Free Press Journal

These women are raising the bar, quite literally


Bartending is a niche career option generally, and specifically for women it becomes an extraordinary choice. Tapapriya Lahiri talks to several ladies who are serving alcohol with grace and delight

A visit to any pub almost always leaves us admiring those acrobats behind the bar mixing spirits with fun; so much so that we wish to acquire those skills. But in Indian educational system bartending is still in a nascent stage and a far cry to become a mainstream career option. However, some enthusiasts – especially womenfolk – who are inclined to uplift the nightlife mood by creative concoctions have taken up the challenge by breaking the stereotypes.

To get through the hospitality industry and securing a prominent position, studying hotel management was the only certified program. But in the recent past, working as a chef in an institutional kitchen is not driving the enthusiasts to join the hospitality bandwagon alone. Instead, aspirants are searching for some niche stream of programs to make their career more impressive. In this light, bartending or mixology is gaining momentum and encouraging people to opt it to play with their creative instincts.

Managing a live bar, showcasing mixology skills and preparing signature drinks with your own label is something that ignites the environ and makes the bar livelier. Possessing a flair for mixology is an art, as culinary skills determines expertise for chefs. Now, bartending is not only restricted in making a cocktail and standing behind the bar, it involves intricate interactivities to know the drinking preferences of your patrons, likes and dislikes. Hereby, all the newbie mixologists need to go through a dedicated training program to understand the nitty-gritty of the new-age drinking and preference patterns.

Exciting career

Being a veteran in bartending, Shatbhi Basu says, “I find mixology a strange mix of science, art, history and geography. Each of these elements allows one to understand heritage, nuances of flavour and individuality, and, then create a brilliant concoction, combining knowledge and skill. A great mixologist puts thought into everything and that’s the reason one creates drinks that tipplers enjoy and applaud.  A right mix exhilarates the maker and the drinker!

In a candid chat, Basu shares, “I started STIR, Academy of Bartending in 1999 to fill the vacuum existed to impart professional training focussed on the skills of bartending. It did not exist when I wanted to specialise in 1981. From 1997-99, I ran an annual seminar and competition on bartending to see if there was need for such an institute. The overwhelming response assured me that I was on the right path and thus began my teaching journey.” It will not be out of place to mention that, Basu, known as India’s first woman bartender, started her career in the 80s and took the challenge to secure a niche yet dominant position among the all-boys domain. Besides, she became a torchbearer for younger aspirants too.

She also adds, “A qualified bartender with proper education in all areas of bartending, can develop intricacies from history and heritage, the art and science of distillation techniques, skills of mixology, showmanship, flair and the power of communication. The idea was to give back what I had taught myself over the years and from the experience of everyday bartending.”Following the footsteps of Basu, few bartending schools have mushroomed in various parts of India, to impart right education for right mixing.

Women are mixing it right

In Indian mixology scene, some handful of women are equally rubbing shoulders with their male counterparts. And, they are receiving awe-inspiring responses from their patrons and started securing quite a few accolades in their bouquet. Dhanashree Punekar developed her flair for mixology and chose to become a bartender and similarly ditched her jaw-dropping career of chef. While talking on her mixology journey, she says, “I studied Hotel Management, but over the period of time, preparing assorted dishes inside the kitchen was not my cup of tea. I like to interact with my patrons, like to know their gastronomic and drinking preferences and offer them the way they want. And bartending is an exciting career option to grow and know which involves lots of interactivities.”

Dhanashree also adds, “Despite hiccups in our society, I enjoy being a professional woman bartender. I feel, women working as a bartender are safer, than the women who come to party at a pub. Preparing drinks, showcasing the art of mixology at a bar counter is a secured job. There is no one to encounter you, while you’re at work.”

Reetika Rai, hailing from Darjeeling, presently working with Sheraton Hyderabad as an Assistant Restaurant Manager, says, “I had the passion of mixing and knowledge of drinks since I got enrolled in the Hotel Management course. I found working inside the kitchen boring, and to make my career interesting I learnt the art bar management while working with The Oberoi Grand in Kolkata.” Rai believes women can manage a bar seamlessly. “Apart from serving classic cocktails like Bloody Mary and Cosmopolitan, I am always passionate about creating my own signature mixology. I have introduced some exotic Asian cocktails which will go well with Asian comfort food.  Earlier in my Kolkata days, I won a competition of bartending for my own creation named, Oriental Blossom,” she informs.

Drinker’s dynamics

The dynamics of new-age drinking is not similar of what it was earlier. In the bar management of any decent and star rated hotels, drinker’s preferences are given importance. And similarly, mixologists want to create something special by blending the choices of their patrons. Sudeshna Sen, who visits various pubs while touring in India, says, “When I visited Novotel, Kolkata, I met Reetika Rai and I was quite impressed the way she makes creative concoctions after communicating with the patrons. Leaving classic cocktails behind, I choose to sip a signature drink which is a custom-made drink as per my preference.”