Debating India

Playing with fire

Monday 4 July 2005

Male bartenders watch out. You have competition

Female bartenders in India? Never seen one. The only women behind the bar I’ve seen are in Hollywood movies such as Coyote Ugly. (Who can forget that one?!)

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PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT Ami Shroff juggles flaming bottles with panache Photo: BHAGYA PRAKASH K.

But at a recent event in a five-star pub, I did come across a female bartender, Ami Shroff, a svelte arts student from Mumbai who has chosen bartending as a profession, for the time being at least. She was behind the bar, chatting with the bartender. At first glance she looked like a patron curious about bartending.

But her T-shirt and faded jeans took on a different meaning altogether when she started juggling some empty bottles. I thought, "So this girl knows some juggling. Hmm... " But she took my breath away when she started mixing a cocktail.

I couldn’t resist striking up a conversation with her. It turned out, she was part of a team of three female bartenders called Plus One who freelance in some of Mumbai’s hippest bars and clubs.

"The other girls are Delnaaz and Sabah. We have been doing this for two years now, but it is the first time in Bangalore. We are the only female bartenders we know of who do the flare," she screamed above the din.

"What do your parents think about this?"

She surprises me with, "They have been my biggest source of support and encouragement. They don’t mind me being seen as a bartender. They just want me to do what I want to do."

And then it was time get back to mixing cocktails. "Hang around. I’m going to do a flare."

A flare is the fire play that bartenders perform to keep guzzlers entertained. It is performed with one or more bottles lit at the mouth with tissue paper and lighter fluid.

Ami dipped each wad of tissue paper in the flammable fluid and stuffed it into the mouth of the bottle, and said helpfully, "The bottle must always be smooth and just the right weight."

She then proceed to set the bar table on fire with lighter fluid and performed against the backdrop of the flickering flames. The two bottles in her hand spun up and down, around her and under her as she juggled them perfection. An awed patron exclaiming, "Ey, en maga idu!" through the deafening applaude summed up the illuminating evening.

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