A bar atmosphere can be fun, but it can also bring scandalous customers, security issues, harassment, and possible danger. For women who are bartenders, these concerns are just another day’s work.
Marina Stevens, a senior chemistry student, started working at Courtside Pizza, 85 N. Court St., in the summer of 2021. She had never worked as a bartender before, but said she thought it would suit his schedule well.
“I don’t go out a lot,” Stevens said. “So I thought that was a better way to use my time on the weekends because that’s the only time I work.”
During the school year, Stevens typically works closing shifts and said she never worried about working so late at night because of the protocols the staff had in place. She said all the staff came home together at night and the male bouncers usually did shift work, like taking out the trash.
Although Stevens has never had to deal with issues like closing the bar on his own, that’s a different story for other bartenders in Athens.
Jennifer Cochran is the former general manager of Cat’s Corner, 110 W. Union St., and a former bartender at Lucky’s Sports Tavern, 11 N. Court St. She started working at the latter in 2015 before leaving to work for Cat’s Corner during the pandemic.
Although Cochran usually closed the bar on her own at Cat’s Corner, looking back now, she said it probably wasn’t the safest place for her.
“Cat’s Corner has eight cameras pointing at every entrance, every corner of this bar that you could possibly be in, so I generally felt pretty safe,” Cochran said. “But really, I mean, it was horrible practice for me.”
Cochran felt comfortable coming home alone after work because she knew the area. However, her perspective on the matter changed as she got older.
“I’ve been lucky that I’ve never been in a stupid position where I’ve been mugged or confronted after work, on my way home,” Cochran said. “But, as a mother, as a longtime bartender in Athens (and) as a manager, I also think my actions were probably reckless.”
Cochran decided to make sure his bartenders were protected when running Cat’s Corner.
“Being a manager has definitely changed the way I view bartending and the safety of my bartenders,” Cochran said. “I’m much more protective of my bartenders’ safety, which is why I would get up and come back to close with them rather than leave them alone.”
Although Stevens hasn’t worked as a bartender as long as Cochran, she has seen serious problems like overly drunk customers or someone who is visibly uncomfortable. She said, however, that the worst problem is the rude and aggressive behavior of customers.
“There were people who fought, and you either have to push them off the patio or push them off the bar,” Stevens said. “It’s definitely not happening as much as I thought it would, and our bouncers are usually (are) heavily involved in fights to run and get them out.”
Both Stevens and Cochran said they were frequently sexually harassed. Stevens said it was common for customers to flirt with her or grab her hand while handing them their receipt, but the customers never got “too crazy.”
Unfortunately, Cochran said some of his experiences with clients weren’t so tame.
“There’s no end to the things that have happened over the years,” Cochran said, “People put their hand under my skirt or my shirt or leave their phone number and $1. They (se are) misbehaved as I got older.
Cochran said she’s gotten better at handling uncomfortable situations with clients over the years, but that hasn’t stopped their frequency.
“I would openly say it’s happened to almost every bartending job I’ve ever had,” Cochran said. “Men have every right to say what they are allowed to say to women. The entitlement comes from how people think they are allowed to talk to staff on duty, that their $2 allows them to say whatever they want – as if we weren’t human beings.
Although there are many concerns about working as a female bartender, Cochran and Stevens said they had a great experience doing it. Nonetheless, Stevens said it’s a job where clients will exploit you if possible.
Stevens said the biggest piece of advice she can give to other female bartenders is to not be too friendly with customers.
“There are definitely people who will take advantage of you,” Stevens said. “They will ask for reductions. They will ask you if you can put more alcohol in their drinks because it’s not strong enough. It’s a job where it’s like you’re too nice and too friendly, that’s where people start being rude to you because you serve alcohol.