Alissa Gabriel has achieved incredible milestones throughout her career so far. The Bars Manager at Hinchcliff House in Sydney got her start in the industry in Far North Queensland when she was still in high school and looking to apply to the military. But instead of enlisting, Gabriel “fell in love with hospitality, the art of creating a drink and curating an experience”.
There wasn’t much of a thriving cocktail environment during her first gig, so Gabriel moved to Brisbane and went on to develop her skills at some of the city’s best bars over the next two years. It was during this time Gabriel won her first cocktail competition and was named the 2015 national winner of Bacardi Legacy. It was also the year the international final was held in Sydney, which saw Gabriel experience the bar scene of the city’s bar scene.
Gabriel would go on to move to Sydney and joined Speakeasy Group, where she spent five years working across venues including Mjolner and Eau De Vie, where she was head bartender. Today, the bar whiz works for House Made Hospitality, the group behind Hinchcliff House which encompasses four levels of dining, drinking and events in the CBD. “I’ve jumped over to this amazing new company and have had the privilege to open four bars within the building,” says Gabriel.
As Bars Manager of Hinchcliff House, Gabriel curates the drinks and cocktail lists for each concept within the building, with more to come in the coming months. “I like seeing being able to create the guest experience from the second they walk in the door and then see them [leave] and talk about your venue to other people,” she says. “Word of mouth really inspires me and keeps me going.”
Although there have been ups and downs during Gabriel’s career in the bar world, the joy of crafting a concept’s offering has been a highlight. “With a new venue, you have so much opportunity to create something out of nothing,” she says. “I’ve helped open about seven venues now and it’s definitely been a highlight [in my career] – those first couple of weeks where you’re racing to get everything done and you finally stand back and get to see what you’ve create is a really happy moment.”
At just 27 years old, Gabriel admits she has excelled “pretty fast” through the industry thanks to her strong work ethic, but it doesn’t mean there haven’t been bumps along the way. In her roles, she has recognised the common challenges women face in the industry, with the most significant revolving around being underestimated. “It is a male-dominated industry, and you always have that guest who wants to talk to the male bartender next to me because he wants to ask about whisky, not knowing I taught the bartender everything he knows about it,” says Gabriel. “Situations like that [occur] where we’re constantly being underestimated when we actually might be the most qualified person in the room.”
The bars manager says that this isn’t coming from within the industry, but from the customer side of the equation. In such situations, Gabriel believes the best response is to wait for the opportunity to step in and prove yourself to the person without reacting to challenge someone to recognise their unconscious bias.
Another challenge Gabriel has identified for women in the industry is imposter syndrome; the experience of doubting your own abilities and being afraid of people discovering you are a fraud or don’t belong in a certain role. It’s an obstacle Gabriel believes is mostly experienced by women in the bar industry. “I think there’s a gap with imposter syndrome where we don’t know what our worth is,” she says. “A male might ask for more money because they have the confidence to just ask, whereas we constantly underestimate ourselves.
“There’s a gut feeling of, ‘Maybe I’m not worth that; maybe I’m not good enough’.” Just work hard to prove yourself and know your worth. Everybody is capable of doing the same job and being paid the same … I think it just starts with having the confidence in yourself and knowing you can do it.”
In the grand scheme of things, Gabriel is positive about the role of women in the industry and believes the sector is moving in the right direction as a collective, for the most part. “The right conversations are happening,” she says. “I think we’re doing everything we can and it will be a fight to the end. It’s about putting women at the forefront and … part of the general conversation, which is constantly evolving. It will develop over time and people’s ignorance will get better.”
This story was originally published by The Shout, which has launched a series of profiles on women working across the industry.