British barmaids in 1890s New York

22 Dec

William Nicolson, Barmaid, Any Bar (1898)

Do English barmaids come under the head of skilled labour? That is the question […] which is now absorbing the attention of the Immigration Commissioners in New York. The Bartenders’ Association claim that barmaids do come under that category, and that as such they are debarred from landing under the alien contract labour law. The saloon-keepers and bar-proprietors are of the contrary opinion. The anxiety of the bar-tenders is only natural, for they are threatened with the loss of their livelihood by English female competition. Three months ago the proprietor of one of the most frequented saloons in New York conceived the daring idea of importing a batch of London barmaids to assist his bartenders. The profession of the latter was at the time almost the only one remaining which had not been brought within the sphere of woman labour here. It had been believed until then that the ability to concoct even a portion of the hundreds of exclusively American mixed drinks was an accomplishment beyond the intelligence of the female mind, and fully equivalent to a university education, or to the acquisition of some dozen modern and ancient languages. The bar-tenders of the establishment in question accordingly resigned in a body rather than submit to the co-operation of the barmaids. The latter, who thereupon assumed the sole charge of the bar, found American drinks “no trouble”, “very easy to make”, and as for cocktails, they “learned to mix them in no time”. Indeed the young ladies proved such a success that the proprietor has during the last few weeks started three new saloons equipped with English barmaids, and that a number of other leading saloons and bars have followed suit in replacing their male bar-tenders by British barmaids. According to the saloon proprietor who first inaugurated this, to Americans, very startling innovation, the drinking public takes very kindly to the barmaid. Drinkers, he declares, seem to find an additional excellence in being served by fair hands, and the bar receipts have more than doubled since the barmaids assumed charge of the counter. As to the barmaids themselves, they profess that they are better pleased than they expected to be with service on this side of the Atlantic. They pronounced Americans more sociable, and, I regret to add, more courteous than Englishmen. “They like to chat with us while they drink,” the fair ones say.

— “British Barmaids in New York”, Birmingham Daily Post, 30 November 1891, p. 5.


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