Ocasio-Cortez gets back behind the bar to mix it up for a cause close to her heart

The freshman lawmaker said she was worried that she'd lost her touch with the cocktail shaker. But she hadn't.
Image: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bartends In Support Of Raise the Wage Act
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) shakes a margarita behind the bar at the Queensboro Restaurant, May 31, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York. Ocasio-Cortez participated in an event to raise awareness for the One Fair Wage campaign, which calls to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to a full minimum wage at the federal level.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

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By Gwen Aviles and Dartunorro Clark

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez left the ivory halls of Congress on Friday to pour one out in Queens for fair pay.

The 29-year-old freshman Democrat went back to her mixology roots and got back behind the bar at the Queensboro Restaurant, slinging margaritas and vodka sodas to advocate for workers who rely on tips to make ends meet.

"It is so real, the amount of exploitation and harassment and labor violations you'll endure for the structure of tipped work," Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd of about 100 patrons. "All labor has dignity and the way we give labor dignity is by paying people the value and respect that they are worth at minimum."

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Ocasio-Cortez recounted her own bartending experiences grappling with meager pay and hands-y customers. Before defeating Rep. Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary last year, she was pouring drinks and waiting tables at Flats Fix, a Mexican restaurant in Union Square.

"I remember working in a restaurant and you'd have people say something inappropriate or touch you and it'd be the 28th of the month and you'd have a rent check to pay," she said. "You were more likely to reject sexual harassment on the 15th of the month."

Aeesha Polanco, 32, a single mother who works in a restaurant and as a massage therapist, is one of Ocasio-Cortez’s constituents and hit the Queens bar to support the lawmaker.

"I depend on tips to make ends meet, and I cannot count on a weekly paycheck," Polanco said. "This leaves me more vulnerable to sexual harassment, which I've experienced from customers, coworkers and management. Passing 'One Fair Wage' would give me the ability to confront these instances."

Under the One Fair Wage Act, a lower minimum wage in some states for workers who receive tips would be eliminated and their hourly salary boosted.

The Ocasio-Cortez event was organized by the group Restaurant Opportunities Center United, or ROC, which has called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to back One Fair Wage in New York.

Ocasio-Cortez credited her work in the service industry for sharpening her "razor-sharp BS detector" after she was praised for directing searing questions toward President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen at a fiery congressional hearing in February.

And advocates who spoke NBC News on Friday said that they are grateful for her grassroots perspective in Washington.

"She comes equipped with the knowledge that only someone who has worked in the industry could know," Serena Thomas, 27, who leads ROC’s New York chapter, told NBC News.

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