Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


It’s been more than a decade since bartender turned bar owner Lucinda Sterling got her start in the industry. She scored her first drinks-serving gig at the late Sasha Petraske’s storied Milk & Honey back in 2005. Having landed the job on a whim after driving cross-country from Colorado to New York with no real plan, she dove headfirst into the hospitality business, rising from cocktail server to bartender at Petraske’s West Village charmer Little Branch. 
Sterling’s career-first mentality didn’t leave much room for what some might call a traditional trajectory: getting married, starting a family, settling down. When I had asked her in passing about having kids, she said she never saw herself as a mother. But that all changed last year, when Sterling, at 39, found out she was pregnant. It was then that something changed in her heart, like an imaginary switch she never knew had been turned on. “I thought to myself, This might be my only chance,” she says.
It’s no secret that the hospitality industry can be tough on women, from not-infrequent incidents of sexism to inflexible policies for maternity leave and even just finding time to date with the erratic hours and late nights. “I think for women finding the right partner if you’re a bartender is the biggest challenge,” says Sterling. “It’s like you’re on the opposite side of your customers, who are coming in to your bar to go on dates and meet people after work. There’s a stereotype that women behind the bar are fun, like to go out and aren’t as serious.” For Sterling, things were further complicated by her professional activities outside of the bar, from consulting on menus to participating in cocktail competitions and developing recipes. “If you’re bartending full time and also working on personal projects on the side, dating might not be part of the work-life balance you need,” she says.
But what happens once you’re already pregnant? Eight months in, Sterling is still taking shifts here and there, admitting her level of agility and stamina behind the bar has greatly decreased. Though it hasn’t been easy, as a business owner, she has been able to rely on her staff to help pick up the slack and fill in the gaps where needed. “Middle Branch has always had such a great team of bartenders whose skills go far beyond bartending,” she says. “It makes them able to do jobs that fall outside just making drinks, from ordering ice to making sure we have the proper amounts and brands of alcohol behind the bar and just managing each other every night.”
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Lucinda Sterling and Middle Branch’s High Bridge cocktail, made with Landy VS cognac, Mellow Corn whiskey, simple syrup, lemon juice and Angostura bitters (image: Paul Wagtouicz / Matt Taylor Gross)

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