Campari America Toasts Spirited Women Bar Owners in Honor of Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, Campari America is spotlighting the women who not only work behind the bar, but own it. We spoke to some of the country’s leading lady proprietors about the joys and challenges of being business owners. We appreciate the candor of all these women, as evidenced by their outspoken and thoughtful comments. Not afraid to be controversial, their insights provide a unique window not only into bar ownership, but also the cocktail industry as a whole.

Here’s what they had to say.


Natasha David
Owner, Nitecap, established 2014 in New York City

Natasha David

Photo by Daniel Krieger

What is your favorite thing about owning your own bar?
Being a business owner feels like a great accomplishment. And obviously being my own boss is pretty spectacular. But truly the best part of owning Nitecap is that I get to employ people whose talent I stand behind and who I love working with.

What has been the most surprising or unexpected challenge as a business owner?
Honestly, I went into this having been warned about the agonies of owning a bar by person after person, so I was prepared for the worst. The most surprising thing to me has been how wonderful it has been. Yes, there are moments when I wish my phone wasn’t buzzing with an emergency while on a date with my husband, or that the dishwasher repair man would actually answer my calls, or that the grease trap didn’t burst during service, but I wholeheartedly wouldn’t change anything. I’m learning/making this up as I go, so I appreciate all the unexpected life lessons.

If you could do it all again, what one thing would you change or do differently?
I would have learned how to use Quickbooks and Excel before I opened Nitecap!

What’s your favorite cocktail trend of the moment? Least favorite?
I love that low ABV cocktails are springing up all over the place — it’s definitely how I like to drink. I think my least favorite trend is over-complication. At the end of the day I don’t care what sort of fancy device or non-fancy device you used to make the drink, it just has to taste good.

Follow Natasha @NatashaDavidxo and Nitecap @NitecapNYC


Amy Sacco

Partner, Rec Room and No. 8 in New York City 

Amy-Sacco-Header

Photo courtesy of Amy Sacco

What is your favorite thing about owning your own bar?
Clearly the fact that I have the best DJ’s in town and music is my mistress and motivation, so I am blessed daily with the “MantraOfGroove.” It is my daily inspiration!

What has been the most surprising or unexpected challenge as a business owner?
As I have been in business for myself for many years now, what is most challenging but never a surprise, is dealing with jealousy of others……whether it is with a neighbor or another entrepreneur…….My standing theory is there is room for all of us……but clearly others feel differently.

If you could do it all again, what one thing would you change or do differently?
I would change nothing, as I would not have grown as the leader and entrepreneur I am today. Experience and hardships are the badges of courage and success!

What’s your favorite cocktail trend of the moment? Least favorite?
I admire the bars that are making 4 star restaurant worthy cocktails……they are innovative, creative and pretty. However, I prefer a more direct approach, as if it’s too fancy and takes too much time to make, I am bored, thirsty and ready to go to a dive bar for a shot and a cold beer! All of the cocktails on my list are max 4 ingredients and although they are made to order, they are easy for anyone to make at home and served with speed and a smile.

Follow Amy @AmySacco


Jennifer Seidman
Owner, Acme Bar, established 2002, and Handlebar, established 2014, both in Berkeley, CA

What is your favorite thing about owning your own bar?
Making people happy and creating community

What has been the most surprising or unexpected challenge as a business owner?
SCHEDULING!!!! And common sense!

If you could do it all again, what one thing would you change or do differently?
I’d buy both building my bars are in.

What’s your favorite cocktail trend of the moment? Least favorite?
I hate Cherry Heering, so my least favorite is anything with that.  My most favorite is the return to great hospitality, no more silly overthought drinks, just simple and yummy drinks made by happy, unpretentious bartenders.

Follow Jennifer @AcmeJenn


Julie Reiner
Owner, Clover Club, established 2008 in Brooklyn, and Flatiron Lounge, established 2003 in Manhattan

Negroni Week Kick Off Party at the Refinery Rooftop

Photo by Virginia Rollison

What is your favorite thing about owning your own bar?
I love having the freedom to develop the cocktail program as I wish, to have control over the true creative expression of the bar.

What has been the most surprising / unexpected challenge as a business owner?
City agencies in New York City! Opening bars in NYC is not easy – you get into the industry because you love hospitality and the craft of making cocktails, and then you discover all these other hurdles. Those are the things that I needed to learn more about when I first moved into an ownership role.

If you could do it all again, what one thing would you change / do differently?
I wish I had had more guidance about forming business partnerships to better protect myself.

What’s your favorite cocktail trend of the moment? Least favorite?
Favorite: I’m a big fan of innovations that increase speed and efficiency like cocktails on tap and bottled cocktails that allow high volume bars to deliver great cocktails quickly. I’m also excited about seeing chefs get in on the action behind the bar.

Least Favorite: A few years ago, all anyone wanted to make was boozy, bitter and stirred cocktails and the lighter, nuanced drinks were neglected. It’s great to see more balance on cocktail menus these days that represent a broad range of styles. I’m also really glad that we are moving beyond the vodka hating phase.

On the future of women as bar owners:
There has certainly been a large increase in women bartenders, and I see that scene changing and evolving quickly, especially with organizations like Speed Rack shining a light on women in the industry. We are now at a place where you HAVE to have women behind your bar, it’s no longer the norm to have all male bartenders. With that shift, there are more women becoming serious about cocktails, and as a result moving into leadership positions and ownership roles. I’m really hopeful that we will see a lot more women bar owners in the future.

Follow Julie and her bars @MixtressNYC, @CloverClubNY and @FlatironLounge


Alba Huerta
Owner, Julep in Houston, TX

alba_huerta

Photo by Julie Soefer

What is your favorite thing about owning your own bar?
My favorite thing about owning a bar is meeting the different people that love it as much as I do. Wether it’s our patrons, employees, or family, they all share different memories in the space and they belong to them as much as it belongs to me.

What has been the most surprising or unexpected challenge as a business owner?
Probably the biggest challenge of owning this type of business is that the skill it takes to bartend and the skill it takes to operate are not quite the same. They are two different “jobs” and the hours in which they exist are dramatically different. The balance and discipline of doing both is really what has made my business stronger.

If you could do it all again, what one thing would you change or do differently?
I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. The variables, chances, chain of events it takes to dream, build and open a bar are so vast that it’s hard to put my finger on the one that could have made an improvement. The reality is that once the doors open, you forget about all the hardships and it’s really all that matters.

What’s your favorite cocktail trend of the moment? Least favorite?
Favorite cocktail trend right now is thoughtful menus. The ones you can see people really pour themselves into. Least favorite cocktail trend is the use of not quality spirits in cocktails. If you’re gonna charge the price on a craft cocktail, then spend the money on quality spirits.

Follow Alba @AlbaWorksIt and Julep @JulepHOU


Audrey Saunders
Owner, Pegu Club, established 2005 in New York City

Audrey Headshot copy

Photo courtesy of Audrey Saunders

What is your favorite thing about owning your own bar?
I’ve always been a “giver” and I love hospitality! There’s a real magic to making someone’s night, or at the very least sending them off happier than they were than when they first arrived. I liken my bar to my own living room, and I want my guests to have a wonderful time while they’re with me. It also gives me enormous pleasure to quietly watch from the sidelines how folks react to our offerings—I’m always thrilled when I see a smile and a sense of contentment after their first & second sips & bites.

What has been the most surprising / unexpected challenge as a business owner?
Do you really want to know? At this point, my greatest frustration is watching many of my once-favorite products get sent to off to Stepford for a…“package makeover”…only to walk away with their flavor profiles as mere holograms of their former selves. The continuing growth & success of the cocktail industry mostly relies on the heart of the matter—-that is, the quality and consistency of our suppliers production. At this point, I’ve watched supply & demand skyrocket in a fairly short amount of time. Many distillers are desperately trying to keep up with demand, but unable to. The consequence is that many products are now coming to market “dumbed down” in quality just to meet demand. To add to that I envision great hiccups in grain supplies as climate change progresses. Mind you, my purpose here is not to be negative, but to analyze my future business with eyes wide open and use this current time to focus on potential options.

If you could do it all again, what one thing would you change or do differently?
Not a thing. I put an enormous amount of thought and detail into every aspect of Pegu Club before I opened it. I did a lot of research, and another factor is that I also didn’t rush into opening a bar—I worked in some of the worlds best places for food, beverage & hospitality for over 10 years before finally opening my own place. I made it my business to learn as much as I could about all aspects of the business, so in all frankness, nothing really comes to mind that I’d fundamentally change—it’s been an amazing journey.

Perhaps the fact that smartphones weren’t yet popular when I opened, so probably my largest regret is not taking more photos in the early days.

What’s your favorite cocktail trend of the moment? Least favorite?
Least favorite trend? Cocktails on tap. Here’s my thoughts. Pegu is a big bar, and we do –A LOT- of volume. Because of this we absolutely need to batch a few of our drinks on the weekends to keep up with the volume….but with that said, we only batch small amounts that we know will get utilized that particular evening. A batch of cocktail behaves just the way a soup or a stew does. The flavors meld into each other, and while that might be optimal in a food dish, I don’t think it does a cocktail any justice whatsoever. I fully expect the stew to meld into itself– but when I taste a drink, I want the ALL the flavors to be both distinct and lively. And while many people think it’s edgy to pull a cocktail off a draft like a beer, keeping that “batch” (which is really all that it is) under gas pressure while it waits to get utilized is detrimental to its overall brightness. It becomes its own “stew”, the flavors meld into each other, flatten, and the drink loses its overall brightness and character. If you want to go in that direction, simply package it as a “Bottled Cocktail” and call it a day. But please do not pour me something off your draft line. Other than ease of service, and “hip new selling point”, it serves no purpose whatsoever.

My favorite trend which is I think is here to stay is the trend toward aperitif cocktails with lower ABV’s. Europe has always innately understood the idea of a pre-prandial quaff—it’s meant to enliven the palate and stimulate the tastebuds, not dull or knock it out it with heavy alcohols and syrups! Champagne cocktails, sherry cocktails, vermouth cocktails, and bittered aperitifs! I love you, Campari, you are easily a top 5 go-to in our home, and you always will be. And I’m proud to say so without any influence whatsoever from you!

How do you see the role of women in the bar world evolving, both as bartenders and owners? Do you think we will see many more female bar owners in the next few years?
I’ve always resented this question because I honestly think that it’s up to individual woman to make her own difference and “drive her own car”—without relying on the benefit of support groups. Do not get me wrong here, support groups are good! BUT- they should NOT BE a substitute for standing on your own two feet, taking ownership, and nakedly making your own declarations to the world without hiding behind a group umbrella. What are we, cattle? Men have been shooting from the hip for centuries. Women- Simply. Just. Do. It. Study 10x as hard, and master your craft. Just drive, take ownership, and there will be times where, like men of the ages, you’ll simply figure it out as you go. We’ve always been more responsible in creating sustainable ecosystems for our families because we have the ability to have babies and we’re sensitive to life in that manner. But we’re so damn conditioned to giving away our power to men, and I’ve NEVER been able to wrap my head around that.

Follow Audrey @AudreySaunders


Lori Delia
Owner, Sotto Enoteca, established 2013 in Burlington, VT

What is your favorite thing about owning your own bar?
We opened our bar/winebar in October of 2013 as an extension of our Italian restaurant Trattoria Delia which has been in existence for 22 years. My favorite thing about owning Sotto Enoteca was the original inception of the business, and creating the aesthetics/concept of the business. Equally, I am driven at present by the passion of continually learning about spirits and wine, while sharing this knowledge/information with ongoing training of our staff.

What has been the most surprising or unexpected challenge as a business owner?
I have to laugh at this question, because one would think after owning a restaurant for many years it would not be so challenging to open to a bar/winebar. The most exasperating, yet really not surprising challenge was dealing with city bureaucracy and permits.

If you could do it all again, what one thing would you change or do differently?
I would do absolutely nothing different.

What’s your favorite cocktail trend of the moment? Least favorite?
My mantra is taken from Coco Chanel “when you leave your house look in the mirror and take off one accessory before you leave.” This mantra can hold true to cocktails as well, simplicity is the essence of success from the use of the highest quality products while utilizing a minimum of four ingredients, with an understated visual presentation.

Least favorite? Overcomplicated cocktails.

Follow Lori and Sotto Enoteca @sottoenoteca


The sentiments expressed above are solely the opinions of the individuals cited and were unedited by Campari America.

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