Some of Toronto’s best female bartenders are coming together tonight to serve up signature drinks—and take a stand against sexual assault.
It’s the first event that may very well be the start of a new movement: BASH, or Bartenders Against Sexual Harassment is the brainchild of Toronto bartender Veronica Saye, 30, who has won several awards in cocktail competitions in Canada and France.
Saye initially planned the January 16 event—held at Parts & Labour on Toronto’s Queen St. W.—as a one-off to show that the bar industry supports a safe environment for its female guests and to spread awareness about sexual assault training for bartenders and staff, but the bartending community across Canada has expressed so much support for the idea that another event may be organized in Vancouver soon.
It’s been an uneasy few months for Toronto’s bar scene. Last fall, one woman alleged on social media that a popular bar on the Ossington strip had mishandled her complaints about an attempted drink-drugging. Then in late December, an alleged sexual assault at a bar on College Street resulted in two men (among them, the bar’s owner) being charged with multiple offences, including forcible confinement.
That latter case creeped out Izzy Powis, a 20-year-old student in Toronto, who says she’s wary of going out right now. “That’s really scary because it allegedly involved a person who works there and is supposed to be responsible for you,” she says. Stephanie Lindsay, 26, agrees. “It’s unsettling to hear a bar owner was charged with assault,” she says.
It’s that kind of thinking that motivated Saye to bring bartenders together for BASH. “These news stories have saddened me greatly,” says Saye. “But I appreciated how people were brave enough to speak out about these issues.”
Proceeds from tonight’s BASH will go to raising funds for the grassroots initiative Sexual Assault Action Coalition (SAAC), with all tip money, a portion of drink sales and proceeds from a raffle going towards the organization’s peer-based community program, Dandelion Project.
The Dandelion Project offers free training to bartenders, servers and management to help them better understand how to see and address early warning signs of sexual assault or harassment. It was created in response to the passing of Ontario provincial Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act this past September, which requires workplaces to have formal measures to prevent harassment—including addressing situations in which possible acts of sexual violence have been witnessed by employees.
Saye supports the bill’s intentions, but highlights an immediate issue: “The legislation is there, but there’s no actual education in place. There’s no handbook.” She considers Dandelion Project to be an important step toward making the bar scene a safer place for everyone.
“I wanted to create something that showed everyone that the bartending community in Toronto supports everyone and wants to create fun and safe places for our guests to go,” says Saye. “Not only do we want to create great cocktails for you, we want and need to make sure we are creating a good, safe experience overall.”
January 16 also doubles as a goodbye party for Saye, who is headed to St. John’s to oversee the bar at Merchant’s Tavern.
***BASH takes place Monday, January 16 at Parts & Labour (1566 Queen St W), Toronto, from 8 p.m.-2 a.m. For more details, visit its Facebook event. ***