Christine Sumiller, Patricia Perez and Roselma Samala, from left, of Genever in Los Angeles
Back in 2013, when college friends Roselma Samala, Christine Sumiller and Patricia Perez were incubating an idea for a bar over a round of Mimosas, they never imagined the concept—a warm and welcoming space where women could feel comfortable by themselves—would launch smack in the midst of the Me Too movement. Not only that, their impetus to exert more control over their professional lives found its footing in a business plan inspired by situations where each encountered bias in the bar industry.
“Learning from these, we wanted to create an environment that was women-friendly,” says Sumiller. “To collectively use our strengths and start a business that would reflect what we enjoy, how we like to experience an evening out, our culture of hospitality, our femininity.”
The G&T-quaffing trio selected gin and genever as the focus of the drinks program and drew on their shared Filipina heritage for the design. Genever opened last year in Los Angeles’ Filipinotown with a calm and cozy vibe that feels more akin to hanging in a friend’s living room than a cocktail lounge. They collaborated with the architect and interior designer to make sure “every detail evoked this imprint of accessibility and amiability,” says Perez.
The interior shines a spotlight on the increasing independence women flaunted before and during Prohibition, when many owned speakeasies, abandoned restrictive corsets in favor of loose dresses and enjoyed newfound freedoms like the right to vote. Lady Genever, a flapper girl with a coupe in hand on a canvas wall, serves as the bar’s focal point, yet they’ve purposefully made her skin tone a tad darker than the typical porcelain-hued 1920s flapper to more closely resemble their Southeast Asian heritage. Her flowing feather skirt is decorated with the names of more than a hundred supporters who funded the bar’s initial Kickstarter campaign.
The team commissioned a fellow Filipina friend from New York City to paint and hand-stamp the walls, and bartenders’ aprons were custom-made by Anthill, a woman-founded organization in the Visayan region of the Philippines that employs female weavers. “We made all the designs ourselves using our own resources,” says Samala. “When it made sense, we aimed to work with companies that promoted the same values.”
The drinks are reflective of Filipino culture as well, with seasonally rotating indigenous ingredients like pandan (vanilla-like leaves from Southeast Asia), calamansi (Philippine citrus), sago (tapioca balls), coconut, bitter melon, vinegar and panutsa (coconut sugar). The latest menu reimagines a chicken rice porridge called arroz caldo in savory cocktail form called the Inporridgible, mixing genever with lemongrass-infused rice milk, fresh ginger and datu vinegar, garnished with crispy chicken skin.
All cocktails are meant to challenge the notion of what women drink, says Samala, tossing off the idea that women always like sweet drinks. “Our menu is not afraid to lean toward stronger drinks that subtly hit you later.”
Even more important than mixing guests a great drink, though, is giving them a gracious experience. The inherent Filipino tradition of hospitality is woven into every interaction, which makes Genever’s philosophy of being female-friendly feel organic, not scripted. “A visit to a Filipino’s home will almost always start with ‘Come in. Where did you come from? Rest here a bit. Have you eaten?’ says Sumiller. “We look for and are blessed to have a staff with the same DNA.”
When Genever did happen to open in the wake of a seemingly endless news cycle of sexual harassment claims in the restaurant industry and beyond, the founders saw it as an opportunity. Samala sits on the board for the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, an organization that deals directly with domestic violence and sexual assault in the Asian Pacific island community, and all three are more conscious about sexual harassment, assault, equality and advocating for women to speak up.
But what they view as women’s empowerment is more about action than reaction. Simply put, the world needs more female business owners, according to Perez. “More often than not, we’re conditioned to hold a more subordinate role and forget the power and strength we possess to become risk takers, voice our needs and wants and assert our worth,” she says. “We hope our example encourages other women to go for their dreams with grit and resolution.”