Food

Clover Club’s Franky Marshall on Holy Bars, Clean Glasses, and the Perils of Being a Hot Female Bartender

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In the restaurant industry, the issue of sexism doesn’t seem to want to go away. Behind the bar, however, women have always had a place. But, as the role of bartender evolves, women are finding themselves having to strike a balance between gender equality and providing the yin to their male colleagues’ yang (the gentle play between men and women being what fuels a good bar atmosphere). At Clover Club, Franky Marshall manages to play it at once hot and cool.

How was the Manhattan Cocktail Classic? Have you recovered?

I’m still recovering. Definitely the gala was the highlight. I wish I could have been there as a guest. It seemed like a really great event. It was quite fabulous with all the moods created in the different rooms and that kind of thing.

You were working it?

I was working the Michter’s Rye stand. I worked for them at last year’s ball, too. We made some really nice cocktails. The trade-off is you don’t get to go to the party and have fun. But that’s OK.

Are you a brand ambassador for them or anyone else?

No. It’s a possibility, but I’m considering other options for where I’d like to go in the business. Because you can’t bartend forever. At least I can’t. Not unless you get one of those hotel gigs where you’re union and you can just stir very slowly for $20 an hour. The thing is, with [a brand ambassador] job, you’re basically a salesperson. You’re spreading the word. It’s a lot easier if you believe in the product. Personally, I’d like to have integrity about it. I just couldn’t [do it otherwise].

How did you get into bartending?

A classic story: I went to school for music. I chose bartending because I had to pay for school somehow. And even before college, I started to work in the restaurant industry. I started out as a server, then worked my way up, so to speak, to behind the bar. It was financial need. And greed.

Then you became more cocktail geeky?

Exactly. I’ve worked in all kinds of bars in the city. From dive bars to hotel restaurants, and neighborhood places. Finally, I just decided I needed to learn more than how to make shots and Cosmos. Mind you, it was a great experience. I’m glad I worked in all different types of bars. But I decided I wanted to learn a lot more. I started reading about the whole cocktail culture and I wanted to challenge myself.

What was your first gig in the cocktail world?

The first gig, besides drinking in those types of bars, was when I first applied at Clover Club. Nobody knew me in that world and I didn’t know anybody, so I just applied off of Craigslist. I got a job as a cocktail server there, and it just blossomed from there.

Is it difficult to navigate the hierarchy, going from server to bartender?

Not really, as long as you pay some dues. You have to show you that you are really interested in doing it because not a lot of people have that inclination. I wouldn’t say it was difficult, because a lot of those people who are at the top started out being a doorman or a bar back or a cocktail server, so it is quite common. But you do have to put in your time. Most people, unless you have a great recommendation from someone, won’t be hired off the street as a bartender at a cocktail bar.

In kitchens, the old issue of sexism keeps resurfacing. Do you find it more challenging to be taken seriously behind the bar than your male colleagues?

It can work both ways for you. Being a woman can give you a bit more entry because there’s a lot of men and there’s always supposed to be that dynamic between men and women [in bars] … as opposed to a sea of men. However, I still hear people say things [about the top women in the field] like, “She’s one of the best female bartenders around.” It’s not just “one of the best bartenders.” I still hear that qualifier. Is it insulting or just annoying?

I find it annoying, although I know a lot of the men that are saying it. Actually, I have heard women say it, too. I know that a lot of these people don’t mean it with any kind of malicious intent, but it is still in people’s minds. And certainly, as far as competition goes, people see a female bartender as competing against other female bartenders for a job rather than males. I know that women are taken seriously. It’s not a matter of, “Can this chick do the job?” But you still have to prove yourself.

What about the fact that you’re kind of a hot female bartender? Do you find yourself having to downplay your hotness?

Yes, in a certain sense. When I used to work in nightclubs and other types of places, it was full-on cleavage up to your neck and showing everything you could because, honestly, that’s what management wanted. I was comfortable working like that — it didn’t bother me. But in the cocktail world, no, I wouldn’t. You want to have people focusing on the drinks, not so much on you. When your breasts are hanging out, people have a hard time taking what you’re saying seriously. So I prefer to look a little bit more buttoned-up, so to speak. But by the same token, the men wear vests with ties. As a woman, you match how your male counterparts look.

Where do you like to drink when you’re not at your own bar?

I love to try new places. I’ll read about a spot and go check it out. I love to eat, so my main thing is really going out to dinner with wine, champagne. But, basically, I like a place with clean glassware and nice atmosphere and a good wine list.

What do you like to drink at home?

I don’t really drink much at home. If I do, it’s wine, but I have these bottles of liquor there that I don’t touch.

Are there any trends in the bar scene that you’re tired of seeing?

It’s hard to talk about trends without pointing at certain places. But I don’t think we need all the formality anymore. And I think that’s falling away, where everything needs to be hushed like you’re at a temple. I expect to see a return to having a good time and good service in a nice bar without this feeling like you’re in a hallowed place. Of course, you need to be respectful, but at the end of the day, it’s just a glass of booze. People have to remember that [customers] are our guests and you want them to come back. It’s about their experience. What’s the worst customer experience you’ve ever had and how did you deal with it?

At Clover Club, we haven’t had that many bad experiences. I have to think back to the old days when I used to have them all the time. I remember this one time, this man put a $50 bill on the bar and I guess he’d had too much to drink, then he took it back and thought that I took it to pay for his drinks. He accused me of stealing his money. And I had to talk him down from that one and get him to open his wallet where he had, like, 10 $50 bills in there. So that was a little uncomfortable, someone accusing you of stealing. I just had to deal with it with a sense of humor. But now, when someone puts their money on the bar, I charge them right away so there’s never this question of what happened to the money.

Do you ever hope to return to the stage?

I studied music; I’m a singer. I want to get back into performing again. That’s one thing that’s on the burn of [working in bars]. But, yes, I want to get back on the stage again.

What are some of the seasonal ingredients that you’re working with now?

We have cherry tomatoes and basil in one cocktail called the Maria Sin Sangre. We have a tequila that is infused with maras pepper, which is a Turkish pepper. We’re also using raspberries, blackberries, cucumbers, pineapples, strawberries.

What’s the best go-to recipe to make at home, something hard to screw up?

Beer! Actually, it’s easy to mess up a drink. I’d say, for a nice classic that’s hard to mess up, gin and tonic. Refreshing, easy to make. I love drinking gin and tonics in the summer, but they’re great any time, all year round.

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