Shannon Michelle is the lead bartender at Sidecar in Jacksonville, Fla. With over 12 years in the service industry, Shannon spearheads one of the premier beverage programs in Northeast Florida, is regularly active in the competition circuit, and freelances as a cocktail consultant for restaurants, brands and events. When she’s not shaking up cocktails, Shannon represents one half of the hospitality influenced apparel brand, Mover & Shaker Co.
We sat down with Shannon to learn more about her bartending career and the obstacles she faces as a woman in this male-dominated field. She even shares a few tips for more mindful drinking as a mixologist.
Tell us about your background—what led you to the bartending and mixology industry? I have worked in hospitality since I was 15 years old, earning my first real job as a counter girl at a local pizzeria. Eventually I moved up in positions and started serving at a restaurant that had a craft cocktail program and a huge selection of whiskeys. When I was old enough, I spent so much of my free time sitting at the bar musing over new bourbons and house recipes that when a spot behind the bar became available, they were able to slide me in, no problem. I finally felt at home and like I had a place to let my creativity flow, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Cocktail-culture has traditionally been dominated by men. What obstacles have you faced as a woman in this industry?
Obstacles as a woman behind the bar can sometimes feel like a daily occurrence. Whether it’s someone questioning my validity on a professional opinion, or speaking over me to get a man’s attention instead, or even ageism (which is hilarious considering my half-a-lifetime stint in this industry), some days it can make you really question what you’re doing. But, I feel like once I fully accepted my own skills and confidence as a bartender and lover of spirits, no one could get under my skin anymore. The desire to break glass ceilings and ruffle some feathers helps too.
Any advice for other female mixologists out there?
Keep up on your reading! Staying educated is your biggest defense out there and will also keep you grounded within the cocktail community. And always try new things; if you hear about a new methodology or just want to create something for the sake of art, don’t let other people tell you that you can’t. Go all out and you can really learn what works and what doesn’t along the way.
You recently cut back on drinking. What tips do you have for anyone else wanting to cut back? Especially someone who may work in the bartending industry.
For me, the choice was very easy to cut back and eventually to cut alcohol out completely of my daily routine, but for those of you just starting out I would definitely recommend setting healthy and realistic boundaries for yourself. Working at a bar, part of my issue was consumption on the job—I was drinking when I got a little break or with friends to bond over our workdays. Once I started limiting my drinking to after hours only, I started realizing it could be the easier route to keeping my drinking in check. Assess your current situation, adjust where it feels attainable and you’ll have no problem hitting your goals.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Cities I’ve visited and formed emotional bonds with, fond childhood memories, nostalgic music moments, and meals that live in my head, rent-free.
Where do you see the no- and low-alcohol movement heading?
In the past year, since the pandemic, I’ve seen this social pendulum swing towards appealing to non-drinkers or even just mindful drinking. With some of the most incredible N/A options out there saturating the market like we’ve never seen before, I see a big break coming to the average bar consumer. Mocktails are already emerging at many of our local favorite food and bev spots, and hopefully we can really make them staples on every menu to increase inclusivity for every type of drinker.
How do you maintain a work-life balance?
This is often something I struggle with, because I am a very full steam ahead person and feel almost incomplete if I’m not juggling many things at once. Recently, I’ve been really relishing my off time and have been trying to find holes in my schedule to “allow” myself some peace. Whether it’s a quiet moment with a cup of coffee or some time in the sun with my dog, I try to take my mind out of work mode and just squeeze in the happiness where I can, and reflect on just how good life can be. Sometimes we forget just how long the journey has been, and you can really surprise yourself once you take a step back and look at your progress.
Xo, Team SipC