|Photo Credit: Eric Medsker|
My latest for the Campari America #SpiritedInterview series is about an issue that I care deeply about, and selfishly have a lot of curiosity about. As a young woman in the spirits industry who would like to have a family one day, I have felt the conflicting pressures of cocktails and motherhood. I have refused to believe that it was an either / or situation – that if I wanted to have a family that I would have to give up this part of my career that I love so much. The prospect of sacrificing my career is heartbreaking, just as I imagine it is for so many other women in the cocktail and spirits industry.
Inspiration comes in funny ways. Through the magic of Instagram I have watched Natasha David, owner and operator of New York City’s NiteCap, take on the challenge of motherhood head on. She was behind the bar, pregnant, ignoring the bewildered looks of her customers (a woman can work behind the bar and not drink – whaaaattt?) Then, she gave birth to her adorable son Elliot, and was refreshingly honest about the struggles and joys of being a working mom in an industry that is notoriously demanding on its labor force.
I knew I wanted to interview her for this series – I wanted her honesty on the record about exactly how much women can do in this industry. I, for one, am really proud of her. Her story gives me comfort that I don’t have to give up my dreams – or a future of kids, family, and a healthy life/work balance.
Without further ado, Natasha David:
Gastronomista: Natasha, tell us what inspired you to become a bartender and what you’re up to these days?
Natasha David: I moved to New York to attend NYU as a drama major (with a minor in Latin American Studies) and had worked in restaurants, clubs and bars all throughout college to pay my bills. Once I graduated, I obviously thought I would become an actress, and quite honestly was doing pretty well. But everything they say about the acting world is true, and I got sick and tired of auditioning for yet another “exotic mistress,” being on a diet every day of the year, and well, playing the game. I soon found myself looking forward to being behind the bar and dreading my auditions. So I fired my agents and decided to become a bartender.
Nowadays I am the co-owner and operator of Nitecap. I also own a consulting business with my husband, Jeremy Oertel. Current projects are the SoHo Grand Hotel, Roxy Hotel and MADE Hotel. And then I work with a number of brands developing recipes for them.
Gastronomista: Not long ago, you became a mother. Tell us a bit about the challenges and the amazing discoveries about being a new mom behind the bar – from pregnancy to having a small kiddo.
ND: I’ll be honest—I had a pretty miserable pregnancy! I puked every single day, multiple times a day plus Elliot, my son, decided to hunker down on my sciatic nerve. I had always envisioned myself bartending until the day I pushed him out, but after multiple shifts where I had to run and stick my head in the toilet mid round-building, I decided that was not in the cards for me. But I certainly didn’t stop working.
We had to suddenly move the bar to a new location when I was about six months along, so sitting back with my feet up eating ice cream wasn’t really an option (ha ha!), nor would I have wanted it to be, as I am not the type to sit around. Moving the bar basically meant opening a new bar, and it kept me very busy. I was actually placing a beer order when I went into labor!
Once I had Elliot, I wanted to give myself a month-long maternity leave, but being a very stubborn person, I worked from my hospital bed as I felt a need to support my staff (who would have been totally fine!) during this time of transition for the bar. And this, I think, was a big mistake for me.
Having a child and being a mother has been my number-one goal and desire for as long as I can remember, and the joy that my son gives me is something that cannot, by any means, be expressed in words. And I am going to be completely honest here, I have been suffering from post-partum depression, and I think it’s largely because I didn’t allow myself to step away from work, focus on being a mother and get to know myself and my new identity.
So these past 10 months have been a bit of a rocky journey, but one with many discoveries, good and bad.
Gastronomista: How has becoming a mother changed your professional career, and what have been the greatest takeaways?
ND: It’s incredible how your priorities can literally change from one day to the next. I used to put work before my personal life all the time. Now, Elliot and family time are number one! I am much more picky about the projects I take on. If they are going to take me away from my son, they have to fulfill me in some other way.
Gastronomista: As a young woman with aspirations of having my own family one day, I am in complete awe of what you do on a day-to-day basis. In fact, I’m thinking of starting an entire series on the blog called, “Lady, how in the world are you doing all of this?”, showcasing women achieving their career goals while raising children. On that note, how in the world are you doing all of this?
ND: Well, I’m getting by, and so are all of those Instagram moms. This illusion of “balancing it all” isn’t real. And any working mother, if she is being honest with you (perhaps after a couple of drinks) will tell you the same. Being a working mother is not easy, but it is VERY worth it! It helps that I have an incredible partner on this journey who will literally bring Elliot to Nitecap for 30 minutes just so I can see him, who will pick up shifts so that I don’t have to work as much and who will drop everything if Elliot or I need something.
The bar world is not a traditional setting for raising a child—odd hours, loooong hours, no sick days, no health insurance—but the bar does have an intensely loyal sense of community and a willingness to be flexible, two qualities that I are more valuable than any of that other stuff.
Although being a mother is my number-one priority, I obviously still have goals for my career, and I have very happily tweaked those a little because my focus is my family. So yes, you can have it all if you are willing and open to accept change.
Gastronomista: How has the team at Nitecap supported your life as a new mom?
ND: I don’t even know where to start on this answer. Alex and Dave are pretty much the most wonderful partners in the world. We were friends before being business partners, so having that personal connection certainly helps. I was actually nervous telling them I was pregnant, but they were both overjoyed when I told them; they just rolled with the punches and listened to my needs. I recently took a little three-week leave of absence to tackle my post-partum depression, and they didn’t flinch and did everything they could to support me.
And when it comes to the staff, well they have been a dream! My head bartender, Lauren Corriveau, has shouldered most of the burden and has done so gracefully and with no complaint. We are very, very lucky to have a real family at Nitecap—the team really cares and is invested in the bar and in every individual that is part of it, so they all go the extra mile. Additionally they all love Elliot and are so great with him.
It makes me very happy to know that Elliot is growing up in such a loving community.
Gastronomista: What advice would you have for bar owners / managers who want to be as supportive as possible to new mothers?
ND: PAID MATERNITY AND PATERNITY LEAVE!!! I know this is difficult for small businesses—trust me, I am one—but it’s so important. So get creative, maybe start a little savings account and put in $50 a week, and then you have a reserve so that when the time comes, your mamas and papas can take the time that they NEED with their new families.
I would also say offer your staff financial planning seminars. It’s SO important if you want to start a family.
And if you are a staff member on a team with someone who has a child, be understanding and be willing to be flexible. It will be much appreciated in a way that you can’t even imagine.
Gastronomista: You recently relocated to Red Hook, New York. How has the moved changed your life, and what is in store for you next?
ND: We haven’t moved quite yet! My mother, who is moving from Seattle, purchased a home that we can all live in together. I’m not quite sure what the future holds to be completely frank. I do know that I am over carrying a stroller up to my 4th floor walk-up every day and I am certain that I want my son to have a backyard and a great education. So we, as a family, decided to relocate. Jeremy and I are very lucky in that we own our apartment in Brooklyn, so I definitely see some commuting and over-night trips in my future as I want to make sure Nitecap is in a good place. And I’m going very against my personality here, but I’ve just decided that even though this is kind of crazy, it’s going to work because we want it to work, so we will figure it out!
I don’t want to speak to soon, but there are some exciting opportunities up here work-wise that we are exploring, and eventually we hope to open something of our own. So I guess, stay tuned.
Gastronomista: What drives the creative process for you when you’re creating cocktails? Any tricks of the trade you can share?
ND: Creating cocktails for me is definitely very influenced by mood and color—maybe that’s my theatre background. There is something very magical about drinking a cocktail that stirs up some sort of emotion or memory or creates a new memory—and by all means, that emotion can be as simple as, “Damn, this is good!” So I guess I’m thinking more about the lasting, lingering effect of the experience than I am about an ingredient.
Gastronomista: Who inspires you in the bar industry right now? Who do you think is doing it right?!
ND: I mean, there are so many! I’ve had some incredible mentors and some incredible strong women like Katie Stipe to look up too. But I am continually inspired by the folks behind the Quixotic Projects who are based in Paris—they are masters of creating transportive, fun, but intensely professional spaces.
Gastronomista: If you could visit any bar anywhere in the world, at any point in history, what bar would you visit? Who would you have a drink with?
ND: I mean, I guess I could give you a very intellectual and historically significant answer here, but really, in my heart of hearts, I just wish I was in a low-cut sequins jumpsuit, in platform heels, under a giant disco ball, at Studio 54 drinking a glass of Champagne with Grace Jones and Liza Minnelli.
(Author’s Note: Yaaaassssssss)
Gastronomista: This series is sponsored by Campari America, can you recommend a favorite cocktail or two for our readers made with their products?
ND: I’ll always drink an Americano if you hand it to me or if you want something from me. A little Boulevardier variation of mine:
Created by Natasha David
1 ½ oz Wild Turkey 101 Rye
¾ oz Campari
¾ oz Dry Vermouth
1 tsp Crème de Cacao
Method: Stir, Strain
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: Discarded Lemon Twist
Created by Natasha David
1-½ oz Aperol
¾ oz Pasquet ‘Marie Framboise’
¾ oz Grapefruit Juice
½ oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Simple Syrup
Top with Seltzer
Method: Dry Shake, Shake, Strain, Top w/ Seltzer
Glass: Fizz Glass
Garnish: Edible Glitter
For more follow Natasha on Instagram.