Story by Cara Devine. Cara is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing YouTube channel Behind the Bar. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
“At 17 I got a job in a seafood restaurant where one of my tasks at the end of the night was to take a big stick and poke all of the lobsters in the tank to see if they were still alive. I would then scoop out the dead ones and smell them to see if they were off – if not they went straight into the freezer to be used in the restaurant. This did not seem odd to me at the time.” It also didn’t put her off the hospitality business (surprisingly!) and Pippa Canavan has come a long way, from lobster poker to Host of the Year at the Australian Bar Awards this year. So what kept her in the industry? “It’s the people that make hospitality so addictive to me! The sense of community that comes from working in hospitality is so amazing and the people in our industry are so much fun that I couldn’t imagine not enjoying this line of work.”
This love of the hospitality community but frustration around the lack of representation for female-identifying people within it led her to join forces with some other Perth powerhouses (Shirley Yeung and Reid Günter) to create Mix Haus. After an awards show where only one woman was nominated across 12 categories, “we were pissed off! Shirley Yeung approached me saying she had an idea to create a not-for-profit to champion women in the industry and I jumped at it. We hold a series of events which aim to upskill, highlight and empower female-identifying members of our industry. We’re now three years in and Mix Haus has created an amazing community of women not only within WA but also across the country. We support each other, we come to each other for advice, and we brainstorm ideas of how we can create a safer, more inclusive industry.”
“I’m absolutely optimistic about the direction that our industry is headed in. We are seeing more female representation, both in general and in higher-powered positions in the industry, which I think is a great start. A lot of this is being driven by not only a demand from bartenders but also by brands who recognise the need for gender diversity…” – Pippa Canavan
Mix Haus has had great success in educating and rallying women (as anyone who attended the takeover at Door Knock during Bar Week can attest), but does Canavan think the industry in general has improved in this regard since its inception? “I’m absolutely optimistic about the direction that our industry is headed in. We are seeing more female representation, both in general and in higher-powered positions in the industry, which I think is a great start. A lot of this is being driven by not only a demand from bartenders but also by brands who recognise the need for gender diversity – we have found almost everyone we have approached for sponsorship and collaboration to be incredibly supportive, which we are very grateful for,” she says.
That said, “there are still so many challenges. The most important to me personally being the unacceptable rate of sexual harassment in the industry. We all know that harassment towards women is rife behind the bar, and we want to educate and put pressure on our fellow bartenders to be better – whether that’s calling out unacceptable behaviour, putting more safety measures in place in venues or even taking a moment of introspection when it comes to your own behaviour. Too many amazing women leave the industry because of this kind of shit and it’s not fair.”
With this understanding of the importance of making people feel included and comfortable, it is unsurprising that Canavan was recognised as Host of the Year 2023 for her work at Mechanics Institute. “In my mind, a good host is someone who just makes you feel welcome and at ease in the venue,” she says. “I can’t say what makes everyone a good host, but I think for me it’s my love of being on the receiving end of a good rant; I’m always ready to help justify your anger. That and pouring a delicious neat whisky.” She would like a Jameson sponsorship, if anyone from Pernod Ricard is reading this…
Mechanics Institute is part of the fabric of the Perth bar community. “It’s where you go when you’re on break and just want a beer, a shot and an ear to hear about the latest customer who chain-ordered 15 of the same cocktail and finished it by asking to add a pint of Guinness,” explains Canavan. “Everyone thinks that Perth is just a big sleepy country town, but the truth is that we have SEVERAL bars, most of them with running water and refrigeration! Seriously though we have a lot of venues doing amazing things”. Her favourites are Ezra Pound for the best Negroni in Perth, Si Paradiso for funky wine and great tunes on a Sunday, and La Rebelle for crab toast.
And, watch this space – “Murray Walsh and I are opening a bar soon, so come there please.” Don’t have to ask me twice! So what’s her secret to building a successful career in hospitality? “Show up to things, put in the effort, don’t take yourself too seriously and be a good person. It’s really that simple.”