Melbourne’s nightlife scene is filled with many treasures, suitable for a night out of any sort. Whether it’s an intimate date shared over some classic cocktails, an early morning session spent trading dance moves with some perfect strangers, or a friendly gathering involving the ultimate combination of food and drink, our city has a lot to offer.
But like our cafe scene, we’ve noticed that all the boys are gaining attention for their bartending efforts. What of the creative ladies that work late nights and demanding hours, to mix cocktails for our enjoyment?
Before service, we caught up with a few leading ladies to chat about finding success in what is traditionally known as one big boy’s club.
The Everleigh, Fitzroy – Heather Garland
In its short existence, The Everleigh has been graced with numerous awards, earning a formidable reputation that the bar is more than deserving of. Like it’s older New York sibling- Milk & Honey, this Fitzroy bar offers world-class beverages, allowing for an exciting and educative drinking experience suitable for any interested customer.
But it’s the professional service, incomparable care and attention to detail that stands out above the rest – meet Heather Garland: accomplished bartender, and front woman of this refined establishment.
After over a decade in bartending, Garland has worked hard to earn her stripes. “Sometimes we [women] get a little outnumbered in this industry, but if anything, that should just make us step up and prove that we can shake it with the boys,” she explains.
Because of the physical nature and demanding hours of the job, she enjoys matching her male colleagues grueling work ethic.
“People are actually pretty impressed to see a girl tackling certain jobs and keeping up with the guys,” Garland says.
And like any competitive occupation, Garland makes it clear that there is no substitute for persistence and pragmatism.
“If you want respect as a bartender, you can’t be asking the boys for help every time you need to change a keg or reach the top shelf. I have always made a point of pulling my weight and not letting the guys treat me differently. I get my hands dirty, do my share of the heavy lifting and I cut my own ice every day before I work the bar”.
However, it’s the creative side that mostly intrigues her, and by speaking to customers and actually taking note of their interests and personality, she believes that she can find the right cocktail for even the most discerning client.
“There is a classic cocktail to match even the most unusual palate, it’s just a matter of finding it. There is nothing better than getting it right and winning over a customer,” she explains.
Spice Market, CBD – Claire Wong
From the corporate crowd seeking an after work drink to a flock of weekend party animals, Spice Market is a location where many might find themselves in the middle of a late night adventure.
Booming with personality, this busy CBD venue is a large-scale cocktail bar that is decked out with an exotic Middle Eastern inspired interior, meaning the cocktail list here is fittingly extensive and appropriately decadent.
As assistant venue manager, Claire Wong is a lively and well-spoken individual who has a few intriguing war stories up her sleeve. She believes that the industry wouldn’t be where it is without the ladies that occupy demanding positions.
“I think it takes a certain type of lady to work in bartending, they need to be confident and strong. But the fact that there are more gentlemen bartenders doesn’t necessarily turn our industry into a boys club, it just makes it increasingly rewarding when we come out on top!” she says.
Based on her experience in the field, Wong suggests that having a lady behind the bar adds a new dimension to the scene, “Ladies possess a certain attitude, style of creativity, and of course, prettier faces that customers love,” she says.
And for the love of bartending, she shows up to work each night for the mere fact that “you will never stop learning on the job. It’s the different people you meet everyday and the amazing members of your team that make it worthwhile”.
But when it comes to working amongst a group that is dominated by males, Wong sees it as a positive form of inspiration. “There are always areas to better myself in and seeing that the boys are doing so well, helps push me to better myself. I strive to be as good as them, and all the other lady-tenders out there should too.”
Kodiak Club, Fitzroy – Alix Nardella
Amidst the recent boom in American inspired diners, dive bars and burger joints within our city, the Kodiak Club has been plying its trade for the last couple of years, serving up buffalo wings and bourbon to keep any old belly satisfied.
Situated on Brunswick Street, this charming venue is home to Alix Nardella, whom started bartending to fund an overseas trip and arrived home to realise that she had fallen for the industry. Unable to work in any other field, it’s the social environment of the job that Nardella thrives within.
“Inspiration comes from the customer themselves. I really enjoy the creative side of bartending and after a few simple questions, you can easily find out what the customer will enjoy, allowing you to work with your own imagination.”
Working in a male oriented field, Nardella has felt that she has never had to prove anything as a female. With an open attitude, she says “everybody can learn something from anybody, whether it be from someone working their first day behind a bar or from a veteran of ten years!”
So what has really kept her around for so long?
“Every person I know in bartending is supportive and encourages everyone else. That is what I love about it.”
After these conversations, we realised that there isn’t a large discrepancy between the ratio of men and women in the industry, or any outdated concern with how women are treated by customers. What should be noted however, is that working in such a grueling occupation demands physical and mental strength, along with a large helping of personal creativity and knowledge via constant research and a passion that allows for efficient execution whilst providing attentive and intelligent customer service.
Our lady-tenders may not be winning all the national or international bartending awards, but they aren’t so far behind the gentlemen that are.
We would like to applaud all the girls who lift and change our kegs, keep us company when we’re alone at the bar and possess the ability to mix drinks, which cater to our personal tastes, just by listening. Where would we be without our talented lady-tenders?