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Thank god for Prohibition.
Before the Big Thirst got underway in 1920, the barroom was for the most part a masculine place. Women were banned from many drinking establishments—either by law, by house rules or by social standards—and it wasn't until the 1920s, when the owners of then-illegal watering holes were less picky about who they let through the door, that a female presence started to become a somewhat regular occurrence in bars across the country.
As Eric Felten noted in "Women Behind Bars" in last weekend's Wall Street Journal, it took another couple of decades before women moved to the other side of the bar in any kinds of numbers. Felten writes that in 1895, the Labor Department calculated there were 55,660 men working as bartenders in the U.S., compared to only 147 women. While bartenders such as Ada Coleman mixed drinks at London's Savoy Hotel in the early 20th century, it wasn't until the Second World War that American bars started using more female bartenders. Even then, laws and labor rules were designed to limit women's presence behind the bar, and Felten writes that as recently as 1971 California had a law prohibiting women from "pouring whisky."
Take a look at the names behind today's cocktail renaissance, and they're still overwhelmingly male—though a number of talented female bartenders are shifting the balance. Felten notes that two of the most prominent figures in New York's cocktail culture are women: Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club and Julie Reiner of Flatiron Lounge and Clover Club. In Boston, Misty Kalkofen and Josie Packard are among the team of creative bartenders at Drink; in Seattle, the craft-cocktail establishment Rob Roy features Tara McLaughlin and Anu Apte working behind the bar; and in San Francisco, Brooke Arthur at Range and Jacquelyn Patterson and Jennifer Colliau at Heaven's Dog are among the bartenders who have placed that city on the cocktail map. Helping to keep females at the forefront of mixology (and on occasion holding fundraisers for women's charities as well) is the organization LUPEC—Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails—which has active chapters in cities such as Boston , Chicago, Phoenix, and Denver.
These are just a few of the women who are changing today's cocktail scene, and in the process are closing the gender divide on the busy side of the bar. Who are some other female bartenders you think deserve special recognition?
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.