Updated: October 11, 9:00EST to include World’s 50 Best announcement that the committee’s gender ratios will be changed moving forward.
Charles Schumann, widely considered the godfather of German craft bartending, returned his World’s 50 Best Bars Industry Icon Award on Wednesday (10.09). Over the course of the prior week, the bar owner was the center of internet ire concerning previous misogynistic comments.
“With regard to the controversy about my person and the award of the world’s 50 best bars – industry icon award 2019, I hereby return the prize. I don’t want him anymore,” said Schumann in a Facebook post.
50 Best confirmed that they “accepted the return” of his award. The organization added that they were unaware of the remarks and that they will not name another winner in the category this year.
“The Industry Icon Award is voted for by members of the 50 Best Academy, which comprises bartenders, bar owners and drinks aficionados. Voters are asked to consider a candidate’s contribution to the industry across their career,” read a statement from the group. “50 Best takes final responsibility for awarding the winner based on the number of votes cast. It does have a vetting process in place for awardees, although in this case, it was unaware of these historical comments made by Mr. Schumann.
Women Behind The Bar
Those comments include an interview with German Playboy in which he asserted, “A bar is no place for a woman. The important characters are always men.”
When asked about that comment by a reporter for the Japan Times, Schumann doubled down. “I have the same opinion now,” he stated on record. “I say they can come, but they are not wanted.”
In a television piece with American craft pioneer Julie Reiner, Schumann also posited, “Women should not work behind the bar after 3.”
The sexist remarks flew under the radar for years. In fact, in 2019 voters also awarded Schumann’s Bar the prize for Best International High Volume Cocktail at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards and Mixology Awards for Bar Icon of the Year and Barteam of the Year.
Several voters that spoke with Neat Pour expressed regret for their votes and stressed that they had no knowledge of Schumann’s discriminatory past.
Outrage & Apology
However, Schumann’s past came to light after the 50 Best Award when several prominent American industry leaders, including Reiner, posted his quotes online. Condemnation was swift on social media; the posts garnered thousands of comments, reactions, and shares.
Speed Rack, the celebrated women’s bartend advocacy group, issued a scathing statement calling for systemic change. The organization also urged supporters to promote the hashtag #womenbehindbarsafter3.
After several days of growing controversy, Schumann issued an apology on Tuesday (10.08).
“I am truly sorry that my statements were misleading and insulting to members of our bar community. I hereby formally apologize to them. But I also ask for an open dialogue so that these misinterpretations can be eliminated,” the response declared. “I feel committed to the universal values of equality. They have also been the basis of my work in gastronomy for over 55 years. I try to live them every day with my team of over 70 people of different nationalities and sexes.”
Schumann’s career is legendary in Europe. In addition to operating Schumann’s Bar in Munich, he also penned several books, served as the subject of two films, and leveraged his fame as a model in the fashion world.
One German told Neat Pour, “It is different in America. You have Dale DeGroff and Gaz Regan and Sasha Petrowski. Imagine they were all combined into one person. In Germany, that is Schumann. In the beginning, there was only Schumann.”
Given this background, at first, many prominent members of German bartending community rallied behind Schumann despite new knowledge of the offensive interviews.
At the Mixology Award ceremony (held on Sunday 10.06), the controversial figure received a standing ovation. Mixology’s site went out of their way to note that presenter Magdalena Karkosz delivered “a short speech about how much she appreciated Charles Schumann as a tolerant man, who was far from any sexism.”
Several Germans at the event evoked Trump and questioned moral judgements coming from Americans. (Editor’s Note: Trump does not sit on the voting committees for any bartending awards.)
Yet, as the week progressed, many of Schumann’s supporters began to reevaluate their positions. German bar legend Joerg Meyer initially defended Schumann, but later took to social to declare that while he considers Schumann a friend, he cannot condone the comments.
Meyer affirmed that the quotes were misogynist. “Julie Reiner and Christine Williams are right to point this out. Public statements like this are wrong and it is good and about time to make this a public discussion,” he wrote. “Quotes like this are disrespectful to women and we should support equal rights in our industry every day and lead by example!”
Institutionally, 50 Best issued a second statement soundly condemning discrimination and announcing that after an intense review, the group will change the demographics of the Academy to include equal representation of genders.
“50 Best would like to take the opportunity to apologize for the hurt caused by our announcement of Charles Schumann as the recipient of the Industry Icon Award 2019,” declared the release. “As an organization, 50 Best absolutely condemns misogyny, marginalization and sexism of any kind.”
Schumann made no mention was made of returning the Spirited or Mixology Awards.
Schumann’s Bar was reportedly packed on Wednesday night.