In the early days of my career, I knew only two women at the bar. And there weren’t any gay people. I always felt we could do with some diversity,” says Mumbai-based independent mixologist Fay Barretto, who identifies as a trans man. During the first lockdown last year, Barretto, who has been in the profession for over a decade, moved to Goa for six months and began freelancing at bars. This is when he decided to try and disrupt the cis-male-dominated space by offering free training to underprivileged women and people from the LGBTQ+ community.
It began as an informal set-up, with three-five people. They shared training material online, classes began on Google Meet and moved to his home and various bars once restrictions eased, and the trainees were invited to practise cocktail-making. Four-six weeks into the training, they began assisting him to brush up their skills. He has trained about 25 people so far.
His job and the training initiative converged in Mr Bartender & The Crew, his training outfit and group of travelling bartenders—most of the trainees have joined the group. Now, he gets queries on Instagram (@mrbartenderandthecrew) and people reach out directly to sign up.
The hands-on training gives enthusiasts a sense of the history of spirits, flavour pairings and managing a bar, along with practical guidance on working under pressure and dealing with bullies. “The idea is to give them a skill set, create employment, empower them with tools to ward off bullies and advocate for equal pay,” he says. For, regardless of skill sets, Caucasian bartenders continue to earn more than their Indian counterparts. “People should be paid based on their skill and seniority, whether they identify as binary or non-binary or hail from India or Russia,” says Barretto, adding that he “faced a lot of bullying” when he entered the industry. Though the situation has changed somewhat since, he does not work at any bar where incidents of bullying have been reported.
In his own way, Barretto is attempting to create diversity in the bartending workspace and create livelihoods for people from the slums, victims of human trafficking and impoverished hijras (transgenders). It doesn’t always work. Take the case of Lakshmi, a trainee who lives in the slums of Mumbai’s Bandra reclamation area and earns a living as a street vendor. Barretto struck up a friendship and taught her to stir the perfect cocktail. What he did not anticipate was that her husband would object to a career in mixology. “I am in touch with her and we are trying to figure out how to recruit her as part of our crew,” he says.
At present, The Bartender & The Crew operates out of Mumbai, Pune and Goa. Barretto has two partners—Daria Samoylova and Rosemary Fernandes, both mixologists. He hopes to mentor people across communities in other cities and introduce newer formats as a travelling group of bartenders.
Barretto and Fernandes, both singers, are working on the concept of expanding the bar experience to include live music or a capella. Fernandes says, “We want to create an a capella track with glass and ice modelled on the Cup song from the movie Pitch Perfect.”
To book, contact Rosemary Fernandes, 9321576451; ItStartedLikeThis@gmail.com.