I could still feel the butterflies in my stomach. Although my hands had stopped shaking hours ago, I was still a ball of nerves and excitement. I stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the rooftop bar. This was the first moment I was able to reflect on what had happened. I had just successfully taught a room full of strangers how to make candles and how to make cocktails. I was having the biggest ‘WOW’ moment.
I caught a glimmer of myself in the reflection of the elevator doors.
“Hey girly, you did it!”. My reflection was smiling at me. I was smiling back.
The music went from a faint whisper to a thumping as I approached the fourteenth floor.
The elevator doors opened to a rooftop scene where a blend of dance-house music was bumping and the scent of food on the grill was hitting the air. Over thirty self-identifying women having an amazing time laughing, smiling, chatting, and drinking. The party was lit.
This was nice.
I took a moment to put my things down, and as I was doing so, a beautiful young woman rushed up to me.
“This drink is soooooo good! Thank you!”, she said.
“Thank me? Ummmm…okay” I replied.
She could see the bewilderment on my face.
“Yes, you! You made it! You’re ‘The Bartender’ right? “ smiling and dancing a little two-step while she spoke.
“I’m *A* bartender love…not The Bartender. I didn’t make that drink.” pointing to the cocktail she was holding.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me in the direction of the bar.
“ You’re so silly. YOU made it. It’s YOUR drink. See!?!”
And there, on the bar, was a menu that had three drinks listed – the same three I had crafted for the cocktail class earlier in the day.
I glanced back at the woman who brought me to the bar. It finally dawned on me that she was holding a ‘Sultry Siren’. The scent of mezcal is always undeniable.
I had made her drink.
My world stood still.
I took in the music, the laughter, the smiles, the vibe. I even remember the color of the sunset and the feel of the breeze on my skin as I drank the moment in.
I had created this.
My cocktails were featured at The Vue rooftop bar in New Orleans. I was surrounded by people sipping cocktails I’d created.
I stepped up to the bar and ordered one of my creations from the bartender.
This was Bliss.
This was November of 2019, and in all of my twenty years of bartending, I had never felt anything like that moment.
When asked how the industry has changed over the past two decades, I realized that I was being asked to reflect on my entire career. How has it changed?
Me, a black woman, is now openly celebrated in a multitude of spaces around the world for my talent in the drinks industry. Yet back then, when I first started my journey in hospitality, it was very uncommon to find another black female face behind a bar in prestigious places. For over thirteen years, I was the only black woman bartender at the establishment I worked for. I often felt outnumbered, uncomfortable and unseen.
Over the past twenty years, there have been so many spaces where I was not invited to and so many tables I was not invited to sit at. I reflect on this today as I sit on Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Beyond the Bar Advisory Committee as a co-chair. I realize that I have now been given the agency to ensure BIPOC voices in the industry are not only seen and heard but celebrated as well.
Recently, I’ve advocated with One Fair Wage to speak out against the injustices that happen to pregnant black women while bartending and to lobby against unfair wage practices in our nation. It took almost twenty years in this industry to feel like my voice matters, and while the hospitality industry has grown, there is still work to be done. My predecessor Jackie Summers once said that I was a gatekeeper sent to destroy the gate. And as this gate crumbles, I would like to see the bridge to evolution and inclusivity stand proudly in its place.
I am here to build.
I can still see the deep purple swirl in the sky that November night. The sun sank beneath the New Orleans skyline, and I heard the roar of endless laughter as I sipped my Sultry Siren. It was at that moment, I realized what success tasted like and I want others to taste it too.
About Chanta Hunter:
Chanta Hunter is a Brooklyn-born bartender who’s been slinging deliciousness and wowing tourists in the heart of Times Square for seventeen years prior to the pandemic. As one of the lead bartenders, Chanta excelled at high volume service with speedy service, quick wit, humor and smile. 2022 is her 22nd year in the service industry. Post pandemic Chanta freelances as a Hospitality Consultant and teaches cocktail curating classes with hopes of launching a line of bottled cocktails in the near future to supply thirsty New Yorkers with potent portables on the go. When not behind a bar, Chanta leads an adventure-filled life as a mother of four kids and two fur babies. Because of her love for all things handcrafted, Chanta is also an entrepreneur of organic skincare & spa essentials with her line Tailored To Bare, for which she teaches candle-making classes as well.