Culture

Motherhood for a Bartender: How the Industry Becomes Your Village

A woman behind a bar.
Raising a child as a mother and bartender is no easy feat. Yet Lori Tipton of New Orlean's Ace Hotel is rearing a beautiful little boy named Wilder who gets to attend movie premieres and dinner parties thanks to the community his mom has built around him. Photo courtesy of Lori Tipton.

Being a mom isn’t easy. Being a mom who works service industry hours? Ouch. How do they do it? Turns out, it takes a village. And the end result? Some pretty cool kids.

Lori Tipton is a bartender at the Ace Hotel in New Orleans at the Lobby Bar. Her partner, Andy Overslaugh, is the bar manager at the Voodoo Lounge on Rampart Street in the French Quarter. Together they are raising a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Wilder.

But they have help. Lots of it. Wilder’s biological dad is New Orleans artist Lee Kyle and his partner Clint Bowie programs the New Orleans Film Society.

“Wilder has three Dads,” Tipton smiles proudly. “And we all live our lives thinking about what’s best for Wilder.”

When Wilder came along, Tipton had a corporate job. One of those cushy gigs that made her a lot of money, but came with a lot of stress.

“I was wearing golden handcuffs,” she said. “I made a lot of money, but hated what I did.”

When Wilder was 4 months old, Tipton quit her day job and came back to service industry.

“Because I have a parenting team, I was able to take that leap of faith,” Tipton said. “It’s a privilege that I don’t take for granted one day.”

Even though she took a bit of a pay cut, Tipton said her happiness quotient is through the roof.

“Who cares if you’re making money if you're miserable?” she asked. “The more you make, the more you spend and when you make less, you work with what you have.”

Wilder splits his time between two very creative households and goes to school three days a week.

“We take him to lots of adult activities — film premieres, bars, dinner parties — he hangs out with adults a lot and is very smart and well advanced,” Tipton said. “We want to make sure he has a social environment with other children, too.”

Tipton acknowledges that her family’s way may not be for everyone, but it’s working for them.

“People have to do what makes them happy,” Tipton said. “In America, I think sometimes we see happiness as a luxury — like you have to work hard a corporate job you hate and that’s just a sacrifice you have to make. I don’t find there’s any stigma of parents who work in the service industry, in fact, quite the opposite is true for our family.”

A woman behind a bar. Cynthia Turner's two children have grown up drawing martini glasses and drinking water from a cognac snifter, after giving it a swirl and a sniff. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Turner.

Cynthia Turner, bartender at the Black Penny in New Orleans, fully agrees. There’s nothing weird about mommy being a bartender for her kids Miles, aged 9, and Evey, aged 6. That’s all they’ve ever known.

Cynthia is a bartender and Dad’s a chef, which means they can schedule their work around each other, making sure that one of them is off at all times. It’s also made for some unique family moments.

“Some of the first art my kids ever drew were martini glasses with olives,” Turner said. “Last night my little girl was asking me to pour her some water in a small cognac glass and she sniffed it and swirled it before she sipped it. They know the business.”

Like Tipton, Turner said her kids are exposed to cocktail parties and conversations about spirits. They've always always shown an interest and embraced the creativities of mom and dad’s jobs.

“They are so very encouraging,” Turner said. “Like when Dad cooks a great meal, my son will say, ‘This is delicious! How did you do this?’”

They understand the importance of flavors, tasting and trying new things.

A woman and her son, who is sticking out his tongue. Kellie Thorn's son Finnian's favorite food is oyster — he's developed a mature palate and smarts beyond his years, thanks to his mom's involvement in the industry. Photo courtesy of Kellie Thorn.

Kellie Thorn, of Empire State South in Atlanta, seconds that. Her son Finnian has a very refined palate for a seven-year-old.

“His favorite food is oysters, Thorn said. “He goes to Kimball House in Decatur and orders a mocktail from Mr. Miles and the foie gras. We’ll ask him what he wants for dinner and he requests a nice piece of fish with a salad. He’s an industry baby.”

Like Tipton, Thorn sings the benefits of co-parenting. Her mom lives with them and her mother-in-law is close by, too.

“I travel a lot for work and even before my mom lived with us, we had a village around us,” Thorn said. “Finn’s been raised by this great community of bartenders and characters. We couldn’t have the life we have without them.”

For each family, time together is paramount. Despite long hours, these moms all get up first thing in the morning to get breakfasts going and lunches packed — a quick mid-morning nap is sometimes a much-needed part of the routine. Perhaps their kids’ lives aren’t “normal” to the outside eye, but it’s normal to them.

“When you are working until three or four in the morning or pulling 12-hour shifts, it’s hard to ask anyone to help you out with that who's not extremely close to you or blood related,” Thorn said. “I’m not saying it’s not without challenges, but it’s worth it all the way.”

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