Why There Weren’t More Women In Classic Bars

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Have you heard of Ada Coleman? Her patrons called her “Coley”. In 1903, she became the first female head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy. Her skill mixing drinks and her strong personality first won the bar the renown it still enjoys today. When she retired, no less than 5 newspapers wrote articles about her impact on the London bar scene.

I was reading up on “Coley” when I came across a bio of her on a Mexican cocktail site that begins “Quizá sea extraño escuchar que una mujer haya desarrollado un papel fundamental en la historia de la coctelería” … translation: “Maybe it seems strange to hear that a woman has played a fundamental role in the history of cocktails”.

I find it strange that people are still writing such misogynistic bullshit.

International Women’s Day seems like a good time to point out: the reason you don’t see more female bartenders in history is not because women aren’t competent. It’s because women were systematically excluded from bars and other aspects of public life.

1851: Jerry Thomas opens his first bar in New York

American women can’t vote. They are not allowed to open bank accounts. In most US states, married women could not own property, keep their earnings or sign contracts.  None of the public universities in the US allow women to enroll. The first laws banning domestic violence won’t be passed for another 20 years. Raping your wife will remain legal for another 120 years.

1889: The American Bar at the Savoy opens in London

UK women cannot vote or open bank accounts. They are banned from many jobs and holding public office. Pubs will be able to refuse service to women in the UK for another 95 years.

1912: Hoffman House Bar Book published

Five years earlier, writer and suffragist Harriot Stanton Blatch and her friend Hettie Wright Graham had tried to eat at the Hoffman House’s rooftop garden. When they sat, the waiter asked if they had a male escort and, when they said they didn’t, he asked them to leave.

Blatch asked to see “someone in authority,” and was taken to see the manager. He told her that “I am very sorry, but that is the regulation of the house, and we cannot make any exceptions in its application. We do this for the protection of just such ladies as you are. We do it to keep out objectionable women; women of the type you would not like to have dining in the same room with you.”

Harriot Stanton Blatch replied, “I have never been bothered by objectionable women.  When I have been annoyed, it has been by men. I do not suppose you make any effort to keep objectionable men out.”

Blatch sued and lost, but her suit led to anti-discrimination laws being passed in New York.

The Hoffman House closed for good in 1915.

1924: El Club de Cantinero, the first Bartender’s Guild, forms in Cuba

Cuban women can’t vote. If a Cuban man sees a female relative involved with a man who is not her husband, he is allowed to murder them both and it is not considered homicide.


Women can’t serve on juries, despite having the right to vote, in 27 US states.

1946: Ernest Hemingway is drinking Daiquiris at the legendary La Floridita in Cuba

Meanwhile, over half of US states ban women from working in bars.

Michigan passes a law that outlaws women from owning or working in bars unless they are the “wife or daughter of a male owner”. Valentine Goesaert and 27 other female bartenders and tavern owners sue to overturn the law and lose. A newspaper reporting on the case writes, “Who wants the hand that rocks the cradle mixing whisky sours?”

In many parts of the US, women cannot enter a bar without a male escort. Other bars have a separate entrance for women without escorts on the presumption that they are prostitutes.

1978: The bar Dry Martini opens in Barcelona, Spain

In 1975, women in Spain finally win the right to take a job, travel or own property without permission from their husband (permiso marital). They will not be able to initiate court proceedings without their husband’s permission until 1980.

2005: Audrey Saunders opens Pegu Club in New York

Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, India, Greece and others still do not have comprehensive laws banning domestic violence. Female genital mutilation is legal in over 30 countries.


who worked in taverns, who brewed beer, who slaved in the cane fields, who made scientific discoveries that were credited to others, who struggled to study, who fought to be independent, who were jailed and beaten and starved and killed for our rights.


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