Over Gendered Assumptions at Bars?
In a city of nearly four million people, 58 to 75 percent of LA’s population is legally allowed to drink alcohol.1 Half of that population consists of women, so one would assume that bar owners would make their establishments welcoming to them.2 However, from my experience as a regular bar attendant, that is unfortunately not the case.
As the Bitters Specialist at Infuse Spirits, I favor spirit-forward drinks and bitter tasting notes. If I am not one of my regular spots, it is not out of the norm for male bartenders to question my order, asking, “That’s a strong/ spirit-forward/bitter/smoky drink. Are you sure?”
Sometimes they will even switch my boyfriend’s sweet and bright drink with mine. So even with nearly 3,600 bars in the greater Los Angeles area,3 I can attest to how hard it is to find womxn-friendly spaces. Thankfully, in this hyper-bright-and-refreshing-cocktail-program city, there are many gems (or places with the bare minimum of decency) where bartenders do not make gendered assumptions of their female patrons. Below are a few establishments that create such inclusive environments for women.
The Women-Owned Dive Bar: The Mermaid
The Mermaid is Arelene Roldan’s and Katie Kildow’s female-owned and female-fronted bar committed to carrying womxn-owned or -helmed spirits brands. It hosts: #WCW Cocktail Party, guest bartending spots that feature prominent industry women; Talk Tales, a comedic industry podcast co-hosted by Shana Race and produced by Allison Bryant; and Women Who Whiskey events. Additionally, the Mermaid’s menu includes a charity cocktail—$2 from a Cocktail-for-a-Cause order will go towards a womxn-centric organization. Past beneficiaries have included the Downtown Women’s Center, the Foundation for Women Warriors, and Little Tokyo Service Center’s transitional housing program for domestic abuse victims.
So while you’re listening to one of the industry’s most prominent representatives or a hilarious lady waxing poetic about one of the reps, a female bartender can make you a cocktail which proceeds will go towards supporting women’s rights, making this dive an ideal after-work getaway.
Address: 428 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
The Women-Owned Gin Cocktail Bar: Genever
Genever is a Filipina-owned and -operated bar. The three owners—Christine Sumiller, Roselma Samala, and Patricia Perez—“encountered all kinds of mansplaining as they built out Genever and bought supplies for the cocktail bar. They were spoken to with disdain ‘even through the permitting process’ and when they were ‘negotiating almost anything.’”4 But they did not let those incidences affect them for the worse. Since Genever’s opening, the womxn and have run the bar in their own terms, straying from classic cocktails and incorporating Filipino flavors—like pandan, ube, adobo, datu puti—along with lead bartender Kellie Norris.
Address: 3123 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90057
The Agave Cocktail Bar: Mezcalero
Mezcalero is not women-owned or -directed, but after Gaby Mlynarczyk’s departure from Los Angeles, Beverage Director Nathan McCullough takes the helm as the city’s most creative recipe developer with cocktails that include huitlacoche, chapulines, burnt tortilla chips, and cheese washes. However, as knowledgeable as Nathan is, his modesty is greater, and he is never one to put anyone down when they ask him a question.
Not surprisingly then, Nathan will offer a women a job on-the-spot if she is eager to learn (I know this from first-hand experience)5. As his staff grows, the greater percentage of womxn does as well. Since my first visit in the fall of 2018, I have noticed the hiring of a female bar back,6 bartender, and social media manager.
Additionally, like the Mermaid, the bar offers a rotating charity cocktail. When you get the Cocktail of the Month, a dollar from your order goes toward a charity, like a legal organization that provides pro bono representation to detained children.
Address: 510 S. Broadway St., Los Angeles, CA 90013
The Club: The Spirit Guide Society
The Spirit Guide Society hosts weekly public tastings for whiskey, rum and mezcal enthusiasts in the Historic Core of DTLA. And while there are usually more men in attendance than womxn, co-curator Stephanie Aguilar and host Pedro Shanahan ensure that the Society offers a safe space for all to learn about the spirits that they love. A womxn is never assumed to be a novice, but novices are welcomed and never made to feel inferior.
Whiskey Society: Monday nights at Seven Grand (515 W 7th St. #200, Los Angeles, CA 90014)
Rum Society: Tuesday nights at Caña Rum Bar (714 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015)
Mezcal Society: Wednesday nights at Las Perlas (107 E. 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014)
The Womxn-Owned Wine Shop: Vinovore
This list has primarily focused on spirits and cocktails because wine bars in LA, like High Tide and Melody, tend to target female patrons. However, as many womxn-owned wine shops there are, nobody is doing what Vinovore does—exclusively selling products made by female winemakers. Also, with Ms. Readmore, a dedicated section of the store featuring books written by female authors, a customer can learn about herstory, while drinking delicious wine.
Address: 616 N. Hoover St., Los Angeles, California 90004
1U.S. Census Bureau (2017). American Community Survey 1-year estimates. Retrieved from Census Reporter Profile page for Los Angeles, CA.
3Yelp. Bars in Los Angeles. Retrieved 1 June 2019
4Andy Wang. Genever Is L.A.’s Glistening Filipina-Owned Gin Joint. Food & Wine. 25 April 2018 .
5Although I was offered the job, I did not accept it because I recently started my current position as Infuse Spirits’ Bitters Specialist.
6The hiring of female bar backs is not rare, but not an industry preference. While I was in law school, I intentionally applied to work as one at a wine bar, but was turned into a host instead.
Jez Nguyen has a Feminist Studies B.A. from U.C. Santa Cruz and is an Illinois-barred attorney. She currently works at Infuse Spirits as its Bitters Specialist, heading bitters and cocktail recipe development, as well as handcrafting every single-bottle infusion herself. As a hustler, she enjoys her weekends in sunny Los Angeles.