Setting the bar

Shatbhi Basu has come a long way from being India's first woman bartender.

If James Bond were to mouth his famous line ‘Shaken, not stirred’ to Shatbhi Basu, she would not bat an eyelid but would go about mixing the drink that Bond wanted. She happens to be India’s first woman bartender, who blazed a trail in the male-dominated industry 36 years ago. For a woman who actually aspired to be a veterinary surgeon and even secured admission to a course, it was a case of the dreaded allergies that put an end to her dream and set her on a path that few women would even have dared to think of. Though Shatbhi studied hotel management, being a bartender was not a part of her plans — it was an order that had her taking her turn behind the bar in her early twenties.

“ I was asked by my manager to go mix the drinks so I didn't really have a choice! That's how it began.”

Shatbhi knew how to blend a few cocktails but she did not know the techniques. “Since I wasn't very skilled at it, I quickly taught myself by reading as much as I could out of a bartender's guide that I had.” She had to resort to the advice doled out by printed words because as she mentions, “At the time, there were hardly any male bartenders either.” So, armed with her knowledge gleaned from books, Shatbhi set out to blend drinks. Her journey began with a Martini.

Shatbhi’s career choice was obviously not what a regular woman would have chosen at that point of time but then her family’s stamp of approval stood her in good stead. “I was lucky I had the complete support of my family — all my books and study material came from them. My aunts and uncles around the world would mail me information and bring miniatures of everything when they visited. Most of my customers were a little surprised. Women guests were the happiest!” she says before stating, “I had very pleasant experiences while behind the counter.”

Those decades of experiences gave her the wings to fly even higher — Shatbhi now owns a bartending academy STIR and is also an author and teacher. She takes stock of the current scenario regarding the number of women in her field and it is not an encouraging one. She states, “Unfortunately, there are still very few women bartenders even now. And out of those, I hardly see anyone with real passion and knowledge.”

Though her words do not paint a rosy picture, Shatbhi’s journey has been exciting. Her profession gave her rewards, “My career choice has made me evolve in ways I never imagined and I am a better person for it. It has allowed me the luxury to explore various parts of my personality. I can see so much more happening in the future.” If you think after all these decades, she would be content managing her academy, you are wrong. Shatbhi still loves taking her turn behind the counter and mixing drinks. “Every time I open a new place, I always work with the team. The same applies when I do special events and master classes. That is the one place that is home,” she says with the same enthusiasm as when she began.

The journey has been a long one but Shatbhi is nowhere ready to hang up her boots. In fact her mind is whirring with plans, “Oh there's so much more to discover. And do — both with spirits and with food. Maybe I'll find time to write again. I'm not ruling out anything,” she ends.

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