It’s no secret that the bartending world is largely male dominated. Perhaps not in sheer numbers, but when it comes to the wage gap, women make 15 percent less than male bartenders. It’s also true that watering holes used to ban women entirely. As recently as 1968, women were fighting men-only bars as a Civil Rights issue, according to Georgina Hickey’s “Barred from the Barroom” article published in 1970. In fact, bartending has been noted as having the most dramatic effect on women’s access to male jobs after Title VII, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Before the act passed, 26 states legally banned women from bartending.
The history behind drinking establishments and alcohol being available only to men might be one of the reasons the industry is still so man-centric. You might think the woman you see behind the bar is “only” a cocktail server—but stop and reconsider. In Salt Lake City, our lady bartenders aren’t just making waves locally, they are being recognized on national levels. These five educated, creative and strong women are changing the way that people perceive cocktail culture. They are heavy-hitters in the community, go-getters who set the bar high for themselves, and makers in an industry full of consumers who rarely appreciate the talent behind their perfect cocktails.
Amy Eldredge is arguably the most respected craft cocktail expert in Utah. Her talent, drive, attention to detail and training programs have garnered high esteem in the cocktail community. Eldredge got her start at a country club—one that had a classic men-only restaurant and a bar that only allowed male bartenders. At 21, she found herself having to make a few margaritas for picky guests when the male bartender was suddenly called to an off-site event. The customers enjoyed her cocktails so much, she became the first female bartender there. And, while the establishment was hanging onto the “boys club” of yesteryear, they thrived on classic cocktails, which Eldredge learned and loved. The knowledge of these classic cocktails are what ended up landing her one of the most coveted apprenticeships in the country—under the late, great Sasha Petraske, proprietor of Milk and Honey in NYC, and one of the most influential people in the recent craft cocktail movement.
Currently, Eldredge is the managing partner at Under Current Bar, which boasts an extensive and impressive craft cocktail menu. It’s obvious her training under Petraske, as well as what she has worked hard to learn, have helped create our own local cocktail scene. Her expertise has been enlisted in multiple cocktail menus across the city.
How does she feel about being a women in the industry? Well, she knows that she’s surprised some people along the way, but overall she feels the gender issue in local bartending hasn’t been a problem. “I personally believe that the acceptance and praise for women in this industry is helping feminism across the board,” she says. “It really was a male-dominant profession over the years, but I don’t think men think anything less of having a female bartender in front of them whatsoever.” And she loves her craft. “Bartending is active, exciting, creative—no two days are alike—and it’s a great way to build confidence. My goals are to educate people on drinking safely and cultivating the love of cocktails here in Salt Lake.”
Natalie Hamilton is creating some of the best cocktails in Salt Lake City. She oversaw the cocktail program at Finca for quite a while, increasing the restaurant’s visibility as a cocktail bar and producing some of my favorite drinks ever. And now, she is an integral part in envisioning and executing the amazing bar program at the newly opened Tradition.
For Hamilton, gender stereotypes have no place in her personal or professional life, and she pursued bartending because, “It just fit. It is artistic, it is creative, it is a profession that requires eloquence, education and passion.” And she definitely has all of those things. What she has seen, and what I heard from a few of these lady bartenders, is that customers often question if they even are a bartender. Almost all of them have been asked if “They could get the bartender for a question.”
Of course, this always gives Hamilton a reason to showcase her amazing work, and she loves nothing more than taking care of her guests. “I love listening to guests try the first sip of the cocktail and love what they drink,” she says. “I love creating beautiful cocktails that are stunning and that give guests more than they were expecting.”
Sandberg has recently been jetsetting around the world with some of the best female bartenders in the country. This lady-boss drink slinger recently killed it on the national level, making the Top 16 at the incredibly competitive, ladies-only Speed Rack competition, which takes women’s bartending skills/pace to the next level.
Sandberg’s excitement about cocktails is contagious. One thing that she says gives her an advantage about being a female bartender is, “having the ability to be empathetic with your guests and being able to pick up on their moods or unspoken needs or wants.” Sandberg has an innate nurturing sense about her, which gets customers ready to nerd out about spirits and cocktails. It’s quite fun to sit at her bar, and you really do feel pampered in a way that’s uniquely her own.
Sandberg has found that Salt Lake City encourages her bartending goals. “Everyone in Salt Lake is so supportive of all of us female bartenders,” she says. “I am hard pressed to think of something that negatively impacted me from within the bartending community. I have so many amazing regulars that have been following my progress with Speed Rack and are so excited for everything I do. This community is the best.”
Bringhurst is a familiar face in the bartending community. She’s worked at Bar X and Under Current, and you can now find her at Lake Effect. She has a quiet deliberateness about her, and if you watch her creating cocktails, you can see her intensity and passion right away. She takes her craft seriously, and produces some incredibly beautiful and delicious libations.
She recently took home the No. 1 spot in the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) Utah Chapter’s yearly cocktail competition. Bringhurst was one of only two female participants, and I was lucky enough to watch her dominate—and ultimately win—while up against some of the most talented drink slingers in Salt Lake. I also saw our community beam with pride at her win, which was awesome to witness. She is truly loved by her peers and colleagues.
The USBG win is only part of proving her chops however, and what she is most proud of, “is earning the respect of the masters that I have always looked up to so much,” she says. As for the future, “I plan to continue educating myself about all things related to adult beverages and to keep on sharing that knowledge with everyone around me. Our city needs to be more educated about craft cocktails and I want to be a big part of that.”
Gomez is an amazing bartender who currently runs the bar program at Finca. And, as the vice president of Utah’s Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG), she is the orchestrator of a lot of what is going on in our cocktail community; you might even call her a professional bartender wrangler. The work that she puts into cultivating events, communicating to the bartending community and marketing the local USBG should be applauded. She has helped create an amazing, supportive group of bartenders and enthusiasts. Additionally, as the new bar manager at Finca, she’s working hard to make sure Finca is seen as a go-to craft cocktail bar by bringing her own vibe and flair to the menu.
“Women are caretakers by nature so it’s the women in the industry in particular that excel at hospitality in my opinion,” Gomez says about women bartenders. “We are also excellent multitaskers, which is crucial in a busy bar. The challenges mirror those experienced by women in other industries. Women get things done.” She is a caretaker of her guests, but she’s also taking on so much more than making drinks. She is a creator of experiences, and is continually looking for new ways to do that. And, since Salt Lake City is so incredibly supportive of female bartenders, Gomez feels optimistic that there really is “no glass ceiling to shatter.”
“I’m exceedingly proud of what we are doing here—despite nonsensical liquor laws—and it is so gratifying to impress out-of-towners who think it’s impossible to get a drink in Utah,” she says. “I’m grateful to the ladies in particular who have helped lead the way.”