At a Mexican restaurant in New York, Samantha B. Spencer was behind the bar making margaritas during a time when female bartenders had difficulty breaking into the industry.
That was the early 2000s, and the tide has shifted — a little — since then.
But Spencer stayed the course, honed her craft and years later brought her skills to the Windy City. Now, she crafts cocktails at Untitled Supper Club in River North where she serves up margaritas essentially the same way.
In Chicago, she feels she’s been given a greater opportunity as a woman of color to break into the bartending scene. The organization Causing A Stir was a factor in her feeling welcomed.
CAS was co-founded nearly two years ago by Alexis Brown and Ariel E. Neal because they believed there was a need for radical inclusion, equal representation and accessibility to educational opportunities within the Chicago bar community.
“I feel in my heart that a lot of that was my appearance,” Spencer said. “I found it easier to be respected and have opportunities here that were previously unavailable to me.”
Always reaching for the top, Spencer entered the United States Bartenders Guild and Grey Goose’s “Express Your Cocktail Challenge” for a chance to win a trip to France to continue their education in Le Logis, France, the home of Grey Goose. She was declared the winner and is visiting Le Logis with ten other accomplished U.S. bartenders.
The challenge? Create a cocktail inspired by the soul of Chicago.
Spencer decided to use Promontory Point in Hyde Park as her inspiration.
Her lightly sweet “Pears on Point” masterpiece is flavorful with pear, lime and lavender.
“When I was creating the cocktail, I was trying to make something more like a traditional martini, a very spiritual and sort of dry sophisticated, if you will, cocktail,” she said.
Spencer has the greatest satisfaction when a customer sips on a cocktail she created and smiles. But the late nights and long hours on her feet can take a toll, she said.
While bartending can be enjoyable and casual, she wants it to be taken more seriously as a career.
“Bartending is a solid career. If you’re into it, you can definitely have it be a solid career. It does deserve a level of respect, this is our job, our careers. We dedicate time and energy and money,” she said.