Last Friday, bartender Charles Schumann was presented with The World's 50 Best Bars' Industry Icon award, and the organizers swooned hard about it, calling him "as close to bartending royalty as you're ever likely to find," and "the perfect evergreen ambassador to the industry."
Yes, Schumann's eponymous bar in Munich has become an icon in its own right, and yes, he has written a still-influential book about the art of crafting a cocktail, and yes, even The New York Times practically blushed as it called him "the most famous bartender in Germany," and casually mentioned his occasional modeling gigs.
But Schumann also has a habit of sharing opinions about female bartenders that would've been dusty and outdated several decades ago. "A bar is no place for a woman," he once told Playboy Germany. "The important characters are always men." And in a 2009 interview with The Japan Times, he said that he hadn't changed his mind. On top of that, he's been repeatedly quoted as saying that "there's no place for a woman behind the bar after 3 p.m."
Shortly after The World's 50 Best Bars announced him as this year's winner, other people started to remind the organization about some of Schumann's less-than-stellar soundbites. Yesterday morning, Schumann wrote a lengthy Facebook post, one that might've sounded like an apology when it was rolling around in his own temporal lobes.
"It has been with great dismay that I have become the center of a debate in the last few days. This was triggered by my statements in the film "Schumann's Bar Talks" and an interview with The Japan Times published in 2009," he wrote on the page for Schumann’s Bar Am Hofgarten. "I would like to comment on this: It hurts me very much that my statements were so misunderstood.
"I am truly sorry that my statements were misleading and insulting to members of our bar community. I hereby formally apologize to them. But I also ask for an open dialogue so that these misinterpretations can be eliminated."
In the final paragraph, Schumann wrote that he was "very grateful" for the Industry Icon Award, but by lunchtime, he'd changed his mind. "In light of the controversy surrounding my person and the awarding of The World´s 50 Best Bars - Industry Icon Award 2019, I am hereby returning the award," he typed in a second Facebook post. "I don‘t want it anymore."
There are a couple of problems here. First, literally no one misunderstood him. And second, it's just heartbreaking that he no longer wants that award, especially because more than a few of his peers didn't think he deserved it in the first place. "What Charles Schumann [...] said about women not belonging in bars and not being important is appalling," author and D.C. cocktail bar owner Derek Brown tweeted. "We need to stop trying to win best bar and focus instead on being better humans. "
Speed Rack, an international cocktail-making competition for top-shelf female bartenders, also wrote a scathing critique of Schumann. "This is [The World's 50 Best Bars'] standard for an 'Industry Icon' in 2019, and if we don't stop to actively challenge it, this will continue to be the standard for years to come," Speed Rack co-founders Lynette Marrero and Ivy Mix wrote on Instagram. "To us, an industry icon paves the way forward for our community, fostering inclusivity and making waves that drive ripples of change in its wake. Schumann's actions certainly have not demonstrated that."
This is the second embarrassment for the World's 50 Best in less than a month. In September, the organization held a symposium in Paris, and the first question from an audience member to an all-male panel was "Where are the women?" The situation got even more grim, when Yannick Alléno, the chef at the three Michelin star Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen who himself has a problematic history, said that "many" women in his restaurant asked for lunch shifts because they had to take care of their kids in the evenings. "We, men, we are lucky," he said. "The DNA of women is to give birth." (Maybe it's time to start handing out little trophies to the World's 50 Best Dickbags.)
On Tuesday, the World's 50 Best Bars responded to the Schumann-related controversy on Facebook. "50 Best takes final responsibility for awarding the winner based on the number of votes cast. It does have a vetting process in place for its awardees, although on this occasion it was unaware of these historical comments made by Mr. Schumann," it wrote. "50 Best continue to encourage voters to look beyond the current list, and to take representation, reputation and diversity into consideration in their voting choices, ensuring the positive celebration of bars and bartenders that The World’s 50 Best Bars seeks to promote."
Now that Schumann has returned his award, there will be no Industry Icon winner this year. Hopefully, they can take the next 12 months to ensure that they get the next one right.