The women behind Bar Rochford Takeover
Charlotte Stevens is a woman on a mission. In her fourth-year of International Relations and Asia-Pacific Security, she is also highly skilled in the male-dominated field of cocktail bartending and works as a manager at Canberra’s award winning Bar Rochford. Now, determined to bring awareness to the gender-based disparities that exist within the hospitality industry, Charlotte has found herself as the leader of a female takeover of Bar Rochford – all in the name of charity and gender equality.
According to Charlotte, what started off as an event that would run alongside a regular Thursday night Rochford service has now been backed by so much widespread support and positivity that it has transformed into a four-course ticketed dinner, followed by a party that will carry on into the wee hours of the morning. ‘The response has been really positive so far. It’s been almost overwhelming, really. I think women in the industry is a really hot topic at the moment; there are some really strong women in the town and in the country who are making waves at the moment, and I think that everyone’s on board to get behind it.’
Inspired by women in the hospitality industry collectives around Australia, like Paige Aubert’s Coleman Academy and Alex Ross’s What Women Drink, Charlotte wishes for all proceeds of the event to go to both the White Ribbon Foundation and the starting up of Tusk – a guild for Canberra’s women in the hospitality industry. ‘It’s so interesting because in regular pub bartending it’s about a 50/50 distribution between men and women. But as soon as you go into cocktail bartending, it’s about 90/10 to men. I’ve been in Canberra for four years, and a cocktail bartender for four years, and the thing that I’m so sick of hearing is: ‘I would hire women if they were around. It’s such an excuse. I’ve decided these things like Coleman Academy and Women in Drinks are happening in Sydney and Melbourne, so why not bring them to Canberra? After the Rochford takeover, I’d really love to use Tusk to run events like cocktail training nights for women, and events in which we have an equal distribution of men and women. I’ve even been thinking about running events in an art gallery – just going places that people don’t even expect – to really get the word out there for women in the industry.’
Although Tusk’s night at Bar Rochford will be staffed entirely by women, Charlotte emphasises that she does not wish to exclude men. ‘It’s really not a pussy power event. It’s not for women by women – and I can’t stress that enough. It’s an event that is for everyone, by women.’
According to Charlotte, the number of women working in cocktail bartending in Canberra is so small that she knows most of them and was able to ask them to join her in making the Rochford event a reality. ‘My staff are all going to be women from a variety of venues around Canberra who I have either worked with before or highly respect, and the entire night’s cocktail list will be designed by these talented ladies. Good Content is the female DJ group that will be playing on the night, and I asked them because they have a very similar mantra to what we’re going for – not excluding men, just saying hey, we’re here and we can do it too! Finally, I’ve asked for a lot of the artwork in Rochford to be rehung to display the work of some amazing female artists hailing from Canberra.’
In choosing the staff that will help her pull-off Tusk’s takeover, Charlotte really spent a lot of time considering who would benefit the most from being a part of such an empowering atmosphere. ‘There’s a lot of importance in catching women early on in the industry – I had some pretty shitty experiences when I first started bartending in Sydney. I used to work in a venue that had two different bars and I found that if I ever had any issues with customers being sexist, I would have to move to the other bar. It instilled in me from early on that it was my job as the woman to protect myself or remove myself from the situation rather than calling out the man. Some of the members of the team are quite new to hospitality because I think it’s really important for young women to recognise they don’t have to be treated poorly and that they can stand up for themselves and hold their own position.’
Alongside creating such a positive environment for women in the industry, Charlotte also sees the Rochford takeover as a great opportunity for a dialogue to be started about sexism that emanates both internally from within the industry itself, as well as externally, from customers. Although she admits that she is hoping there will be no instances of sexist behaviour on the night, Charlotte sees any negative occurrences as an opportunity to educate rather than to shut anyone out. ‘If anything does happen at Tusk, I don’t want anyone to feel unsafe or unwelcome. What I would like to see is a dialogue started – like why did you say that, why do you think that? It’s important to remember that moments like those are moments of ignorance, and you can deal with ignorance in two ways: you can either teach the person something, or you can put them down. If you put them down they’re never going to learn, but if you teach them and explain something to them it can create a safer experience.’
Check out Tusk’s Bar Rochford takeover on Sunday 30 April, with dinner starting at 6pm and the party lasting all the way through the night!
Tickets can be purchased at tuskcollaborative.com