“You have to deal with this really unique combo of treatment that can be both racist and sexist at the same time.”
Alicia talks to Olivia Hu, the co-founder and owner of Old Timers, a bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The first-generation child of Chinese parents who fled during the Cultural Revolution, Hu talks about the experience of trying reconcile her family’s heritage and cuisine with her pescetarianism. She also discusses what she loves (experimenting with cocktails) and hates (racism and sexism) about being a bartender.
ALICIA KENNEDY: This is Meatless, a podcast about eating from How We Get to Next. I’m Alicia Kennedy, a food and drink writer. I’ll be having conversations with chefs, writers, and more about how their personal and political beliefs determine whether or not they eat. The show will ask the question, “How do identity, culture, economics, and history affect a diet?”
In this episode I talk to Olivia Hu, co-owner of Old Timers bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn. We discuss her route to cocktail making, how being pescetarian fits into the Chinese cuisine she grew up with, and her goal of creating a bar that is a safe space for all.
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ALICIA KENNEDY: Hi, Olivia, thanks so much for being here.
OLIVIA HU: Thank you, Alicia.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate?
OLIVIA HU: Yeah, definitely. I grew up in Reno, Nevada. My parents are immigrants from China. My sister and I are first generation. My mom used to make home cooked meals for us, and it was the type of Chinese food that I never had seen in any restaurant in America, and I think until I was around in college I always kind of wondered why her home cooking was so obscure.
Then, the first time I felt this, like, connection to the outside world in her cooking was when I saw an NPR, there was a cookbook that was published that was specifically recipes from the era of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution, and I’m flipping through the recipes for these dishes that my mom had made for me, almost to a tee, all the same ingredients, and it was the first time that my eyes were opened to, like, why my mom cooked that way, because the Cultural Revolution was really, really difficult, and my parents were teenagers and very young children during that time. And there’s this one dish where it’s like scrambled eggs with water, and chopped up shrimp and sesame oil and salt and scallions on the top, and it’s in, it’s prepared in a big bowl and you steam it, and it’s like this custard, and it’s so easy to make, I actually just made it the other day, but it’s made to spread out very few egg rations.
I just thought that was so fascinating, like, all these recipes, you just can’t really find them in restaurants that easily, and it was all because of this, like, political, socioeconomic, like, landscape when my parents were children, and I thought that was so cool.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Were there any other dishes that you remember from that time?
OLIVIA HU: I’ve actually been seeing some dishes pop up more in, kind of, trendier Chinese restaurants that are popping up. One place that I recently discovered is Wei Williamsburg. It’s on Union, I believe. I might be wrong about that, but Wei is open till 4am which, as someone who works in nightlife, is like really convenient. I was kind of just scrolling through their Yelp, and I was amazed by these photos of these dishes that my mom used to make. Like, one of my favorites actually, I don’t think it even specifies on the Wei Williamsburg menu, which I think is super funny because that’s like so Chinese, but it’s usually sole, or I would say tilapia, or like there’s a fish that starts with “b.” Have to revisit that, but it’s white fish flakes, basically, with large chopped scallions and slices of ginger, and this really specific Chinese cooking wine. I have like a photo of the label that I made my mom send me from her cabinet, and when I go shopping in Flushing, I, like, look around for the exact cooking wine.
But you basically have the fish on a plate, all it is is the cooking wine and the ginger and the scallions, and then you steam that. And they serve it at Wei which I was, like, shocked, because that’s not something that I typically see in Chinese restaurants. Maybe that has something to do with, kind of like, people, Americans are now coming around to real Chinese cuisine, not just like Chinese-American fast food that you get a pint of western broccoli for $5. Side note, any time you see a restaurant, a Chinese restaurant that’s serving western broccoli, you know that it’s not legit. I’m just going to give you the secret there, but that dish I made for myself and it’s so easy, it’s so healthy. It’s not fried, there’s literally no oil and there’s no grease, and it’s like one of my favorite things to eat, basically.
ALICIA KENNEDY: So, what brought you from Reno, Nevada, to working in New York nightlife?
OLIVIA HU: Hoo. I’ve lived in New York for nine years, almost a decade now. When I was a kid in Reno I think I always wanted to live in a big city. My parents are from Shanghai, they were both born there, and they grew up in this metropolitan, they grew up, my mom grew up in this village that is, inside the village there is a dumpling house that has the most famous Shanghai soup dumplings in the city. So, since soup dumplings are from Shanghai, I could probably easily say that those are the best soup dumplings in the world, I guess, if they’re the best in Shanghai. And like Bill Clinton went there during his presidency to experience those soup dumplings, and like, my parents got married in that village too.
When I was a kid and my dad always told me like, “We live in Reno right now,” it’s like very comfortable and natural and lovely, we’re really close to the Truckee River and Lake Tahoe, but like he used to tell me this while we were driving around town, he’d be like, “You know we’re actually big city people, that’s who we truly are, we are from Shanghai.” He was like, “You should spend some time in a big city, and maybe go, try to live in Shanghai’s sister city,” which is New York. As a kid, I was like, “OK, sounds good.” The rest is history, I suppose.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Did you come here for school originally, yeah?
OLIVIA HU: I came here for school to study environmentalism, English writing, and fine arts, with a focus on painting, and then became a bartender. I don’t know, life is very discursive, I suppose.
ALICIA KENNEDY: How, when, what was your first bartending job?
OLIVIA HU: I was a server for a while. Wait staff is really difficult; table service is just really hard. I mean, you just have to take nothing personally and let horrible treatment roll off your back, I guess. With bartending I kind of witness that you have a little bit more authority where you can kind of put people in line if they’re misbehaving. Like, “Hey, you need to really, really calm down, you’re being ridiculous right now.”
But I was also extremely interested in that world because I used to do table service at Distilled in Tribeca, and that’s where I met Benjamin Wood, who has received James Beard accolades for his cocktail program, and I think I saw him and how friendly and actually how much he truly cared about the staff, whether you were the dishwasher or whoever you were. Like, being someone who works in restaurants for years and years, you learn that the porter and the dishwasher are like the most important part of the restaurant, and you treat them with respect.
And after, when I left Distilled to start bar-backing, I spent ten months bar-backing and, as a female bar-back, nobody treated me like, “Oh well, you’re on the schedule, you’re doing the same things that the male bar-backs will do,” and that treatment really solidified my, you know, my work ethic, where it’s like, “I will clean the garbage cans, I will lift the kegs, I will deadlift the kegs all by myself.” And after bar-backing I just did some kind of event bartending. Like I bartended at McCarren Park SummerScreen, which was super easy and super fun, and I used to bartend at Silent Barn which was a DIY venue that closed down recently, and then that’s when I was hired at Sunrise/Sunset four and a half years ago. And I quickly, just circumstantially and just for the fact that I was a really hard worker and available, I quickly became the bar manager there, and I’m the front-of-house manager now. I designed the cocktail menu, and I did that for four and a half years.
ALICIA KENNEDY: But now you have opened Old Timers in Bushwick. How has that experience been?
OLIVIA HU: It’s been incredible. I feel, since I signed onto the project in June, I’ve learned so much. I just can’t even believe the process that I just went through. I did it with the guidance of my partner Skyler who’s opened Alaska and Alphaville in Bushwick, and without his focus and his guidance, we couldn’t have pushed through so quickly with the location and just certain bureaucratic issues with the community. I think we were extremely lucky because every step of the process, like, happened immediately. There are certain elements of opening a bar that bar owners anticipate taking possibly several weeks or several months in the bureaucratic process, but it seemed like the city really wanted us to be there. They were, every time we went to a meeting, they were so supportive of us. They loved our concept, they loved what we were presenting, and we pushed through every application almost, like, instantly. It was incredible. Almost as lucky as you could be in that process.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Do you think you’ve faced any specific challenges as a bar owner and as a bartender, being a woman of color?
OLIVIA HU: Oh well, just in the day-to-day you have to deal with people, and this really unique combo of treatment that can be both racist and sexist at the same time, and that’s really special. I’ve just, like, had so much experience dealing with that type of treatment that I feel now that I just respond to them in ways that make them either extremely embarrassed, or if it seems like a situation where my safety’s compromised, then just exiting as quickly as possible, just getting out of there safe.
There are a lot of elements to being in a unique position that I’m in, where I was born not white and not male, but actually the community that we’ve created has been really, I’m actually amazed by it, because almost all of my bartenders are not heterosexual, not white, or not male. At least one of those, if not, like, several combos. We do have one bartender, Ryan Gable, he has a girlfriend and he is white, but he’s extremely special. He’s a very talented bartender and he is an elf from Middle Earth, we’ve decided, so he’s not really human. He’s kind of like an alien, or he’s like from a different fantasy, basically.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, right.
OLIVIA HU: He bartended our friends and family, which was a ridiculous party, and he was closing a lot of our really vital shifts so far, like New Year’s Eve night and, like, the first night that we were officially open to the public. But my entire staff, I just like really think about what we’ve created and our certain set of values. The concept of Old Timers means a lot to me, and I try not to over-explain, because I’ve heard like any time you create a new thing you don’t want to insult the intelligence of your audience.
So, I’m not trying to, like, over-explain the concept, but for one matter, I worked in the service industry for a really long time and everyone that I’ve hired has been in it for a really long time. I’ve heard some really disturbing stories like, “My boss was a pervert, but otherwise he was really great,” or like, one of my bartenders told me, Christie told me that she had a boss that really, really tried to sleep with her, and if she wasn’t reciprocating or texting him back late at night then he would take shifts away. It was just, like, a horrific, nightmare situation to be in, and yet we all find ourselves in that position where we just stick to that job because the money is fine and we’re really desperate, and we’re making excuses and making compromises.
So, all of my bartenders are old timers in that way. They’ve been through it all, and part of it is that, like, for everything that I’ve been through and my intellectual values, I’m, in a way, saving them from that culture. Even, like, Anthony Bourdain said before he passed away, that he has regrets with this macho, masculine restaurant culture that exists now, especially in New York City, and how he regretted kind of putting on that whole show for everyone to see, because sometimes if we really think about culture, if we really think about operations, we can realize that it doesn’t have to be that way. This really abusive, you know, militaristic kind of like throwing-pans-across-the-kitchen-and-screaming type of culture. Although things can be hard sometimes too, because ultimately I’m the authority and it all comes down to me doing my job, and them doing their job, but they’ll never see me throwing objects or, like, hurling insults or using sex as leverage for shifts. I mean, that’s just, like, a nightmare.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, yeah. So, you create a lot of cocktails with both your work at Sunrise/Sunset and now your work at Old Timers, and also you’ve written recipes and I actually edited you at Edible Brooklyn, but what are, how do you kind of approach when you like have an idea for a cocktail? Like, what’s, what are those steps?
OLIVIA HU: I have a few different approaches because the end result is always what delivers. A lot of times you can think in concept that a cocktail will be really delicious, but then you try it and you’re like, “Ew.” I mean, I’ve been through many of those, I’m like, “This doesn’t even taste good.” Like, I really wanted it to, but it doesn’t. And, as a side note, Alicia, you’re a brilliant editor, you made me sound so smart, it was wonderful. Yeah, and I was loving doing those freelance assignments too, because it was just a way to get those creative juices going once in a while. I was featured on Supercall, which is like a cocktail media company. That was super fun. Oh, I attended Gary Regan’s Cocktails in the Country seminar, and I, like, received a scholarship to go there for free randomly. It was, like, so serendipitous, and I was just working really, really hard, and to have two days where we’re just behind this kind of like staged bar making up, we would draw a spirit from a hat and then just based on what was in the back bar we would create unique cocktails. Then we would take photos and send them to the liquor companies which was great for them.
Normally I choose the base spirit first. Do I want to be gin, vodka, whisky? Then I think, what style do I want it? Do I want it spirit on spirit stir drink? Do I want it with fresh components like shaken really hard? And then I start with the proportions that make sense to me just from my experience, like usually with a 40 proof liquor you’ll start at, like, maybe an ounce and a half and either just two ounces or maybe one instead. And then with like liqueurs and lower ABV liqueurs, you’ll start maybe a half ounce, same as with juices. Like, if you want like peach juice, or lime juice, etc, or cranberry. And then after you kind of get the base down, and I will say that some cocktail, some vodkas have different tasting notes, like, it will be like, “This is citrusy, this is piney,” you kind of taste some mineral or maybe some orange peel. You would decide which of those components you want to really, really highlight and bring out, because if a gin tastes orangey, then why not add some triple sec, just make it go all the way, maybe add some orange bitters. Or if there is one component of it that’s like really subtle, like cardamom, it’s like cardamom is just on the back of the palette, add some cardamom bitters at the very end. Then you think about the aesthetics. What kind of glass would you want it served in?
And there are certain movements in the cocktail world that I’m really getting behind, like I know The Dead Rabbit isn’t all about this, but they aren’t doing garnishes unless they contribute something culinarily or through some kind of sense, like aroma, which I think is great, because for business owners, they spend a lot of money on these really festive, decorative garnishes and I think that’s great, but it all gets tossed in the end. It kind of gets, this is like my neuroses as a bartender, it gets stuck in the mesh of the sink strainer, and it costs money, and it just looks pretty, which is fine and great but, can we accomplish that with something that contributes to the smell or the taste?
And at Old Timers I have a cocktail where the garnish is just a few drops of rosemary-infused olive oil. Super easy to prep, just throw a bunch of rosemary in some olive oil, and I actually dump a ton of salt in there too, which is one of my favorite little moves. Salt is just, like, incredible. I get behind the idea of having a vial of saline and just, like, squirting a little bit of saline into the shaker. I think it really, like, brings out all of the flavors of every element of it. We aren’t doing that at Old Timers, but maybe someday down the road I would like to have a program that does that type of thing, but I just really like the idea of just kind of, like, less waste cocktails.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, that’s become a big kind of movement now. Yeah, I saw that Bombay Sapphire, which is a huge company, but someone won their cocktail contest with just doing no-waste cocktails.
OLIVIA HU: I love it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. So, you actually are pretty sustainably minded and now are a pescetarian?
OLIVIA HU: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: How, what inspired that move for you?
OLIVIA HU: I think that our diet choices do influence, like, the, our culture in a lot of ways, and I think I just had a moment maybe like about a year ago, where I realized I didn’t really feel like eating cow. I didn’t feel like eating bird. And there was a certain point in my life where I thought I would never quit bird, especially when I’m in China. Duck is a huge thing in China, and I didn’t think I would ever give it up, but I mostly just eat plants, and I’ll eat fish, but generally I would like to have it if it’s sustainably sourced or, like, if the restaurant menu says it has all of the certifications.
Sometimes I do cheat a little bit and I’m like, “This is probably not good fish, but I’m just going to eat it anyway.” But it is important to think about your food choices, because these animals, they’re brought into this world to live a horrific existence, just to be slaughtered in an unsanitary way. I mean, I was just thinking about that for myself in a way, as well, where these factories are disgusting, there’s like feces and feathers and limbs on the ground, and the beaks of the chickens are chopped off because in close quarters they’re attacking each other, and they wouldn’t even attack each other if they weren’t all shoved into this dark warehouse. And if you were to really look into the production of it, which, of course, it’s all by design that it’s not common knowledge that it’s produced this way.
It’s wrapped up so neatly in the grocery store with a little picture of a farm on it as if that’s where it came from and, I personally don’t really want to eat bird where they are, where their breasts are enlarged and their legs break because their breasts are so heavy and can’t support their bodies. That’s not really something I want to consume myself. Aside from the environmental and ethical impact of production in that way.
I actually am not against small farms producing meat. If I lived closer to like Union Square farmers’ market for example, I would absolutely get bird and cow from the farmers’ market, because I think they need support too, otherwise they’re going to be crushed by the big industry companies and, you know, the independent farm system is already failing because of that industry. And I would actually love to support them, or even just get like a package of eggs, because I’m not vegan. I eat eggs almost every day, and any way that I can support them, I would be supportive of that, but it’s not the most convenient thing. When I lived on campus at Pace, it was only a 4 express train away from the Union Square Farmers’ Market and I would go all the time, but living in Bushwick now, not so much.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Is there a farmers’ market in Bushwick?
OLIVIA HU: There is one in Maria Hernandez, but I don’t think they do much animal product. Maybe some eggs, which I’ll get behind that.
ALICIA KENNEDY: How, how has making this new dietary choice changed how you relate to maybe the food you grew up eating, or how you eat nostalgically now? Like, what, have there been changes in that way?
OLIVIA HU: Absolutely, and I think about this all the time, because especially opening Old Timers, there were some days during construction where I would be so, like, spread thin that I just needed something to feel good, and to comfort myself. And so, I would make trips to Flushing or Birds of a Feather in Williamsburg. Birds of a Feather I found, after visiting for the first time, is a sister restaurant to Café China, the only Chinese restaurant in New York that has a Michelin star which is huge, and I think is reflective of how the culture sees Chinese food in general, but I used to crave soup dumplings, which is just like pork bone broth, frozen into a gelatine, cut into cubes and wrapped up with pork and ginger and scallions and seasoning, and Chinese cuisine is very heavily pork-influenced.
I was looking through this 800-page Chinese food recipe book I have, where there is this extremely iconic Shanghai dish that’s eel with noodles, and looking at it I’m like, “I could make this, I’ll eat eel,” and the recipe said one scoop of pork back fat, which, I’m like, I don’t really know where I’d acquire this, and I would probably make a version of the recipe where it’s just like canola oil instead of pork fat. That’s just like how deep pork is in Chinese cuisine. For example, if I just wanted some long beans, like a Sichuan-style long bean dish, there might be pork in it and I would have to ask them not to make pork, or for example like mapo tofu, which is a dish that I feel is becoming very popular now in America, mapo tofu is typically cooked with ground pork, and if you wanted it vegan you would have to specifically ask for no pork.
But there are certain dishes that I always go back to as a vegetarian. Water spinach with garlic chunks, that is like extremely nostalgic for me. That was almost a staple at home, something that my mom would just make almost every day, and, like, this restaurant isn’t Chinese, but I just really love it there. I go there for comfort, the Bunker, the new Bunker next to Elsewhere. They have on their menu a side of Chinese water spinach where the portion is so large and it’s $8, and it makes me feel so good, and they have like a side of vegan broth for, it’s either $3 or $5, something really cheap, but their portions are so big, and for what I’m getting out of it personally to have, like, Chinese water spinach on a pretty rough time, just during construction of course, but that value to me is so much more than like $8 or $10.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, and the cost of food that is non, you know, European, is a big topic of conversation and I know that you’re a big fan of Krishnendu Ray’s The Ethnic Restaurateur. How have you related his work to your perception of Chinese cuisine in New York, and in America more broadly?
OLIVIA HU: I love what Krishnendu wrote in the Restaurateur, because he was talking about how the way that we view white table cult dining, or “haute cuisine,” as they say, basically the Michelin star culture, a lot of times is reflective of how we view the expats, not how we taste the food. And Chinese immigrants are still widely viewed as poor.
What Krishnendu Ray says, which I thought was really eye-opening in a way, was that for a community that for almost 200 years in this country has taken on the bulk of the cleaning and the cooking, Chinese people have remained so silent, because that’s actually an effect of the diaspora. We’re from so far away and we didn’t come here through slavery, we came here to escape some kind of horrific regime, or horrific political landscape, that we have to be grateful that we are here, and a lot of us are, and I am, and I’m happy that my parents escaped the life that they did.
But still, that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate this kind of like second-class treatment in the way that we are undervalued and seen as this kind of xenophobic, I mean, people tell me like accidentally xenophobic things all the time, like, you know, people ask me if I’ve, like, eaten dog, which, people in China own dogs as pets. Also, some villages, China is such a huge country geographically, it’s almost like a continent and there are so many different cultures. It’s only become centralized in the past 100 years. Chairman Mao himself could only speak his regional dialect, he never learned how to speak Mandarin or any other dialect, and he always had to have a translator around, and so there are some certain villages in China certainly that do rely on dog, but we should remember that there’s poverty right, like, for any animal they’ll use every element of the animal, like, the organs and the bones, and the bones are made into stews that last for a week. That’s the level of necessity that people exist in and also, I do love dogs, but like how is that different from eating a pig? Pigs are smarter than dogs and so, it is this like xenophobic culture around like Chinese food is a subject that I think about a lot.
I love Krishnendu Ray’s, like, commentary on how we are seen as so poor and so low-class, and the comparison to like Japanese culture, which is very rigid, has a fascist history, very strict and disciplinarian and also very accepting for Westerners to visit. When I was going to China as a kid, my grandparents’s place that they owned didn’t have indoor plumbing. I had a little ceramic pot that went under my bed, and the Government would send people around once a day to collect the contents of the pot. Like, that was a job that my dad had when he was a kid. He had to collect the pot from everyone’s apartments. And that’s not something that Westerners are used to.
I mean, David Sedaris got a lot of flack from the short story that he wrote about going to China where some people were like, “Oh, it was satire, just take a joke,” but David Sedaris was like, “I went to Japan, it was so clean, everyone was so nice, it was so lovely, and then I stepped off the plane in China and everyone was spitting, and they served me a whole chicken in a soup with the feathers, and it was disgusting, and I never want to go to China again.” And I read that and I kind of reacted in a way that I was like, “Wow, OK, this is an influential popular writer, and I know that actually everyone agrees with him,” and that is not the way that I see my parents’ country at all.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, and you go to Flushing often. You mentioned the wine, the cooking wine that you purchased, I know that you have to go there to get baijiu, we’ve had a conversation about that. It’s become like a fashionable thing to go to Flushing and eat, at least among food people. How do you perceive Flushing, because, you know, for, for non-Chinese people, it’s like, “Oh, this is where you go to get the real Chinese food,” and is that real? Is that the case?
OLIVIA HU: Flushing is the most authentic Chinatown I’ve ever been in in America, which was, it actually blew me away, and I love that I can go to certain restaurants, my favorite ones actually, they do not speak English. They have no expectation that you speak English at all. My favorite one, Deng Ji, it’s on the second floor of New World Mall which, New World Mall’s pretty well known in the Flushing scene, but I don’t think many Americans go upstairs to that silly shopping mall which I love.
And, to get into Deng Ji, it’s so crowded and everyone is lined up, the wait is at least 45 minutes for dinner service, and you sit on the chairs and the host kind of yells your number in Mandarin out into the abyss, and if you can’t understand Mandarin, you basically can’t get in. And that was where my dad had this Sichuan kidney dish which actually, being pescetarian, my philosophies on, like, organ meat sometimes is like, “Well, a lot of Americans throw this away and they think it’s really gross and weird, and I’ll try some organ meat because it’s like waste meat in a way.” So, my dad was just blown away by this dish and he said, “Incredible, I can’t even believe how good this is,” because he’s been living in Reno for a little bit, he’s had some health issues and he was getting some treatment in Reno there, so he hasn’t been in China for about a year. So, it’s been about a year since he’s had really good Chinese food.
And the way that I feel about Flushing and the coverage, which I read some stuff by food writers, and I’m super supportive of everyone going out there and just giving these businesses exposure, and I’ve spoken to a couple of people here through my freelance channels, but I think it’s time that Chinese people deserve to take control of their own stories and their own culture, because it makes me really upset sometimes when I see some non-Chinese people covering that, and the way that they cover it is this Christopher Columbus-y, “Oh, look at how funny it is that we’re in Flushing, and look at these silly DVDs,” which I admit I like, I really like the DVDs too, but the way that they present it as this kind of spectacle type of thing. And yes, I get baijiu from there.
I had a kind of a surreal moment last year when I went to Beijing for my dad’s college reunion party, and my dad went to school for the highest level of the Chinese police, like basically the equivalent of the FBI. My dad didn’t become an FBI agent, but all of his colleagues did, and they are all retired because in China you’re not allowed to like meet up and socialize if you’re still in the FBI, but I had a super surreal moment in the most beautiful, gorgeous restaurant I’ve ever been in, in Beijing, well in my life, but it’s in Beijing. There was a straight-up lake in the middle of the restaurant indoors, and we were sitting at a circular table, because that’s how Chinese people truly dine, any restaurant in America where there isn’t, like, a group communal zone with a glass lazy susan, another red flag, not authentic.
You drink baijiu in little personal pitchers, with tiny cups, because baijiu is such a high ABV, it’s higher than vodka, and the moment that I felt extremely surreal was when I was in this like lake restaurant doing shots with ex-FBI agents, and they were talking about ghosts. It was just incredible, it was like, and the food was just absolutely insane, like the most exquisite food I’ve ever had in my life.
ALICIA KENNEDY: So, for you, I mean, obviously you’re mostly bartending, and, but you cook at home, but for you, is this work in food political to you?
OLIVIA HU: I think that a lot of our decisions are inherently political, and I think that as a woman of color my existence is inherently political because for better or for worse, people are looking to you to be more righteous. It is a really interesting position to be in because I have unfortunately been in collaborative projects, like as a musician, where I accidentally joined a band with an assaulter and the manipulation is so deep and the façade is so strong that even I, within close quarters, didn’t know that my bandmate was hurting people and hurting women, and I’ve been really hard on myself for the fact that I’ve gone on stage with rapists, and in the proximity that I’m in, having put victims in danger, because they see me and they think, “I must be inherently safe.”
I’m an outspoken feminist, you know, intersectionalism is something I think about all the time, and so for me to be close to this person is exposing people, and I was, I did nothing wrong, I didn’t hurt anyone, but still, like, the complicitness of the situation is really important, and that’s why I have to toe certain lines as a boss very carefully, because I handmade a mosaic that is in between the bathrooms at Old Timers, it says, “No predators allowed.”
I decided in that moment, well, before I even signed onto this project, I told my partner, like, “This person, he raped me, he can’t DJ here, he can’t be here,” and that was a really hard discussion to have because some of these abusers are in the scene, they’re in the community and everything is so deep and the victims are so afraid, and that, like, this information isn’t free, because there are consequences. There’s retaliation, you know, someone could get extremely angry that you’re tarnishing their reputation and taking away opportunities, they could show up at your work, they could show up at your door. There are a lot of political decisions to be made, like, who is not allowed on the premises? Who is, can be served a drink, but they need to be watched really carefully, or that type of thing?
I feel there’s, I feel very responsible for the safety of my clients and for my employees. I always, always, always want to do the right thing. As long as information is ready and available, it will be difficult to know if everyone who’s on premises all the time has ever hurt anyone ever. That is dependent a little bit on the channels of communication and the access to information that I have, because I made a promise to the community when I put up a mosaic that said, “No predators allowed.” I spend money paying a security guard to make sure that my women bartenders are good to close late at night, 4:30 in the morning, we’re open till 4 every single day, and there have been real moves made to, with this dedication to this promise.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Thank you so much, Olivia.
OLIVIA HU: Thank you, Alicia. I had a really good time.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Thank you.
[EXIT THEME BEGINS]