Ladies United for the Preservation of Cocktails: drink up and drink in!
It started, as many things do, with an idea that kept getting put off.
“A group of us always used to say ‘we’ll get together,’” explains Black Monday, otherwise known as Jennie Benford. “But after awhile we were tired of that unfulfilled promise. So finally Pink Squirrel--Amy Ruddersdorf –just wouldn’t shut up about having a party and we made it happen. But we said it had to have purpose, so we decided we would serve three cocktails that tied in with women’s history.”
Turns out they all got along like gangbusters and had such fun that the parties continued. Then some friends asked if they would take their show on the road and mix drinks at Blue Ruin, a women’s erotic art gallery in the Southside.
It was then the group was born: Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC
) a subtly subversive and overtly outrageous group of women working to “dismantle the patriarchy one drink at a time.”
“It was an auction," Black Monday recalls of the event. "We helped get people drunk. It was great. LUPEC started as a joke, but because we do what we do seriously, we’re respectable.”
What LUPEC does is serve up women’s history alongside a classic, custom cocktail. Before every event LUPEC attends, and there are lots of them, LUPEC members spend hours researching women, many of them unknown, who pioneered and pushed the envelope. Then they pore through hundreds of bartender recipe books looking for just the right thematic cocktail to honor the woman and connect to the event.
Once the woman and the cocktail are chosen, LUPEC members prepare drink cards. One side of the drink card offers the recipe of the custom cocktail while the other gives attendees a women’s history lesson.
“In LUPEC, you have to do the research! We are sticklers about the research!” Black Monday insists. “Finding the right cocktail for the right event--you’d think it’d be easy but it’s not. I remember Kelly Strayhorn asked us to participate in an event for Mary Lou Williams, a jazz piano player from Pittsburgh. We could not find any cocktails with the word jazz in the title. But she wrote “What’s the Story Morning Glory” so we did a drink called Morning Glory!”
“We spent hours looking for that cocktail,” Stella Can-Can interrupts.
“Yeah, it’s fun but at the same time there’s a responsibility,” Black Monday concludes.
The women of LUPEC go by aliases, chosen partially to reflect some of their favorite drinks but also to reflect their personalities.
“When we first started LUPEC, the internet was new and there were concerns,” explains Whiskey Daisy, a.k.a Jen Gottschalk. “We were worried about privacy issues so aliases seemed like a good idea.”
Over a decade after the group’s creation, LUPEC members aren’t worried about their privacy anymore. The women, ranging in age from twenty-something to fifty-something, mention their membership on resumes and in job interviews, on websites and social media channels.
“An alias is so handy when talking to people at a bar,” Black Monday, or Jennie Benford, interjects. “But I got a position at faculty level position at Carnegie Mellon University based in part on my LUPEC publications!”
“LUPEC is why I chose to come to Pittsburgh for graduate school,” says Stella Can-Can, or Katrina Struloeff. “And my boss told me one of the reasons I was hired was my LUPEC membership.”
LUPEC began sometime in 2000 or 2001, memories are a little hazy on the date, but not the series of events that led to the group’s coalescence.
While there isn’t an official initiation into LUPEC, full membership requires attending meetings and working events. But LUPEC welcomes the support and help of women who can’t commit to that level.
“There are lot of people who feel a part of LUPEC but aren’t officially members,” explains Summer Bourbon, aka Katie Bean. “They feel a connection to the mission but they don’t need to be on an official list.”
And while men can’t join LUPEC, they can join the auxiliary organization, The Screwdrivers.
“Someone once emailed us and said “do we have to be feminist?” recalls Whiskey Daisy. “And we said ‘YES!’”
“The fun is the front,” Black Monday says. “It’s the work underneath that tests your mettle. We are a feminist group that works via celebration.”
And they really work. They participated in the Mattress Factory’s Garden Party for several years. Black Monday groans as she remembers the strain of serving hundreds of people cocktails one by one. One of their favorite Garden Party themes was the “Five Senses” when LUPEC focused on the sixth sense and taught drinkers about Madam Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophist Movement, while they enjoyed cocktails called “Madam Can We Walk.”
LUPEC has hosted and helped at events supporting many other organizations, including Planned Parenthood, The Milk Truck, Prevention Point, On the Spot and the ACLU.
“We loved the ACLU banned books event,” says one and they all laugh.
Without intending, LUPEC has spread all over the U.S. and beyond. There are now 20 chapters in other cities, including one in London. The Pittsburgh chapter, the founding chapter that is, doesn’t try to micro-manage other chapters but does remind them to include women’s history in their activities.
“I try to get across to them that you need to do some women’s history education,” says Whiskey Daisy. “You can do it a million different ways, but do it.”
Catch LUPEC at their next event on October 1st at Wigle Whiskey
where they’ll be serving up a lesson on—who else?--Women in the Whiskey Rebellion. Go here for tickets
Main picture, left to right: Nichole Grantshar/Sage Hemmingway; Jen Gottschalk/Whiskey Daisy; Katrina Struloeff/Stella Can Can; Hannah Rosen/Morning Glory.
Photographs copyright Brian Cohen