Drinks with Desirée Balma (Bartender at TT Liquor)
I’d been searching for more female bar managers to interview and came across Desirée. This woman is talented. After our interview, I went to visit her at Behind this Wall where she was bar manager at the time of our interview and it was a joy to watch her work.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF…
I’m from Italy. Moved to London about 4 years ago. Initially, I moved here to do a Masters in Exhibition studies. I ended up working in Shoreditch as a waitress, just to like, pay the bills. I think I was in that first bar for about two years and a half. I went from floor-tender to AGM. I’ve been working in the same place (Behind this wall) for almost two years in December. I started as a bartender and now I’m the bar manager.
I’m also curating the art for the walls in the bar and I’ve done two exhibitions so far. I started one at the beginning of the year, which was a photography exhibition by a friend of mine in Canada. We actually met in a bar in Islington last summer. And the last one I launched a month ago is a photographer from Liverpool who’s been living in New York for the last 5 years. It’s portraits mostly, but there are homeless people, kids, strippers.
What’s your day to day like?
It’s always different to be fair, which is a really good thing I think. We’re closed on Monday’s so usually on Monday’s I just try and chill and maybe get ready for the week. Tuesday, we usually have a prep day. I like around the corner from the bar as well, so on my way to the
So even though you’re the bar manager you still get to bartend?
A lot of the time I’m behind the bar, even the owner as well. We change the menu seasonally, every three months basically, just to keep things interesting. Even on our days off (I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not) we’re working on cocktails.
What made you stay in hospitality?
I can’t really tell. When I said floor-tending, I was really into the bar. That’s probably why I stayed. In the beginning, it was just the question of paying the bills, then after I started making cocktails and being behind the bar I started enjoying it. I guess I just decided to stay.
What’s your favourite part of hospitality?
I would probably say the act of creating cocktails. Being creative. That’s the most interesting thing. Going around trying new syrups, new spirits and sitting down and going through lots of new ideas. And regulars are my favourite part. I just love when people come downstairs and I can tell what they want to drink and by the time they’re sat at the bar they have their drink in front of them. It’s kind of like having a huge family.
And what’s your least favourite part?
I don’t know…probably long hours. But I don’t think I have a least favourite part.
Do you think being a woman has affected your career?
I wouldn’t say there have been negative parts. I’d say in the beginning, especially when I made the jump from floor-tender to bartender there was a bit of struggle from the bartenders to accept me behind the bar, but I’m quite stubborn, so I got my way. I learnt everything I had to learn at the time, so yeah, I think maybe ye, but not really. I think there’s always been a struggle for girls behind the bar. In most of the bars I’ve worked in I was the only female bartender. It was a bit heavy sometimes, when it’s all guys from the barbacks, to the bartenders, to the managers. It’s a bit heavy, but I guess it never really bothered me that much.
What’s been your biggest challenge in your career?
Getting accepted behind the bar and learning to make cocktails because that’s what I wanted to do, what I wanted to learn. It took a while, but I guess I got lucky because all the bartenders that I’ve worked with helped me a lot, taught me things that you can’t necessarily learn by yourself. Especially in a really busy venue.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a bar manager?
Don’t be a dick. Obviously. Always be nice to people. Bartending isn’t for everyone, but there’s always a niche you can find. If you’re lucky enough to find it, stick with it.
What can we do to support you?
Come down to my bar and try the cocktails. As I said before, just be nice. And follow me on Instagram.
What’s your favourite drink at the moment?
I would say it’s a Daiquiri with pear eau de vie. I found out about it a few months ago, it’s by the same guys who make 30/40.
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