Lady Bar Owner

I am a woman in a very male-dominated space, whether it’s patrons or the vendors we work with, the bar, restaurant, and liquor industries are full of men, men, men. Everywhere.

Men who have been encouraged to take up space and be loud, and that they are entitled to it.

Spaces occupied by a male majority aren’t a bad thing in and of themselves until they are. Bars might be generally more welcoming and safer to women if more were part of the industry.

The experience of a woman in this space is a delicate one. We notice things men don’t, we have challenges men don’t, and we are absolutely taken far less seriously.

So, with my six-month expertise, let me share with you some things I’ve noticed or experienced. Some may not be necessarily specific to women, but they are my experiences nonetheless.

  1. No one ever assumes I am the owner.

The number of times I’ve been in a situation with a vendor and our male bar manager, someone like our tap cleaners for example, and they don’t even look at me is, well, a lot. And do you know how many times I have heard someone ask our bar manager if he is the owner? Also, a lot. He politely says “no” and points to me and/or my partner. I have never been explicitly asked if I am the owner without first hinting at it. Usually, I get asked, “Is the owner here?”

And then I instill shock in the inquirer when I say, “I’m the owner.” Truly. Eyes bulge.

There have been countless times I’ve listened to people tell Harrison how happy they are for him as I wipe counters and plug taps. Just last week someone told Harrison, “Man, you’ve got great bartenders here” after I made him a cocktail. I’m pretty sure he had been told already been told that I am an owner. Alas, misogyny wins again.

2. Women are still vessels to everyone, and no life decision will be as important as marriage and children.

Very early on, an older man came in and started telling me how great it is to have a family-owned business and that someday, my children can work there. I looked at him and said, “You assume I want children, sir.”

He has come in several other times, and without fail, he brings up the prospect of children. Every time, I say, “Nope. No kids.”

Apparently, I’ve made it my personal responsibility to tell one solitary white-haired boomer that children are not always a desire for women. Furthermore, it is so impolite to talk to women you don’t know about such a sensitive topic for reasons that should be obvious.

My sister-in-law is currently pregnant as is Harrison’s sister. I am thrilled to be an aunt. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, and I support and stand behind their decisions as women to have kids. BUT battling some family expectations to drop everything and make time to fly across the country for a baby shower has been frustrating to say the least. We also just made a huge life change that requires immeasurable amounts of our time and energy, but that also brings meaning, purpose, a fulfillment to our lives. Sort of like having kids, I assume.

My point is that some people choose to have kids, some people choose to buy a bar. Some might choose to do both (God help them). Everything is a choice, and I would love to celebrate choices that are anything other than having children. Other things are also very hard and require immense sacrifice.

3. Men say weird shit to me all the time.

I take the environment that exists in the space that I own extremely seriously, especially considering the space that we took over was very male-dominated. Since the previous bar was very dominated by men who were obviously never told “no” by anyone at the previous bar, imagine their surprise to have someone tell them, “That’s not how we talk about women here” after they’ve said something gross.

The things that men feel comfortable saying to people never cease to amaze, but here are a few:

  • “How was yoga this morning. Was there a lot of talent there?”
  • After a cupping session with visible bruises, “Did you go to go to a massage parlor? Were they Asian?” Nothing like some not-so-veiled gross racism to start a Wednesday night.
  • References to their condom size, which is obviously magnum, to which I reply, “You wish.”
  • After I converted our gendered single-occupancy restrooms to gender-neutral, two very offended men argued that women want their own restroom because men pee on the seats and then don’t put them down. I told them all they were doing was outing themselves as jerks who can’t aim and don’t put the seat down, and that as a woman, I can unequivocally say that we actually don’t care. Oh, and they should probably work on their aim.  
  • A man asked me if the tampon shortage was real. I said, “yes.” Then for some wild reason, he felt it appropriate to tell me, “I just pull them out anyway.”

4. I never feel like I belong.

Imposter syndrome sucks, and it has been constant for the last several months. There are fortunately several women who own bars in our area, usually with their partners just like me. I don’t know all of them personally, though I’ve met many. No matter who it is and no matter their gender, I always assume they have their shit way more together than I do, that they know far better how to build a successful business. And they might because they’ve been doing it longer, but it’s really hard to shake the feeling that I just don’t belong in this club. At some point, they’re all going to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing. I am mustering all the confidence I can every day, and when it’s not there, I fake it. Big time.

5. A little bit goes a really long way for women in often male-dominated spaces.

One of the first things I did when we opened was stock our bathrooms with pads and tampons. I immediately had several women thank me for doing that. It is so incredibly rare for restrooms to be stocked with menstrual products. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen this need accommodated.

6. I feel very exposed and isolated at the same time.

I’m a fly-under-the-radar kind of person. I don’t love being the center of attention or having every decision I make be judged. But that is the position I inevitably find myself in as a business owner. I have to answer for everything, and unfortunately, I’m usually trying to explain things to people who have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. They’ll comment on prices being too high without knowing what it costs us or how little we actually profit after our costs are covered – if at all. They don’t know that we are also working full-time jobs to keep ourselves afloat financially because our business cannot sustain us, at least not yet. They have no idea the difficulties that come from inflation or supply chain issues, and that it isn’t our mistake that we are out of cheese pizzas for three weeks. Our supplier couldn’t get the ingredients.

While I don’t really owe anyone an explanation, I know they expect one.

As a woman, it’s hard not to think about things that are a non-issue for men. Is what I’m wearing professional enough to look like an owner, but comfortable and outwardly approachable enough to be behind the bar, where I spend much of my time?

Unless my friends come to me, I lose track of them these days, and while my alone time has become sacred, it’s still lonely. But, I’ve also really learned who my true friends are through this whole process.

Unfortunately, some friends misconstrue my lack of availability as selfishness or get frustrated that I can’t do the things I used to, and that’s hard. I always try to be there for the important things, even for those who haven’t really shown up for us, to be honest.

It gets hard to carry the burden of worry because talking about it feels like a nuisance or worse, a failure. Not to mention, people like to give advice or try to “fix” at times that I’m just hoping to feel a little less alone.

When I had COVID and had to isolate, causing a lot of logistical nightmares and added burdens placed on Harrison and our bar manager, a friend told me that everything would be okay because her manicurist had it and didn’t have anyone to cover for her, and it all turned out okay for her. I didn’t respond. I was looking for support and for someone to listen. Maybe a “how can I help?” Instead, I got unsolicited and unhelpful advice that honestly didn’t even make much sense.

To the public, you are the owner – some sort of entity that is outside of human, and therefore, you don’t have needs or feelings. When we lost our cat, who had been attached to me since I got him as a kitten, I lived in that grief alone. I had one day to cry and then I was back at it.

7. My diet sucks because I’m always eating quick meals on the run.

8. I know levels of tired I’ve never known before.

9. I have extremely limited time for my own needs.

Self-care, exercise, taking care of my house, grocery shopping, and any sort of leisure activities get pushed aside in favor of sleep. But when I do have a spare hour for a pedicure, know I take that shit. Remember when I used to read books?

10. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it is also the most rewarding.

The day the Marshall Fire hit neighborhoods in Louisville and Superior, a couple of our regulars came in and said they were waiting for word on a family member’s house. Their family member was out of town, so they had to wait until the next day and be the ones to tell them if their home was still there.

I remember thinking, “This is why.” Yes, we’re a bar, but on that day, they came to us seeking respite.

Just last week, one of our regulars came in just hours after losing his dog. Yes, he wanted a drink (or several), but he also wanted a place where he felt safe and cared for. We were able to talk about our lost pets together, and shortly after he arrived, another regular came in with a brand-new puppy. It was as though the universe aligned to provide comfort.

On any given day you’ll find friendship and conversation and laughter. Also, it’s an opportunity for Harrison and me to bring unique experiences to a place that perhaps hasn’t had them. We host stand-up comedy every week, which isn’t something that exists anywhere near the bar. When I contacted Sofar Sounds about hosting, they said they had never done shows in our area before, opting for only central Denver locations. Now, we’ve hosted several sold-out shows with them.

We are also able to support organizations we care about as we have done with Period Kits.

Unlike the soul-sucking nature of my corporate day job, I can use this space to do what I want. We can be part of a community in a way that I’m not sure I expected from a neighborhood bar. It helps to make up for the exhaustion and loneliness. I’m confident that the other things will eventually fall into place. I’ll have time for self-care and leisure again. I’ll find some sort of balance again. This is our long game – a chance to do something more meaningful with the time we have.

It’s Okay If You’re Not Celebrating Today

Mother’s Day is not my day. I get fatigued at seeing all of the praise being showered upon all mothers as beings above all other beings.

Yes, there are obviously fabulous mothers among us, and as an American woman, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to advocate for mothers considering our lack of maternity leave or paid leave of any kind, lack of affordable childcare, workplace discrimination, and a trash mountain of other pressures faced by mothers on a daily basis.

That aside, it’s a fallacy that mothers know best, give the best advice, make the best decisions for their families, etc, etc….

Mothers are human beings with flaws. They make terrible decisions and give awful advice sometimes. That is probably the best case scenario and still makes for a great mom.

For me and my family, we had a mother who felt she was owed for the inconvenience and sacrifice of motherhood and would eventually tell us that. But before she said as many words, she stole identities, checkbooks, our sense of security, pieces of our childhoods along with pieces of our futures.

I haven’t spoken to my biological mother on over 10 years, and it’s a relationship I consider long past dead. I don’t have any desire to reconnect or have a conversation of any kind. Some people find that deplorable because, and I quote, “But she’s your mom.”

I tried. Believe me, I tried. The constant threat to being able to establish myself as a successful adult, the guilt trips, the bailouts – it all became too much.

After she paid me back one final time for yet another financial bailout I gave her as a broke college student, I was done. I moved, I changed my phone number. I even cut off contact with my siblings for years to prevent her from knowing where I was or how to reach me. I lost a lot of time and contact with people I care about. All because of a selfish, narcissistic woman.

As secure as I am in the choice that I made, it doesn’t make this day any easier to stomach. I know I’m not alone. I’ve heard far too many stories from people like me who did not grow up with mothers or fathers who nurtured them or set them up for success, whether financially or even emotionally.

The same goes for Father’s Day. There are great dads, but there are also bad ones or completely emotionally unavailable dads. I have a pretty good relationship with my dad as an adult, but there is A LOT of baggage there.

I just wish these days that we celebrate our parents could come with less, well, shit.

Whatever you’re feeling today, feel it. If you’re celebrating, that’s wonderful. But don’t feel guilty for not feeling all that celebratory. There are a lot of us out here.

Time

Do you remember the height of the pandemic when all we had was time? Sure, those of us who were working – remote or otherwise, have kids, or other responsibilities, still had things to do every day. But then when we were finished with our responsibilities, there was nowhere to go and no one to see. As bleak as that time may have been, I have to admit that I kind of miss it. I spent my evenings revisiting movies I used to love and weekends going for walks, reading a book, or going for a drive to a different part of town just to enjoy a change of scenery.

Like so many people during the pandemic, Harrison and I thought a lot about how we were spending our time, our work, our screen time. It was probably the most intentional we had ever been about our time, and the most thought we had ever given to our day-to-day life and activities. We realized how dissatisfied we had become with how we spent 40 hours a week, or often much more than that due to the merging of home life and work life.

We would consider things we could do to spend our time on things that are more fulfilling or enjoyable.

Then, we had an opportunity come our way last year. A bar where Harrison had been producing comedy shows was for sale and had recently closed. The owners had received a few offers they didn’t feel right about, and then they called Harrison.

They offered to sell him the bar for an insanely low price. And by “him,” I mean “us” because especially having been doing this for a few months now, there is no scenario in which he could have done this without my involvement.

We had to move fast. After a whirlwind month of rebranding, hiring a manager, and addressing necessary repairs, we opened a reborn neighborhood bar in November 2021.

It happened so fast that neither of us felt comfortable leaving our day jobs. Though, in hindsight, we may have chosen differently.

In the last two years, we’ve gone from more time than we knew what to do with, to a bit less but still ample amount of time, to not even enough time to grocery shop or take care of personal needs.

We gambled on ourselves and this bar with big dreams that it will someday lead to not only spending our obligatory time on something more meaningful, but that we can help it grow and then let it go and trust that it will sustain us.

We are just at the beginning of seeing this endeavor pay off. We don’t know how long this will take or how much time we’ll have, well, no time.

There are moments when the weight of all of this feels heavier, like when we have to ensure that we make time to care for our aging and chronically ill pets or even considering whether we’ll have time to grieve when they pass. What if we’re sick or we have an emergency? We’re about to have a niece or nephew. Will we have the chance to watch them grow?

When will we be able to take vacations again? When/if our business is making enough money to sustain us, how will we spend our time then? What will be our next move if we are successful, and how much time will that take?

Sometimes, it feels like we’re on borrowed time and everything could come crashing down any second. I continue to wonder how much longer people will confuse us for the previous bar or how much more time we’ll have to spend on unsolicited advice and feedback.

Am I in a rush to see this really take off? Yes. Am I also trying to spend just a second every now and then to take it in when the work pays off? Absolutely.

Time is a weird thing. It’s all taking too long and happening too fast all at once.

Read, Read, and Read Some More

Oh my goodness, I’m so behind updating this. I may be fully vaxxed, but it’s still an extra good time for reading since all the ding-dongs refusing to get vaccinated are making it very difficult to get back to normal. Anywho, here’s run-down of the books I read in February, March, and April. (These are my opinions. If I didn’t like a book, but it sounds interesting to you, read it anyway. I am not the authority on good books).

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This book is crazy and was my first real dive into the Horror genre. It’s a bit of a slow build, but when everything starts to unravel, it is nothing that you expect it to be. The lead character is witty and smart and the exact kind of female lead we all want to root for. It’s very driven by visual descriptors and explores race and eugenics. It’s very nightmare-ish but in the best way possible.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

I read The Warmth of Other Suns last year and was blown away. Truly one of the most important books I’ve read. This book absolutely met that mark, as well. We don’t typically associate the word “caste” with the United States, but Wilkerson eloquently and brilliantly argues that Black Americans continue to be the lowest tier of the American caste system using the history of the Indian caste system and Nazi Germany as the backdrop of her argument. It’s a must-read.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

If you’re a person who asks yourself a lot of “what if” questions, this is a lovely read. What if I had chosen that path instead of this one? How would life be different and would it be better? What would be missing from that life that I have in my current life. Be aware that there are themes of depression, suicide, and substance abuse.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

I wanted to continue to explore the Horror genre with this one, and I wanted to like this book so much. It didn’t click for me. I was excited to read something with Native American representation because I value learning about different cultures through more than just non-fiction works, but I found the story a little hard to follow and a little slow in parts. A lot of people love this book, so totally give it a try if it sounds compelling.

Nick by Michael Farris-Smith

Another swing and a miss for me, but I did it to myself. I love The Great Gatsby. Love, love, love it. When I saw that someone wrote a prequel about Nick, my gut reaction was, “Why would someone do that?” I read this mostly out of curiosity, and my instincts were correct. Turns out the most interesting part about Nick was always people he knows. This book is about Nick was before Gatsby, yet the most captivating characters are the people he bumps into along the way and not him. It’s well-written, occasionally even beautifully written, but I ultimately hate that it exists.

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong

Ali Wong is one of the funniest women in comedy, in my opinion. This book is a series of letters to her daughters. She tells stories about her childhood, the Asian-American experience, dating, marriage, career, and motherhood in the most Ali Wong way possible. It’s funny and honest and gross in all the best ways.

This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith

While I fully and completely reject the premise of this book (spoiler alert) because there is no god damn way in 2021 America that any woman with any social awareness would invite a possibly mentally disturbed man – or any man for that matter – that she has just met into her car, and then her home FOR MULTIPLE DAYS. No way. That sounds like an excellent way for your friends and family to be interviewed about your mysterious disappearance and murder on a future episode of Dateline. But, that’s kind of the point of the book, I guess. Sometimes we have to trust and let our guard down to help and be helped. I liked this book. It was sweet and lovely despite the fact that it is fully unrealistic and would never, ever happen.

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

It took me a bit to get into this one, but I really liked it. The characters are what drive this book. They’re fun and have interesting quirks and are developed well by the author. The plot was hard for me to grab on to at first, but by the end, it was easy to appreciate the ways that the characters’ lives intersected and the connections that were created.

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler

I am the target audience for this book. It’s for millennial women who have been or currently are a little too into social media. A lackluster writer gig, lying on the internet, and a desire to escape your life – it’s all there. I wouldn’t call it a page turner, but it’s quirky and funny, and not like anything I’ve read.

Just Like You by Nick Horny

I have read all of Nick Hornby’s novels, and most I have really loved. Unsurprisingly, About a Boy, High Fidelity, and Juliet, Naked are my top 3 (those were also the ones that became widely released movies). I also loved A Long Way Down and State of the Union. However, this book really wanted to have a point, but it didn’t. A white woman around 40 and a 22-year-old black man fall in love and turns out that despite all the reasons they shouldn’t work, they do… blah, blah, blah. Any explorations of race were lazy and lacked substance and oh my god-what if the young man wants kids someday, what then? The lady will be shriveled up and barren soon! It was vaguely enjoyable, but I don’t think Nick Hornby (very white guy) was the person to tell this particular story.

Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity by Scott Galloway

This is not a genre I typically read, but Harrison and I saw this guy on Bill Mahar (I know, gag) and he was a spitfire, as they say. I love when someone can explain shit I don’t get (the stock market) to me in a way that is understandable. Lots of interesting stuff in this book about where we are because of COVID and where we could go from here. There’s also a sound argument against free college, which I have historically been in favor of. It’s interesting and accessible to the average idiot. Definitely recommend.

Outlawed by Anna North

A Wild West gang of barren and outcasted lady-robbers led by a non-binary cowperson. This book is fun as hell, while also exploring gender, sexuality, and mental health in an unexpected context. It leaves you feeling hopeful, and also wondering, ‘Why are men?’ Okay, not all men, but like, a lot of them. Loved this.

Currently reading: You’ll Never Guess What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

Be my friend on Goodreads and you won’t have to wait three months to see what I’m reading. And also, please for the love of god get vaccinated. She didn’t give us scientists for no reason, ya dopes.

Are You NOt Exhausted?

I have left my house so infrequently in the last year. When I did, it was usually to go for a neighborhood walk or to the grocery store. I used to love grocery shopping until the pandemic made it stressful. But even in the last year, it’s been the one place we needed to go regularly and one of the only trips out of the house that gave us a small sense of normalcy. Yesterday, we were reminded again that no mundane, everyday activity is safe.

Maybe it’s the weight of the entire last year, but fuck, I’m tired. I’m god damn exhausted. Our glimmer of hope in the pandemic is immediately quelled by the reality of what normal is in this country. “Back to normal” sucks. I don’t want to go back to normal.

I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life. Columbine. Aurora. Now Boulder. Not to mention a whole bunch of other preventable tragedies in between like STEM School and Arapahoe High School.

We have a problem. We have had a problem. And the most frustrating part is that it’s a fixable problem. STOP LETTING ANY IDIOT WITH A PULSE HAVE A GUN. This isn’t complicated.

Why do we continue to do this? I will never understand. When are we going to decide to stop? Seriously, what’s it going to take?

I’m Fat, You’re Fat. Let’s Get Vaccinated.

Hello. This is me. My whole body that I dragged up to 10,000 ft back in August. I worked hard for that view.

May be an image of Whitney Bradford, standing, outerwear, tree, lake and mountain

And here is my BMI as of a year ago.

(It’s definitely higher now because I’ve gained 5-10 pounds during this long, dark winter.)

According to the state of Colorado, having a BMI over 30 constitutes a high-risk health condition called obesity, and this means that I will be vaccine eligible starting on March 19th.

BMI is an extremely flawed metric that is in no way indicative of a person’s overall health. It’s literally a math problem involving height and weight. Do you know any meatheads who are, I don’t know, really into Crossfit and wear their shirts a size too small to make their muscles look bigger? Guess what? Their BMI probably also says they’re obese. Because BMI is very much bullshit.

As fully stupid as this measurement is, I will absolutely use it to get the vaccine, and you should, too. If your state says you are eligible, you are not skipping the line, and you are not taking someone else’s spot. We’re trying to vaccinate 330,000,000 million people here (give or take).

And please don’t get in your head about it. While I have definitely never been a small person, I am healthy and pretty active (although starting a new, more demanding job at the onset of winter, when it’s dark before 5pm has not been helpful for my overall activity level), and I am fortunate that I have a doctor I trust who always looks at the big picture and not just my weight. But she is not every doctor. It is unfortunately not out of the realm of possibilities that weight could impact someone’s quality of care should they get sick.

Trust me, I get it. My gut reaction was to say “Fuck you, state of Colorado. I’m not high risk. I’m young and healthy damnit!” It’s taken me a long time to develop an appreciation for my body and to (mostly) ignore what metrics like BMI tell me about myself.

And that was also the reaction of people I told about this. Multiple people said something along the lines of, “I don’t want to fuck someone else over, so I’ll wait.”

Okay a couple of things. First of all, what are you actually going to do then? Because if your plan is to just sit around and think you’re helping by keeping one appointment open, you’re giving yourself a whole lot of undeserved credit. Waiting if you are eligible could actually hurt people, and your solitary open appointment will not create some seismic shift that allows all the most vulnerable people to suddenly get the shot. So respectfully, get the hell over yourself. Harrison and I spent the last week helping someone he works with who is over 60 and has asthma find a vaccine appointment. I get that this process has not been ideal or easy.

If you’re concerned about equity gaps or more vulnerable people not getting vaccinated, then good grief, help them or pressure your local officials to initiate more community outreach and vaccine sites where it matters. But make yourself an appointment, too. It might take a while to find one, anyway.

Second, there has been plenty of guilt and shame in the last year. Am I supporting local businesses enough? Am I donating to the right causes? Should I be wearing 2 masks instead of one now? And is it okay to still like Justin Timberlake’s music? So stop shaming people you don’t think are “deserving” or feeling guilty yourself about finding an appointment for yourself. Getting the vaccine means you are actively becoming part of the solution.

It’s a shot in an arm, and ultimately that is a good thing.