These Women Market Their Bar as Queer-Friendly to Keep Out Sexist Bros

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These Women Market Their Bar as Queer-Friendly to Keep Out Sexist Bros

"Macho types feel less comfortable in a bar full of free spirits."

This story was originally published in Dutch on MUNCHIES NL.


The hospitality industry can be quite a macho world. As a woman working behind the bar or waiting tables you often encounter and have to deal with sexist remarks or other inappropriate and embarrassing things. Marjolein Brouwer—who set up her own bar called Bar Brå in Amsterdam two and a half years ago—knows what it's like.

"Right after I started working here, something very annoying happened and has had a great impact on me," she says. "I will not go into details, but I suffered from sexism and homophobia in the bar. Two of my gay colleagues were insulted by a nasty customer. This man felt the need to break down their distinct style and then shout 'beer' in a very commanding way. Not much later, I decided to market the bar as queer friendly to keep out those types of people."

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Marjolijn's strategy is organizing events via social media that are specifically aimed at the LGBT community.

Marjolijn Brouwer. All photos by Rebecca Camphens.

Two weeks after the incident, she organized the first queer party, and it was a great success. The LGBT community turned up in large numbers, and freedom and acceptance were key.

Now, these parties get organized on a regular basis and LGBT people make up a large part of their customer base. Marjolijn and Lola are a couple and they know the LGBT community pretty well. That's an advantage: the Amsterdam LGBT population is relatively small and people often hear through the grapevine about nice places and parties.

Profiling the bar has kept sexism and prejudice out and really changed the atmosphere. "Everyone is free to enter, but guests who are sexist or homophobic should stay away," says Marjolein.

Lola Edobor, who also works at Bar Brå, soon found out that it worked. "Macho types feel less comfortable in a bar full of free spirits," she says. "But straight people still come in as well. It's more because there is an audience that's not judgmental."

Marjolijn is also pleased with the impact of her strategy. "When I look around, the audience is very mixed, and that makes for a pleasant working environment," she says. "Because Bar Brå is not specifically a gay bar, the threshold remains low and heterosexuals still do come in. For example, my brother or some straight friends simply come in for a drink, and for me that's the ultimate form of emancipation."

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Lola and Kiara.

Macho men now prefer to stay outside, which works out great for the staff at Bar Brå; the bar is predominantly run by women. "Women are often expected to flirt back with guests. That's how it was at my first job working in a club. I thought that was so tacky," says Lola. At Bar Brå that does not happen. "Customers sometimes call me baby or sweetheart, but I can handle that. I stand up for myself and will tell them if I don't like it."

Her colleague Kiara Moore agrees. "You're obviously more easily approachable behind the bar and in such a setting boundaries fade. Occasionally men take it too far with flirting and there is an embarrassing situation," she says. But it's essential to remain professional in these kind of situations. Also, according to Lola, the trick is to remain friendly and professional and not give guests the impression that you are turning them down. She says it is therefore very important that you immediately set your boundaries so the customer has to change to adjust his behavior accordingly.

The original intention was not to form an entirely female team. "We only want people who are open to everyone and who don't judge others. At the moment, these happen to be mostly women," she says.

Marjolijn's business is inspired by Scandinavian culture. Gender equality is something that is a high priority for Scandinavians. For example, young fathers take up to three months paternity leave and women all continue to work full-time. Also, it is quite normal in Scandinavia that there is no hierarchy within a company; they don't have a real boss. "I learned this from a Norwegian girlfriend in the theater world. If anyone is allowed to give their opinion on something outside their main responsibility, you get more variety," she says. "Someone who's doing lights in the theater, can also say something about the sound," she explains.

Kiara tells me that everybody is working very independently but is also involved in all aspects within the company. Lola explains how this works: "We have martinis on the drinks menu and wanted a new cocktail. Kiara is a good chef, so she made the syrup for cocktails. The whole team works together to make the cocktail. One defines the concept, the other shakes and stirs, and the other makes a syrup. Everyone, no matter what role you play, deserves the same amount and also tip is evenly distributed," she says. "We really do it all together."