Bars today are no longer the domain of just men, and have, thankfully, moved to change with the times. The story behind the bar table, however, is still a work in progress. The bartending industry is still predominantly male-centric, although a few women have managed to get a seat on the table. For the queer community, the number is even less.
Fay Antoin Barretto, in his over a decade-long career as a bartender, has not been oblivious to this reality. As a trans man, Barretto was perturbed by the industry&rsquos long-standing preference of employing only men. While he had yearned to make a difference for a long time, it was during the pandemic that he finally came up with a concrete plan to ensure adequate women and queer representation in the profession he loved.
Mr Bartender & The Crew
&ldquo(With Mr.Bartender & The Crew) The idea is to make sure other queer folks don't go through the bullying and stress that I went and still go through the idea is to protect them from it, and also women, and give them a chance in this men-dominated blue collar industry,&rdquo Barretto says. Mr Bartender & The Crew was formed during the pandemic, when bars were shut and many individuals found themselves without a job.
The unique initiative, which started in 2020, trains women and LGBTQAI individuals in the art of bartending, with a focus on changing the face of the industry through equitable representation of all genders. &ldquoThe collective is training people on a pan-India level but we want to go down to the grassroots level, and go to every village in the country and bring more women to work in bars than men. We also want to understand the perception of the LGBTQ communities in these places,&rdquo Barretto adds.
But Fay aka Mr Bartender wanted to go beyond the regular, and started a special training for victims of human trafficking and transgenders, to help them secure work. They are currently also holding sensitisation workshops around LGBTQ inclusion. Ipsita Chakroborty, a vagabond bartender from Tripura, is one of the people working with Fay to train individuals they are currently teaching basic and advanced classes in mixology to their 5th batch online. &ldquoWhile we teach people from around the country, physical lessons for bartending happen in Bombay and Goa. The guest lectures that we organise with industry experts are some of the most fun experiences. The whole idea of these classes is to make people feel empowered we want to further the idea of inclusivity and open up conversations around women and queer individuals working in the hospitality industry,&rdquo she adds.
Giving It Forward
With support from local bars and peers, and with the pandemic on the wane, there is an air of normalcy and things can finally fall into place for many whom Fay taught. For Suman Subramani, one of the first people to be trained at the centre, and now a part of the crew, the journey has been incredible. She is currently in Jammu and Kashmir, awaiting the construction of her own bar. Lakshmi and Soniya, two street vendors from Mumbai, were also trained by the crew in the craft of mixology, and can now use their skills to find their footing in the world.
Similarly, for Wanda Hendricks, a photographer by profession, the pandemic meant lack of work. It was last year that she heard of Fay and the crew through a mutual friend, and pursued him for bartending classes at the virtual academy. A year later, she now takes over bars for cocktail nights and has learnt the art of making all the syrups herself &ldquoFor me, it was a joy to see Mr Bartender & Crew create a safe space for people of other genders and make us feel welcome. The kind of exposure I received, whether it was through bartending at weddings in Udaipur, or bar takeovers, is a privilege that I know not a lot of people get,&rdquo she says.
While most classes at Mr Bartender&rsquos training centre were virtual, they are now looking at a physical space in Mumbai and Goa, and even Delhi, if everything falls into place. The plan is to impart bartending skills in person, and also teach crowd work and conversational skills to women, LGBTQAI community and those from underprivileged backgrounds. However, Fay, who recently tied the knot with his partner, says he wants things to settle a little before putting it all in gear again. With multiple brand collaborations and bar takeovers to look forward to, the collective needs just one thing now a mean cocktail.