Jen Agg is a restaurateur and author of I Hear She’s A Real Bitch.
I have always been suspicious of lists. From Michelin to En Route to Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants, they strike me as anything but impartial. And, of course, they are not. It’s always been my practice not to engage with the list writers – for one reason: They are a reflection of and a network for the toxic boys’ club culture that runs so deep in the bar and restaurant industry. So I don’t play ball with the list writers – then try really hard not to care that the result of not playing ball is to be consistently left off these lists.
But to many people, especially chefs, bartenders and tourists, these lists do matter. While there aren’t statistics on how much a restaurant’s or bar’s revenue might increase with a top 10 placement or a Michelin star, these lists are substantial enough that some places have entire PR teams devoted strictly to getting the attention of these king-makers (and, let’s be realistic, they are mostly men).
As women and other marginalized people in hospitality, we have long lived with knowing we work twice as hard for less recognition, which can grind you down. Yes, we have all started to pay more attention to systemic problems in all industries since #MeToo broke a long-held silence two years ago. But from my view inside the restaurant and bar industry, change has either been far too slow or strictly outward-facing. Fear is a far greater motivator than benevolence will ever be.
So when Charles Schumann, an octogenarian bartender/owner of Schumann’s Bar (much-lauded in Munich) was given the World’s 50 Best Bars Industry Icon Award this week, women of the industry were swift to respond with extreme outrage.
Mr. Schumann is well known – not for his skill or charm, but for being openly sexist. He has said things such as “a bar is no place for a woman. The important characters are always men” and other fun nuggets, including “there’s no place for a woman behind the bar after 3 p.m." He goes on to suggest that women are there to warm up the crowd for the real (male) bartenders. These statements (which he has doubled down on over the years) are clearly and obviously dismissive at best, deeply misogynistic at worst.
It was heartening to see bartenders coming together to swiftly denounce World’s 50 Best Bars and Mr. Schumann. Toronto bar consultant Christina Veira says: “As a woman of colour, I’ve always been aware of the homogeneity of the representation on many of these lists. This situation with 50 Best Bars is indicative of the larger issues of our industry and is a direct result of not including a range of backgrounds and experiences in the pool of voters and influencers.”
And some men spoke up as well, most notably the owners of Trick Dog, a bar in San Francisco that has been on the World’s 50 Best Bars list a number of times. To say that we need men’s support here is a gross understatement. Their statement of support is nice, but what women in the industry are asking is for winners to truly denounce the list, return their awards and remove all mention of the list from their social-media sites and websites. Words placate; actions make change.
In an impassioned statement that has been shared many times, Ivy Mix, co-owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn and co-founder of Speed Rack, a cocktail competition for women, made this very reasonable ask: “To stand with women … please remove all acknowledgment of these wins across your brand platforms.”
So far, no takers.
After a global assault of messages such as those, which tagged Mr. Schumann, he finally offered up this: “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. I don‘t want it anymore.” Of course, this isn’t an apology; it’s a grown man acting like a baby, as though he’s the victim. Nobody liked that, so a full 24 hours later, he released a heavily scripted statement that still gets apologizing all wrong: “I am truly sorry that my statements were misleading and insulting to members of our bar community. I hereby apologize to them. But I also ask for an open dialogue so that these misinterpretations can be eliminated.”
This is what men so often do when called out – turn it around and infantilize women, claiming they have misinterpreted or are confused by things a man has repeatedly and clearly articulated.
The World’s 50 Best Bars finally released a statement on Tuesday afternoon. It’s a bad statement. They took zero responsibility, made no apology and opted to shift blame to a committee, which of course had been chosen by them. These lists only have power because chefs, bartenders, restaurateurs and media give them that power, as it benefits all of them to do so.
The only way to have better representation on the front of these lists is to have better representation on the back of them. The James Beard Foundation recently did a complete overhaul, and the results were pretty immediate: Women and people of colour finally started to be recognized after decades of being passed over.
The rest of the dinosaurs need to catch up. But after years of yelling about this, and getting little to no support from the bros at the top, I’m not holding my breath.
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