Natasha Bahrami — also known as the “Gin Girl” — is the owner/manager of St. Louis’s The Gin Room and the force behind this year’s multi-city series of educational and drinking events known as Gin World. To say she is into gin is a vast understatement.
“Gin has a multifaceted character that allows it to mold and bend and excite within a cocktail,” she told me the first time we spoke. She asserts there is a gin for everyone, and she can find it.
Growing up, she witnessed her parents slowly but surely introduce Persian and Middle-Eastern-inspired dishes from their native Iran to the palates of her Budweiser-and-bratwurst Midwest hometown. From a single lunch counter, the Bahramis became serial restaurateurs and fixtures of the community. Natasha went away to college always intending to return to run the family business. While living in Washington, D.C., though, a life-changing martini altered her direction.
“I went down that rabbit hole,” she said about her rapid immersion in the spirits world. Three years later, Natasha returned to St. Louis to transform her family restaurant’s bar into a cool gin lounge with an emphasis on consumer education. This was 2014, and gin was far behind brown spirits in popularity.
“Despite what everyone said, that [gin] was a niche category,” she kept on, figuring “worst case scenario: I’d have a lot of gin at my disposal.”
Perhaps watching her parents ease St. Louisans into loving Persian flavors was proof of what was possible. “Sometimes people tell you no, and if you have a lot of love and passion, you keep going.”
The Gin Room is housed in the front room of Café Natasha’s, her family’s Persian-inspired restaurant. Photo courtesy of The Gin Room.
It was this passion that enabled Natasha to spread her love of gin to her hometown, then onto cities on two continents, in just under four years. Since opening the Gin Room, she has organized two annual Gin Festivals in St. Louis, the largest of its kind in the United States. In 2017, with help from a small team of enthusiasts, she debuted Gin World in four additional cities. That meant around putting on 110 individual events: seminars, tastings, happy hours, etc., between St. Louis, D.C., New Orleans, and San Francisco.
Melissa Katrincic of Durham Distillery (Conniption Gin) participated in both Washington, D.C. and Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. She echoes the benefit of gathering gin lovers together.
“It’s about reaching the right people who are interested in the gin community,” Katrincic said over the phone. “There’s been really amazing growth within [the community] in the last 18 months, and so when Natasha decided to do Gin World in cities other than St. Louis, we immediately said yes. Because we knew that was going to be where our customers were.”
Beyond promoting smaller brands, Natasha aims to build communities among peers by making connections between local and international distillers and ambassadors. “It was so beautiful,” she reported, to watch friendships form around this common obsession.
Her favorite thing remains converting gin-phobes. “Most of our successes come from meeting people who say ‘I don’t like this spirit at all’ and really getting them to not necessarily love it, but to understand the depth and breadth of what it can do.”
Natasha certainly illustrates the breadth of what one enthusiast can do for a community.