When Arelene Roldan and Katie Kildow set to work on the Mermaid, a tropical new cocktail bar opening in Little Tokyo this month, they knew they wanted their space to be all about positivity and inclusiveness—along with delicious drinks and food.
“Both Arelene and I have been around the industry for a while, and there still just aren’t a lot of female-owned, female-fronted bars out there,” Kildow says. “So it’s really important for us to highlight what women are doing in the field.”
That means they’re making a commitment to creating an environment where bartenders of all genders are able to work happily, patrons feel safe and welcome, and ingredients are sourced from brands that share their values.
“We’ve been going to our distributers and asking them to show us what female distillers they have represented in their portfolios—and none of them even know,” Kildow says. “I know there are women making amazing products. I want to have a whole shelf dedicated to them. I want to have nights that highlight wine, beer, and spirits made by women.”
Among the companies they’re working with is Appleton Estate, a 265-year-old rum label, now overseen by Jamaican distiller Joy Spence, who was certified as the world’s first female master blender in 1997. Spence’s spirit shows up behind the bar and on the Mermaid’s opening menu in a cocktail named the Mermaiden Voyage, which pairs two rums with lime cordial, lime juice, mint, and a house-made hibiscus syrup.
It’s a natural fit on the bar’s menu (which comes printed with the motto “all are welcome”), alongside other drinks and snacks inspired by the seaside. While not tiki per se, the goal still seems to be making the downtown strip mall location feel as much like a trip to the beach as possible. To accompany the fun cocktails, the food menu includes Hawaiian rolls, hot dogs, and other bites, with a mix of meat and vegetarian options in each category.
“It’s exciting to find ourselves building a team of creative and like-minded women who want to create a cozy neighborhood bar that could serve as both a good time and a gathering place for the community,” Roldan says in an announcement about the opening. Given that Roldan and Kildow can boast local favorites like Lemon Poppy Kitchen, Verdugo Bar, and Steampunk Kitchen as previous successes, they should know what it takes to achieve that goal.
And, in the midst of a movement to amplify the voices of women and begin to dismantle a pervasive culture of sexism, their project seems all the more essential.
“A more positive work environment is where we have to be going across the hospitality industry,” Kildow notes. “So we’re starting in our little corner, doing as much as we can.”
The Mermaid, 428 E. 2nd Street, Little Tokyo
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