How women fought to become bartenders in California – Marin Independent Journal

Frankie Frost/IJ Archive

Jeff Burkhart

During my bartending career, I have had the great pleasure of collaborating with many wonderful female bartenders. And I also know that perhaps the most well-known bartender Ada “Coley” Coleman – listed as one of the nine best bartenders of all time by liquor.com – chaired the bar at the famed American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. in London from 1903 to 1925. There’s a certain irony in that, not because the American Bar wasn’t in America, or Coleman herself wasn’t American, or the American Bar was open while American bars were not. (Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933.) But the biggest irony is that women weren’t allowed to be bartenders in many states in the United States until recently, including, almost incredibly, ours. .

We hear a lot about women’s rights right now due to the controversial overturning of the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which was decided in 1973. But did you know it was illegal for a woman to serve beer from behind a counter in California until 1976? And that it was illegal for a woman to work as a bartender in California until 1971? I felt with recent events that a retelling of this particular story was in order.

Section 25656 of the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (Business and Professions Code) once read: “Any person who uses the services of a woman to dispense wine or distilled spirits behind any permanently affixed device that is used to the preparation or concoction of alcohol. beverages, or mixing liquor containing distilled spirits, in any premises used for the sale of liquor for consumption on the premises, or any woman rendering such services on such premises, is guilty of a misdemeanor and, on declaration of guilt, is liable to a fine not exceeding $100 or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding three months, or both such fine and imprisonment. »

And that law remained in effect until May 27, 1971, when the all-male California Supreme Court (the late Justice Rose Bird would not join the court until 1977) struck it down, calling it a “repugnant” in the historic Sail’er case. Inn c. Kirby.

Sail’er Inn had employed female bartenders in direct violation of Section 25656, and the California ABC was in the process of suspending its liquor license. Sail’er Inn attorneys argued that Section 25656 was itself in direct violation of the recently passed Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited “discrimination” based on an individual’s gender, among other things, and that by obeying California law, they would violate federal law. In 1971, Sail’er Inn won its case and retained its liquor license. A victory for women’s rights!

Only, Sail’er Inn wasn’t the name of the bar, it was the name of the corporation. The bar’s name was the Classic Cat, and it was located at 8844 Sunset Blvd., right in the heart of Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip. Owned by former actor Alan Wells (1951 ‘The Great Missouri Raid’, 1957 ‘Richard Diamond, Private Detective’ and 1962 ‘Cape Fear’), the Classic Cat wasn’t just a bar – it was a topless bar .

Housed in the building that was the former Jerry Lewis Club (1959 to 1964), the Classic Cat offered “continuous topless entertainment” and they wanted to employ topless bartenders. What they got instead were just female bartenders.

As the case made its way through the California court system, the California ABC added Rule 143.2. In late 1970, six months before the Classic Cat won its case, it became illegal “to employ or employ any person in the sale or service of liquor in or on licensed premises while that person is naked or in such attire, costume or clothing, so as to expose to view any part of the female breast below the top of the areola or any part of the pubic hair, anus, cleft of the buttocks, vulva or genitals.

This rule is still in the books. Specific prohibitions on male nudity behind the bar have yet to be defined.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” reads the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. But how obvious is a truth if it took exactly 200 years for that truth to be fully applied to women in bars in California?

• It’s a shame that still in this country it’s a group of mostly men who decide what a woman’s rights are — or not.

Jeff Burkhart is the author of “Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender, Vol. I & II,” host of the Barfly podcast on iTunes and an award-winning bartender at a local restaurant. Follow him on jeffburkhart .net and contact him at [email protected]

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