This Pregnant Woman Is A Pro Bartender—Meet Kathryn Eckstein And Read About Her Work Behind The Bar
It’s been an arduous climb for women in the world to receive equal recognition for their career pursuits or even the development of certain passions and skills. Our moment has arrived. Today, women have been gracing the limelight in roles that have in many ways been dominated by men in the past—take bartending, for instance. Filipina-German Kathryn Eckstein has grown her craft as a professional bartender since 2001. “As a bartender, I always feel like I have a lot to learn when it comes to flavors and combinations, and trends and the market. You always have to be on your toes, you can’t be stuck in the past.”
In the world of bartending, Kathryn has seen a significant shift in the public’s social view of the profession since the time she first started. “When a guest would come to me—a customer would ask for a drink—and then he would quickly change his mind and say, ‘Ah, I’ll just ask the guy over there to make me my drink,’ and it challenged me. It challenged me to want to know how to make proper cocktails, not just open beer bottles and serve tequila.”
It all started when she was in college; times were tough, especially at home where a financially tight situation often caused Kathryn to lose focus at school. “I went to U.P. Diliman where I studied Fine Arts, [majoring in] Visual Communication. I found myself distracted a lot because I think I was still trying to find my passion. I knew I wanted to be in the arts but the art I was looking for probably wasn’t through visual communication.”
To help make ends meet, Kathryn decided to give an opportunity extended by a friend a shot, pun intended. “A friend of mine asked me one day if I wanted to work, and I said, ‘Sure I’ll do whatever.’ And she said, ‘Well it’s bartending.’”
Kathryn recalls heading over to National Book Store to have her first pick at knowledge from an industry she was keen on excelling in. “I bought a lot of books on bartending. Those were the first influences on my bartending career, because I really wanted to explore and understand flavors and how they went together—to memorize the drinks and impress my guests.”
Despite meeting a hectic deadline and working without wifi, I managed to whip up a beaut tonight which I will call "Keep Calm & Carry On": Tanqueray 10, homemade chamomile syrup, fresh lemon juice, and @bittered_sling Gastown Bitters. I really needed this. I would have put it in a martini glass but my toddler broke my glasses so a mom's gotta keep calm and make-do so I used a rocks glass with an ice ball and a fancy schmancy crystal stirrer. Those Gastown bitters are freaking amazing! Glad I was able to Snap a Gin before downing this. #drinkmanila #momlife #workingmom #bartenderlife #deadlinestress #bonbonclub #icoulduseaparty #bonbonclubanniversary #tanqueray #bitteredsling #bitteredslingbitters #barconsultant #ilovemyjob #coffeedidntcutitanymore
“My dad is an executive chef… Growing up with food and being in the culinary world did help me understand flavors, and understand food. Because we moved around the world quite often, I was exposed to different spices, different smells, and we’re very adventurous when it comes to food as a family,” Kathryn shares.
These days, Kathryn juggles responsibilities as a bartender, wife, and mother of a four-year-old daughter. She shuttles from her home in Nuvali, Laguna to the metro as needed to check on business and do the creative mix and grind behind the bar. Yes, she still drives herself around sometimes despite her condition. She is currently five months (22 weeks) pregnant with her second child, and this time, she is having a boy.
“Of course, I had mixed emotions at first when I got pregnant. I love my career so much, I love being in the industry, but it does set you back a year, or even two," she says. "There are some bar competitions out there that will not allow me to join even though I am in the hospitality and service industry—I’m all about service.”
She often has to deal with those who believe she may be mismanaging her condition as a female professional or mother. She strongly disagrees, “During a certain time, I faced a lot of chauvinists, I was so frustrated one day I said, ‘Lord, if I have a boy, I will teach him to be kind and understanding and to be a good person—a gentleman’… then ayun, God gave me a boy (laughs).”
“They say it [bartending in my condition] promotes drinking during pregnancy for women. I think it’s ridiculous to say that I’m promoting when women are responsible enough to know that they’re not supposed to be drinking and smoking while they’re pregnant. I am not drinking when I am behind the bar—I am creating and mixing drinks for you,” she points out. She moved on to say that provided you have clearance from your doctor and keep yourself strong and healthy, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to bartend as an expecting mother like herself.
Sexism rants aside, reflecting on motherhood is a natural thing for Kathryn. She’s never seen the idea of family as something that conflicts with the industry she’s chosen to be in. “When my daughter was younger and I was ready to get back to the work force when she was already about 1 1/2 years old, she would say, ‘Mommy, where are you going?’ and I’d say, ‘I’m going to work’ and she’d reply, ‘You’re going to shake-shake, Mommy?’ That was her term for me working.”
Kathryn admits that there are challenges involved that women need to be aware of if they plan to fully immerse themselves in bartending as a career. “I will have to say that it’s not for everyone. You really have to love what you do and you have to be tough, because it is a tough industry, especially the late nights," she shares. "You will be around people who have been drinking, whose inhibitions have left the building basically. You really have to be thick-skinned staying in an industry like this.”
Apart from her drink-making prowess, Kathryn hones her innovative expertise in hospitality and service as a consultant for developing resorts, restaurants, and bars. Consistency, curiosity, and laying down a standard for quality creation and mixing as a bartender has brought Kathryn this far. So many people these days are in a hurry to get good fast. In her case, it took quite a while, she admits, since settling down was part of her journey, but she simply stuck to it, adding wisdom, experience, and knowledge from her travels and research to her applied profession. “It’s also part of me, hospitality, and being in the service industry, it’s something that I’m very, very passionate about. I love to make my guests happy and surprise them.”
Photographs by Julia Arenas, additional photo courtesy of Kathryn Eckstein