A man walks into a bar—and declares women don’t belong there after the lunch shift. It sounds like a bad joke, but it’s the exact scenario that is shaking up the bartending world after the very man who expressed that sentiment was lauded as an icon at an industry event.
The annual World’s 50 Best Bar Awards was held last month in London, where they, appropriately enough, named the world’s 50 best bars (to spare you the Google, New York’s Dante took the top prize). At the event, the Industry Icon award was given to bartender and author Charles Schumann of the iconic American Bar in Munich and author of the book American Bar: The Artistry of Mixing Drinks, widely considered the bible of mixology. Five days later, Schumann gave the award back under a wave of backlash and hashtag-fueled pressure over sexist comments he’d made and made again and again in interviews.
The backlash started where many modern-day protests do: On Instagram. Julie Reiner a renowned bartender in her own right, co-owner of Brooklyn’s Clover Club and Leyenda, posted her criticism of the World’s 50 Best Bar organizers’ decision to award Schumann, writing, “Sexism is not iconic. Misogyny is not iconic … Stop giving awards to assholes. Achievements don’t excuse misconduct. Do better.”
The sexism claims came from Schumann’s comments in an interview with German Playboy, “A bar is no place for a woman. The important characters are always men.” While people can—and often do—change, when asked about the comments in 2009, he doubled down on them. He told the Japan Times, “I have the same opinion now. I say they can come, but they are not wanted.” While many people across the industry had read the comments, Reiner didn’t need to, because she had experienced his sexism first hand. She had appeared alongside Schumann in a documentary about the bartender called Schumann’s Bar Talks, telling her—on camera—that women should only work the lunch shift and leave by 3pm to make way for the real (male) bartenders. That’s why Reiner included the hashtag #womenbehindthebarafter3 in her Instagram post. The documentary was picked up by Delta as part of their in-flight entertainment program and many people watched it. “I was getting all these screenshots from various people in the industry, like, Oh, my God, I can’t believe he said that to you,” Reiner said in an interview with Brooklyn Based.
After Reiner’s post, the hashtag took off with women bartenders around the world posting pictures of themselves behind the bar after 3 p.m. perhaps hoping they would cause Schumann to clutch his pearls in horror. Eventually, Schumann caught wind of it and issued a statement of his own, writing on Facebook, “It hurts me very much that my statements were so misunderstood. I value good bartenders—completely independent of gender, origin, and age. Anyone who has already sat with me on a jury can testify to this.” He added, “I have never doubted that women could be bartenders. Of course, women belong in front of and behind the bar. I am truly sorry that my statements were misleading and insulting to members of our bar community. I hereby formally apologise to them.”
He then gave the award back. “In light of the controversy surrounding my person and the awarding of The World´s 50 Best Bars – Industry Icon Award 2019, I am hereby returning the award,” he wrote on Facebook. “I don’t want it anymore.”
For her part, Reiner was unimpressed with both Schumann’s “half-assed ‘apology'” that made it sound like women somehow misunderstood his rather clear statements and with 50 Best for taking so long to respond. “50 Best should have taken the award back,” she said.
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I often forget that I have this tattoo. I got it when I was 21 and had just graduated from the drama program at NYU. At the time, it was half joke/half reminder from one of my favorite directors I’d worked with, but nowadays, I’m reminded of it when customers comment on it as I serve them their drinks, generic typewriter font stretched out in front of them in a candlelit bar. The last 48 hours have been a whirlwind of watching the bar industry react to Charles Schumann receiving the “Industry Icon” award at World’s 50 Best Bars. I personally have known for years what a misogynist Schumann is (the first time I met him he shook the hands of my male coworkers and breezed right past me), so the quotes and stories people have been sharing in response to his award have not shocked me. What has shocked me, rather, is the blind eye we have turned to many other equally appalling accolades that have been going around. Our industry continues to reward known abusers, so I am not surprised that we would honor a man who believes women don’t belong behind a bar at night. Yes, I believe we should be vocal and angry about this man being deemed an “industry icon” when he only supports part of the industry, but I also believe that we should be thorough in calling out the bullshit—all of it. Act better. Do better. Be better. #womenbehindthebarafter3 #timesup
As the backlash continued to grow, according to The Spirits Business, 50 Best did eventually release a statement explaining that while it does have a vetting process in place, it somehow missed the “historical comments made by Mr Schumann.” Not everyone is buying it, though. “I was amazed to discover that not everyone knew this about him,” said Haley Traub, an award-winning bartender at New York’s Attaboy. “It was in his movie. How could they not know?” Beyond seeing Schumann tell Reiner that women shouldn’t work in bars past the lunch shift in the film, Traub had her own first-hand experience with Schumann where he came to the bar she was working at spoke with all the men on staff and breezed right past her, the only woman working that day. “That spoke volumes to me,” she said. For her part, Traub is glad women across the industry are taking a stand. “It’s been amazing to watch the forces that have come together [so quickly],” she said.
While the women may have been surprised that 50 Best didn’t know about the statements that Schumann made, none of the women I spoke to were taken aback that he won in the first place. “I wish I could say I was surprised when I heard about Schumann receiving the Industry Icon award, but it feels like one more example of the bar industry status quo actively overlooking the ongoing misogyny in our field, and in doing so, sending the message to the many woman members of this community that we don’t really matter,” said Allison Kave, co-owner of Brooklyn’s bakery and bar, Butter & Scotch. “It’s clear that we need to start taking the reins for ourselves and redefining the message sent to the media and the public.” Reiner agreed. “The industry, in general, is such a boys’ club,” she says. “Look at how many female-owned bars are on [50 Best’s] list.
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This picture sums up how we feel about #CharlesSchumann winning the @50bestbars Icon Award this year. We’d love for the arbiters of hospitality to stop rewarding notorious misogynists and send a clear message to the many women in our industry that our voices matter, but in the meantime we’re going to keep crushing it behind the bar every. single. night. We’re grateful to the many women on our staff, past and present, who’ve created a welcoming, knowledgeable, and safe space for all our guests, and look forward to reshaping the future of this industry together. #womenbehindthebarafter3
50 Best, the group behind the award, claims they want to do better in the future. Soon after, they announced that The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020 will have a voting academy with a 50/50 gender split. They also released a statement apologizing for their lack of due diligence and claiming, that “as an organisation, 50 Best absolutely condemns misogyny, marginalisation, and sexism of any form.” The statement may have been too late, though, as Reiner noted in a second Instagram post. “You waited it out perhaps in hopes that it (and we) would go away,” she wrote. “You said nothing and in doing so you told people all over the globe what you think.”
Said Traub, “I am glad that they finally said something, but there’s still just a lot of work to be done.” Hopefully, 50 Best will put their mission to better use in the future, because women belong in a bar any time of day they want.
Here are a few female-owned bars to start with: