough to be a friend, but never cross that boundary line to where she loses any type of authority, because yeah, things can get kinda wild when you have a group of people drinking whisky for five hours.

Molly: Yep. Is that what you normally do when you go to a bar, drink whisky for five hours?

Cristen: Straight whisky for five hours. Come join me, people.

Molly: Well, the next time you're in a bar, hopefully, we've given you some - some food for thought, because after all this drinking, you better get some food in you.

Cristen: Yeah. Let's not forget. It was a hard won battle for us to get behind the bar.

Molly: Uh-huh.

Cristen: Yeah. It's not the boardroom. Yes, we're talking about the bar, okay?

Molly: But not everyone wants to be in a boardroom, so that's why we gotta open it up to our listeners and see what they think about it.

Cristen: Exactly, Molly. So let's do that. Let's hear from you guys. It's is our email. Send us your thoughts. And Molly, I think that this would be a great time to read some emails.

Molly: Okay. First up, I have an email from Monica. This is about the children's literature podcast, and it's kind of a reprimand, Cristen. She writes, "You both profess to have loved Ramona Quimby, but why don't you know the characters' names? Every time you said Henry Higgins, I cringed. It's Henry Huggins."

Cristen: Oh.

Molly: I think that was a My Fair Lady moment because -

Cristen: Henry Higgins, that's right, the professor in My Fair Lady.

Molly: I also love My Fair Lady. She writes, "I am very particular about my children - childhood books, and as your elder by not that many years, I feel the need to politely scold you. Anyway, I love the podcast," so thank you, Monica, for forgiving that oversight from us.

Cristen: All right. Well, I've got an email here from Drew. And it is about driving. He said, "I've been a gear - gear head since long before I could drive. Consequently, I read a lot of driver related articles. I have come to believe that almost all, quote, good driving, studies try to answer the wrong question. When people say that one person is a better driver than another, they don't mean a safer or more careful driver. Instead, they are thinking of someone who is skilled at navigating through traffic, parking in tight spots, finding destinations, and who has good situational awareness. But all the studies on the subject seem to focus only on safety and risk. I've never heard anyone called a bad driver for wrapping a sports around a tree at 100 miles per hour. These people are called reckless. On the other hand, plenty of people are called bad drivers because they can't maneuver into a parking space and because they are constantly lost. I would love to find a study that addresses the idea of good driving rather than safe driving, although, I suspect the results would be just as vague when it comes to comparing the sexes." Thank you, Drew.

Molly: Very interesting thoughts. So if you guys have any thoughts on anything we talk about, or things we don't talk about and that we should, give us an email, You can follow us during the week at Twitter at Mom Stuff Podcast, and on Facebook at Stuff Mom Never Told You. And you can read our blog of the same name at For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit Want more howstuffworks? Check out our blogs on the homepage.