Where is the Next Maria Dolores Boadas?
5 years after her death, Boadas remains in all minds. However, we need to also pay attention to other Spanish women in the bar industry.10 March 2023 · 12 min read
If you were to talk about imposing female figures of this industry, you would probably think about cocktails’ grand ladies and the probability is that the same names will crop up again and again. In the United States, at least, they’re still active, owning bars and consultancies: from Audrey Saunders to Julie Reiner, Ivy Mix, Alba Huerta or Lynette Marrero, the current generation of bartenders of all genders can have female role models. In Europe, unfortunately, that is not so easy. Here, two names will always come up: Ada Coleman and Maria Dolores Boadas. Coleman stopped bartending almost a century ago and Boadas died in 2017. There are various explanations to this. Some are historical – Coleman was one of the first female cocktail bartenders in the world while Boadas manned (a poor if revelatory word) an iconic bar—, some are contextual, but others are unfortunately structural. To better understand this, we have looked at the Boadas case and talked with two leading Spanish bar women of different ages about their perception of Maria Dolores Boadas and their feelings on the place of women in this industry. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Maria Dolores Boadas was born in her father’s bar. This may not be literally true, but, outside of school, she soon spent her time within the small establishment that bears her family name, opened in 1933, two years before her birth. There she took her first steps and did her homework while her father and his team were positioning Boadas as one of the leading bars of the world. She clearly picked up something on the way: when her father died in 1967, her husband Pep Maruenda took over the day-to-day business but Maria Dolores took charge behind the bar. She was the only lady cocktail bartender in town.
“I was 18 when I first went to Boadas. She was talking with a few regulars, cutting up fuet (a type of Catalonian dried sausage) one of them had brought. And although I was a snotty kid she had never seen before, she offered me some”, Juanjo Gonzalez recalls over 30 years later.
Gonzalez would later work at Boadas and is now the owner of Caribbean Club, another bar the family used to run. He talks of her unparalleled sense of hospitality, her technical skills and high professional standards.
“Everyone felt part of the family, but she was also very demanding.”
For four decades, she safekept the legacy of her father. She was very famous in Barcelona, where she counted the finest names of the local political, artistic and intellectual scene among her clients, but less so abroad. This changed in the early 2000s when cocktail historians Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller stumbled upon the bar, saw a diminutive woman throwing cocktails —a technique they had until then only seen on sepia illustrations of yesteryear— and started spreading the world.
That’s when Esther Medina Cuesta, a drinks maven and leading consultant of Spanish origin who was then honing her skills in London, first heard of Maria Dolores.
“In 2007, they brought Boadas bartender Albert Monserrat to the London Bar Show and I had the privilege of translating for him. The year after I went to Barcelona, fell totally in love with Boadas and had the honour to meet María Dolores.”
It is extremely revelatory that a woman such as Medina Cuesta, both Spanish and deeply involved with her craft, hadn’t known of Boadas until then. And, unsurprisingly, she says she became an inspiration for her “pure hospitality, effortless style, admirable bartending”, noting that she should be a role model regardless of gender although it should be expected that she strikes a particular chord with women as
“there aren’t many role models for us”.
In the last few years of her life, Maria Dolores Boadas’ status grew; she was revered as part of a dynasty, she had helped an old technique survived, she represented a long tradition of professionalism and hospitality and she was doing all that while being a woman in a very ‘macho’ industry. But today, not everyone feels that the figure of Boadas is current. Adriana Chia started making waves in bartending circles after Maria Dolores had been confined to her home. The then budding bartender and now consultant never got to experience her work first-hand.
“She was probably the first woman in Spain to be working behind a bar, yes, but what are we supposed to do with that?” she asks rhetorically.
Boadas faced the problems of her time: while she was the one working behind the bar, it was her husband who talked to the press or had executive positions in the bartender’s association —where, for the longest time, no women were affiliated. This was dictator Franco’s Spain, where women couldn’t open a bank account without a father or husband’s approval. Today’s problems are different. There are many more women around than in Boadas’ time and the crystal ceiling is not the same anymore: it’s often the path to ownership that’s complicated, with many women turning to brand work instead of working in bars. Maria Dolores inherited her bar as the only child of the family and didn’t have kids of her own. For Chia, a mother of two,
“you have to run your house, you have your kids, your businesses, you have to have 5000 arms… There are so many women running bars and restaurants that’ve had to do a thousand things to get there. We usually are the ones who have to give up on work or put a stop to our career when time comes to have a family.”
While it’s left unsaid, the underlying idea is that instead of talking about the Boadases and the Colemans of this world, we might want to look at more contemporary figures. Take Medina Cuesta. Although she wouldn’t say it herself, people who have worked under her during her illustrious career can’t speak highly enough of her influence and mentorship. And yet in the press she doesn’t have the same profile as some of her male contemporaries with arguably lesser pedigrees.
“Society in general tends to give more relevance and exposure to men, not only in our trade but in most of them”, she says. “Unfortunately, there are still some men who are in top positions and feel threatened by a powerful woman. They make our professional development very complicated. On the bright side, things are changing and overall, the drinks industry is more inclusive. Twenty years ago when I started bartending I needed to behave in a ‘manly’ way in order for my male colleagues to accept me as ‘one of the boys’ and teach me.”
So, while the work/family balance is especially complicated for women in the bar industry, there are other factors at play. One of them is, undoubtedly, visibility. This article is published with the International Women’s Day in mind. Are we, writers, taking the easy way out writing about women once a year? “It’s sadly a reality” according to Medina Cuesta. Chia agrees:
“Every year it’s the same. We get nearer to March 8 and I’m getting interview requests. As if people were only interested in our opinions once a year.” And it’s not the only thing that irks her: “The easy thing to do for brands is to embrace figures such as Maria Dolores Boadas and use women.”
Visibility once a year is no real visibility. Something to keep in mind all year long.
* Esther Medina Cuesta runs EMC Consultancy. She spent most of her career in London, working at places such as LAB, Milk & Honey and Opium, but as trained and consulted all over the world. Now back in her native Spain, her focus remains international and her work in high demand. Adriana Chia started bartending a decade ago and worked at Albert Adria’s 41 Grados and Tickets. She made a name for herself at Barcelona’s Solange and opened the short-lived La Antigua Compañía de las Indias. She is now the creative director of the Bespoke Mixology Art agency and her work on social networks (IG: adrianachia_) received an award at FIBAR, Spain’s number one barshow, in 2022. ———— The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Freepour.