I fucking hate Valentine’s Day, and it’s not because I’m single.
I hate this holiday because I work in the service industry, and nothing evokes the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre more than being at work in a restaurant on Feb 14.
Every dining room is destroyed, torn apart into tables for two. Things run late, wreaking havoc on the orderly procession of reservations, and the bar, oh my God, the bar, is a sea of red and pink dresses and people making googly eyes at their dates, drowning their sorrows, or desperately trying to pick up someone—anyone—before the clock strikes midnight.
If I’m not working, I will always be locked in my apartment by 6 pm, avoiding the entire scene at all costs.
This year, though… this year is different.
This year, a group of Boston hospitality industry pros are turning mid-February into a series of events in the name of V-Day, a global activist movement fighting to end violence against women and girls. Efforts will be headed up by Andrea Pentabona, bar manager of the Independent in Somerville, and supported by Patrick Gaggiano, trend and scene manager for Jagermeister; Ryan Lotz, beverage director of Bar Mezzana in the South End; Jennifer Sutherland, the US Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) representative of Boston; and Naomi Levy, formerly of Kenmore’s Eastern Standard, and now brand ambassador for Bols Genever.
Launched in 1998 by Eve Ensler, author and performer of, most famously, the Vagina Monologues, V-Day sponsors produce and host a performance of the Vagina Monologues or Ensler’s A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer. The shows address violence as it impacts men and women, with proceeds benefiting local organizations that support survivors of sexual or domestic violence, or that are working to break the cycle of gender-based violence by working with perpetrators.
Each year, thousands of volunteer-produced V-Day benefit events take place in the US and around the world, educating millions of people about the reality of violence against women and girls. In addition to the benefit performances, many activist collectives host pop-up events throughout the month of February to raise additional funds and spread awareness through their communities.
Following a year marked by a flurry of public (if empty) apologies for sexual misconduct by prominent chefs and restaurateurs, the #MeToo movement is increasingly busy highlighting how every woman—including the ones you know, the ones you work with, the ones who serve you drinks after work—has a story of sexual harassment or assault.
“It’s obviously time to talk about it,” Sutherland said.
As an industry, bars and restaurants have a complicated history with sexual harassment. As the Globe published in November, and as organizations like the Restaurant Opportunities Center have been screaming for years, women working in restaurants are practically guaranteed to experience sexual harassment at work. From the “boys club” culture of kitchens and bars (which is changing, slowly, so very slowly) to financially depending on tips from drinkers and diners, the layers of power, money, and sexual innuendo are deep and varied.
Plus, if you’re behind the bar, you’re interacting with a broad spectrum of people sprinkled across an even broader spectrum of intoxication, many of whom, let’s face it, are out looking to get laid. Getting harassed at work, or witnessing harassment while you’re working, in this environment seems unavoidable.
But it’s not. And, according to V-Day’s Boston organizers, it’s time we stop acting like it.
“It came to my attention that there is no set policy within the USBG about work harassment or how to handle harassment you might witness,” said Pentabona of the Independent. “There’s some work to be done … As a community, the Boston hospitality community, we make things happen.”
Like what? Take Thirst Boston, a weekend-long celebration of drinks. Or CREATE, chef Louis DiBiccari’s local booze+art+food throwdown. Or surviving Super Bowl Sunday for the last several years. As Pentabona said, we throw a party every single night, sometimes against all odds. We make things happen that a lot of other people wouldn’t be able to pull off, “So why not apply this to social change projects?”
The events, which kick off Monday, Feb 12, at Loyal Nine in Cambridge, will raise funds for the local chapter of Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit dedicated to “heal[ing] those among us who are traumatized by violence today” and “creating healthy families and communities free of violence tomorrow.” With programs like Coaching Boys Into Men and the Y Factor, the nonprofit aims to break the cycle of violence against women by specifically engaging men.
“Shelters and rape crisis centers are doing incredible work, but to really begin to fix the problem of sexual violence we need to address the causes, not just the symptoms,” Pentabona said. Which is why, instead of the Vagina Monologues, Boston’s V-Day performance will be A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer.
“This production allows us to involve men, and I think that’s really important in our industry,” she said. “I think the Vagina Monologues is fantastic, it’s an incredible play, but it is performed exclusively by women and people who identify as women. This can be performed by anyone,” she said.
Featuring a broad range of voices, A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer (MMRP), covers all aspects of violence—from S&M to border tensions, domestic violence to beauty standards—in the hopes of breaking down the walls that keep so many silent on these issues, and of bringing these caustic features of everyday life out into the open for discussion and examination.
“These writings are very thought-provoking, and that’s what we want,” Pentabona said. “We want people to think, and to talk. Because these conversations are happening, but a lot of it is happening on social media and it’s too easy to just put your phone down and say, ‘Okay, I’m done.’
“I want to have people in a room talking.”
The play, which will take place on Monday, Feb 26, at Warehouse XI in Union Square in Somerville, will be the capstone event of Boston’s V-Day festivities. A panel discussion will follow.
“We’re hoping that this series brings the conversation home to not only local establishments but to the bartending communities in other states that may not have a policy in place,” Sutherland said.
Ninety percent of all ticket prices and proceeds from featured cocktails go directly to Futures Without Violence. The remaining 10 percent helps fund the Resistance, V-Day’s global organization that supplies funds to communities without independent organizations fighting sexual violence. While Boston’s V-Day organizers hope to see as many people as possible attend the play on the 26, please note that, as Pentabona said, “It’s heavy. There are discussions of abuse and rape. It’s not filtered.” Take care of yourself, Boston, but let’s all remember: Nothing changes if nothing changes.
In the days and weeks leading up to MMRP at Warehouse XI, Boston’s hospitality industry is hosting a series of events to ignite the local conversation around sexual harassment and assault. Here’s the what, when, and where…
MON, FEB 12
Bartender vs. Barista Throwdown @ Loyal Nine 5:30 pm. Sponsored by Jägermeister.
- Six teams of two, one barista and one bartender, throw down Chopped-style: Each pair must incorporate a secret, determined-on-the-spot ingredient into their cocktail and coffee beverage. All cocktails will feature Jäger, the sponsoring spirit, and the team will aim to complement one another’s drinks with flavor pairings. Four judges, two from the cocktail world and two representing local coffee professionals, will vote, and ticket holders will sample each cocktail from the competing bartenders.
- Tickets: $15
TUE, FEB 13
Come Together @ Brooklyn Boulders 6:30 pm
- An evening of activities, workshops, and yes, climbing, focused on building positive relationships.
- Suggested Donation: $40
WED, FEB 14
An Evening of Tiki and Love @ Bar Mezzana 4:30 pm
- Special tiki cocktails featuring Privateer Rum will keep you warm and fuzzy on Valentine’s Day in the South End. Privateer head distiller Maggie Campbell will also be in attendance, pouring samples of Privateer reserve spirits and answering all your rum questions and distilling queries, and Matt Rose, bartender of Gloucester’s hideaway tiki haven Watson & the Shark, will be behind the bar all night.
- FREE to attend, drinks for purchase
MON, FEB 19
Clams AND Hot Dogs @ The Eddy, Providence, RI 8 pm. Sponsored by Nylon Dog, with Heaven Hill and Plantation
TUE, FEB 20
Active Bystander Training: Making Bars Safe Workshop @ Brick and Mortar 1 pm. Sponsored by Bols Genever
- Naomi Levy is bringing the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and Safe Bars Collective, a DC-based organization that trains bar and restaurant staff how to be active bystanders and step in (safely and confidently) when they witness harassment or assault occurring at their workplace, to Cambridge to work with members of the local hospitality industry and empower them to stand up against sexual violence in bars.
MON, FEB 26
A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer @ Warehouse XI 7 pm
- Come see local actors perform selections from Eve Ensler’s A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer, a play in the style of her globally acclaimed Vagina Monologues.
- A panel discussion with local survivor advocates, women’s studies professionals, bar staff, and other community members will follow.
- Tickets: $20 (includes two drink tickets)
- *Content Note: This performance discusses rape and sexual assault*
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.